The Greener Choice: CFLs or Dimmers?
Both can lighten your lighting load, but do you have to make a choice?
cfl vs. dimmer
January 31, 2008 by Steven Castle

Reducing the electricity you use for lighting in and around our house is a great idea. If you believe in helping the environment, this helps to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere by power plants, many of which burn coal. Even if you don’t believe in the greenhouse effect and climate change, it makes sense to lighten your lighting load—if only to save you some bucks.

Compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs are a great way to do this, as they use only a fraction of the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs. But many people don’t like the quality of the light from CFLs, though the bulbs have gotten better. The small amount of mercury contained in a CFL also concerns many, though this is not a hazard if the bulbs are disposed of properly.

Putting incandescent bulbs on dimmers is another great way to save energy. Dimming an incandescent bulb just 25 percent, for instance, can save 20 percent in electricity. And dimmers are inexpensive and easy to install. (Just remember to shut off power to the switch and any adjoining outlet.) To compute how much you can save by dimming, go to Lutron’s
Light Green, Light Better web site
and use the calculator.

So which to choose? The good news is that you don’t have to go all in for CFLs or put all your incandescent lights on dimmers.

You can use incandescent or halogen lighting with dimmers in family room, kitchens, bedrooms, or in any room where you may not need full lighting all the time. Dimmers are especially effective for using in groups of lights that are on one circuit, such as several recessed cans in a large room or rec room. It can be especially helpful to dim kitchen lights (or a light) to 25 percent or less during the evening when everyone is in other rooms.

CFLs can most effectively used in closets, garages, basements, or areas where the lights are going to be on for an extended period of time.

Just try not to mix CFLs and incandescent lights on the same switch if you want to dim them. Most CFLs aren’t made for dimming.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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