Action Guide

Do the Twist

Difficulty: Difficulty: 1 Expense: Expense: 2 Savings: 535 lbs CO2 / $26.0 Bookmark and Share

Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs that use 75% less electricity and last 7-10 times longer.

Why You Should Do It

Today’s compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) offer excellent light output, a range of color choices and a variety of shapes and sizes to fit almost every fixture.  ENERGY STAR-rated CFLs use 75% less electricity than incandescent light bulbs and can last 7-10 times longer - with just a twist, you can make a big dent in your electricity bills!

Source: Animal Planet: The Animals Save the Planet

What It Costs

ENERGY STAR-rated CFLs cost between $1 - $15 depending on their use.

How to Do It

  1. Select “Add to My Challenge” and pledge to replace at least five incandescents with CFLs.
  2. Walk around your house, and find the five lights that you have on the most – your dining room lights, kitchen lights, a hallway…whatever you use the most. Those will be the areas where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.
  3. Write down the wattage and style of the five bulbs you want to replace. For example, if you have 60 watt floodlights in your kitchen, you want to remember to buy the equivalent CFLs.
  4. Go to the hardware store and buy your CFLs. Make sure to purchase only ENERGY STAR-rated bulbs!  Check and make sure you have the right color as well.
  5. Come home and install your new CFLs in your high use areas.
  6. Take your old incandescent bulbs and save them. You don’t have to throw these old ones away quite yet! Instead, use them in fixtures that you don’t use as frequently or for long periods of time, like closets or hallways. Once they burn out (which they will soon), then you can toss them.

Make It a Family Activity

Show your kids an incandescent and compact fluorescent and talk about the difference between the two bulbs.  Enlist them to help with an "incandescent hunt" in high use areas so they can help you find any old incandescents left over.  This is also a great opportunity to teach your kids about TOLBY - Turn Off Lights Behind You! 

Common Misconceptions

CFLs are more expensive than the old bulbs.

Nope!  Although the up-front cost for CFLs is more than for incandescents, CFLs easily pay for themselves (and more!) over their longer lifetime of energy savings.

For example, when you replace a 75W incandescent (1,000 hours rated life) with a 20W CFL (8,000 hours rated life), you will get at least a 440 kilowatt-hour (kWh) energy savings over the life of the bulb. With current energy costs ($.065 per kWh) and the additional savings of not purchasing the eight incandescents that you would have bought over the life of the CFL – that’s a savings of $32.60 per bulb.

CFLs look funny and sound weird.

CFLs have come a long way since they first came out on the market. Now you can buy CFLs that look exactly like incandescents, with the same color and amount of light.  CFLs actually come in a range of colors and applications, and now come fitted with electronic (rather than magnetic) ballasts that eliminate flickering and humming.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q.

    What colors do CFLs come in?

    Compact fluorescents are available in a range of colors, from the warm yellow light that incandescents give off to a brighter, whiter light. The color of a CFL depends on the Kelvin temperature. To replicate the color of an incandescent, buy a bulb with a Kelvin temperature of 2,700K (warm white). The higher the Kelvin temperature, the “cooler” the light feels and the bluer the effect. The highest Kelvin temperatures (5,000 – 6,500K) replicate daylight and can be better for reading.
  • Q.

    What should I look for when buying a CFL?

    Energy StarYou should always look for CFLs that have an Energy Star® label on the box. Energy Star® is a voluntary labeling program used to identify and promote energy efficiency products. Products with the Energy Star® label must meet specific guidelines established by the US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. If a CFL has the Energy Star® label, the manufacturer has met standards in the following areas: Lamp efficiency requirements, retention of light output as lamp ages, Color Rendering Index (CRI), start-up time, rated lamp life and informational requirements on packaging. For more information go to or call 1-888-782-7937
  • Q.

    Are CFLs dimmable?

    You can find CFLs designed for use with dimmers, most often at larger box stores. Make sure the CFL is labeled as dimmable. You CANNOT use a non-dimmable CFL with a dimmer — it will shorten the light of your bulb.
  • Q.

    Can I use CFLs outdoors?

    Yes!  There are a variety of compact fluorescents that you can use outdoors.  If you are putting a light in a covered fixture, you can use either regular spiral CFLs, or you can also use specialty outdoor CFLs which are better for weather.  However, they weren't really thinking of Minnesota winters when they designed these bulbs, so when the temperature gets below 30 degrees, you may notice that your CFLs don't get as bright. 
  • Q.

    Can I use CFLs in enclosed fixtures?

    Yes! CFLs can be used in enclosed fixtures as long as the fixture is not recessed and enclosed. If the fixture is recessed and totally enclosed (for example, a recessed can with a cover over the bulb) it is not a good idea to use a CFL. This combination creates temperatures that are too high, which will shorten the life of your bulb.
  • Q.

    Can I use CFLs with photocells and electronic timers?

    No. Photocells are incompatible with CFLs due to the way they convert radiant energy into electrical current. Timers are also incompatible because they allow a small amount of voltage to cycle through the lamp while it is off, causing the lamp to try and start itself when the proper supply voltage is not present. Both of the scenarios will shorten the life of your bulb and void any warrantees because the CFL is being used for a purpose inconsistent with its design. It is also not recommended to use CFLs in sensor/motion lights.
  • Q.

    I heard that CFLs contain mercury. Isn’t that dangerous?

    Yes, CFLs contain four milligrams of mercury, a very small amount. In fact, that’s 1/5th of the mercury contained in a watch battery. And, using CFLs actually reduces the amount of mercury in our environment! The vast majority of our electricity in Minnesota comes from burning coal, and burning coal releases mercury into the environment. Using a CFL uses less electricity, requiring less coal to be burned, releasing less mercury.

    In fact, research has shown that Americans are exposed to more mercury by eating canned tuna fish than by breaking compact fluorescent light bulbs ("One Big Fish Story").

  • Q.

    What should I do if a CFL breaks?

    Cleaning up a broken CFL is easy and safe. Remember, the mercury in CFLs is in vapor form.  First, open the windows in the room where the bulb broke to help disperse any vapor that may escape. Next, carefully sweep up the fragments and place them in a plastic bag. Do not use your bare hands or a vacuum cleaner! Next, wipe the area with a damp disposable paper towel to pick up any glass fragments. Seal the plastic bag and take the fragments with you the next time you recycle any old bulbs.
  • Q.

    How do I dispose of CFLs?

    Minnesota state law requires that CFLs be recycled because they contain mercury. They should never be incinerated. You can recycle CFLs for FREE at any big box home improvement store or hardware store. You should also be able to take them to your county’s hazardous waste site for free. Be sure to call ahead of time for drop-off rules. Log onto or EPA website for more information about lamp recycling in your area. You may also call 1-800-CLEAN-UP.


  • says:

    I actually upgraded from CFL to LED in most of the fixtures, and donated the usable CFL's to the local food shelf.It would be good to see an energy challenge posted for LED lighting here.

Please log-in or register to leave a comment.

Tolby Approved!

What a bright idea – take this action to become a super energy saver like me!
Meet TOLBY and find more kid-friendly actions