Switching over to CFL bulbs

I’m switching the lighting in my house from traditional incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents. I live in an old (1906) home with over a hundred bulbs, if you count all the wall sconces, chandeliers, and lamps throughout the house. The problem that I’m running into is that the bulbs around this house have been placed somewhat haphazardly – matching lights have bulbs that don’t match, and sometimes matching lights have bulbs with different wattages. And evidently some lights can’t be replaced with equivalent CFL bulbs, at least not in a size that will fit the fixture. So I need to figure out which CFL bulbs work best in which lights and, since I’m planning on swapping out all the bulbs in the house, I may as well try to proceed with some forethought and consistency.

Here’s the question: Is there a way of figuring out what the best wattage for a fixture is? For example, many of the bedside lamps are designed for 40-watt incandescent bulbs. Is there any reason that I shouldn’t opt for a brighter CFL bulb, say a 26-watt CFL bulb, which would give off light equivalent to a 100-watt incandescent but would still come in under the lamp’s 40-watt capacity? Likewise, all my overhead track lighting is recessed dimmable 65-watt incandescent floods; is there any reason that I should stick with the equivalent 16-watt CFL floods, or can I safely upgrade to the 23-watt floods, which would give off light equivalent to a 90-watt incandescent flood?

I am familiar with the government’s Energy Star guidelines and buyer’s guide, but it doesn’t answer my questions (at least not as far as I can find). Thank you in advance for any helpful advice.

Since you have so many bulbs you could just buy a few at various wattages and then test them out in all the spots you have. Once you find out what size bulb you like at each spot then go buy the rest.

That’s one of the great things about CFLs - they are so much brighter than incandescents for a given wattage that you can give yourself a “brightness upgrade” and still save energy. So if you have a fixture that takes a 40W lamp, you can put in a 40W CFL (if it will fit), and have the brightness of 200W of incandescent illumination. The wattage rating of a light fixture is how much power it can dissipate without overheating - the fixture doesn’t care whether it’s CFL or Tungsten. Remember that CFLs will last longer if they are not overheated, so you don’t want to go overboard…

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Watch it. It’s my understanding that normal CFLs don’t work properly on dimmers. I’ve been told by an environmentally conscious friend that it CFLs do exist that work on dimmers, but I have no idea about their cost or availability.

This is correct.
My experience has been poor with low-price dimmable CFLs - I bought a bunch on ebay, they they have a failed with the same component overheating in their ballast. I would stick with a brand that offers a guarantee, and keep your receipt.

Correct. But there are CFL bulbs specially designed for dimmable lighting.

cfl are great when used for the proper application. use where a light that is left on for long periods of time like a task light (reading for example) or a general room light.

cfl can take about a minute to come to full brightness and might likely wear out quicker with many on/off times. so they are best not used for stair and closet lights where they might only be used for a minute or two.

good to have an incandescent light to turn on to transit a room or look quickly for something. have a cfl where reading or long duration tasks are done, you aren’t subjected to wasted heat and have more efficient and softer light.

i use incandescent lamps in ceiling lights used to light a space when walking through or looking for something, usually a 1 to 15 minute duration. i have cfl in table, floor and desk lamps where they are used for hours of use at a time.

In most lamps & light fixtures, the rating of ‘maximum 60 watts’ or similar is because of the heat produced by an incandescent bulb, not the electrical wiring. The wiring in the fixture can actually handle 125-275 watts, way more than is used. You could safely use a 200-watt CFL (equivalent to 600-watt incandescent – like a theatrical stage floodlight), if it would fit.

And CFL’s are not good choices for lights that are only on for a few minutes (they take a while to come to full brightness, and are not efficient until they do). So when you are changing your house over, save the old incandescent bulbs for use in things like closets, appliances, etc., and putting the new CFL’s in places where they will be on for quite a while, like kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, etc. Bathrooms are a special case; the lights are often on for a while so should be CFL’s, but you want the light to come on quickly in the middle of the night. So many people use a combination of 1 CFL and 1 incandescent bulb there.

Both Home Depot and Lowes have CFL displays with their three standard “temperatures” for CFL bulbs. I prefer the warm CFL’s over the super-nova, sun about to explode, bright white ones, for general use.

But, one thing to get used to is not being able to dim your bulbs. They sell them, for like $12 for a single 15 watt (as in equivalent to incandescent light bulb) CFL. Which is a lot of you have a chandelier, and, they are big and ugly looking. I’d take a look at your track lighting and see where you usually keep the setting and down scale the wattage.

I like the previous suggestion of buying bulbs and trying the out. Get some 45, 60, 75 watt equivalent CFL’s and see how it works out. There probably was another reason for going to a 40 watt bedside bulb other than heat, being that it won’t be too bright to keep your partner up.


When ‘upgrading’ peoples homes with CFL bulbs I usually just replace most the bulbs with 13 watt CFL bulbs (60watt equivalent). Simply reason being cost. The 13 watt are the best bargain.

I do leave incandescent’s in key places where the bargain grade CFL’s don’t work well or at all.
Anything on a dimmer
appliance bulbs like those over an oven or in one
outside lights(CFL have minimum start temperatures and it gets cold here)
points were instant light is important like stairways I’ll typically put one incandescent and the rest CFL.

As I change the bulbs out I leave all the fixtures on so when I’m done I can identify where more or less light would be preferable and change out those bulbs accordingly.

When purchasing the bulbs I pick up a variety of options and more then would be necessary. After I’m done I leave a few spares of any type bulb used and return the rest.

The cfl bulbs we’ve tried so far don’t seem to live up to the “same light output as” ratings on the boxes. They’ve been much dimmer.

Buy a couple different light types like daylight or soft white and a couple different wattage. Try them out in the fixtures. Buy after you’ve used them a week. I have problems seeing with some lights and others work great. I need the higher wattage with the ones that give me trouble, and lower wattage with the ones that work best for my eyes. Remember that some fixtures will need the smaller lights that cost more. After the try out go buy what works in multipacks. One brand I tried lasted about 6 months so they lied about the extended life. Another one has lasted better, with no dead ones in that brand yet.

Another place I found that CFLs didn’t seem to work properly (at least for me) was in an aquarium light. I had a 23 gallon aquarium (I no longer do, so I can’t try any suggestions anyone might have) with a cover made to take those more or less cylindrical incandescent aquarium bulbs. The smaller CFLs fit, but they wouldn’t last longer than a week or two before burning out. Might have been humidity and droplets from the filter; I don’t know.

IIRC, Another thing you might want to watch out for is using CFL bulbs in the inverted position (bulb down). Apparently this causes heat to build up in the electronics and greatly shortens life.

You may want to just get a few, and replace the ones that are used the most, which will give you the greatest savings, then replace the rest as needed.

One thing you should try, read a few pages of a book with the standard IC lighting, then switch to the CF bulb, read a few more pages, then switch back again to IC and read a few more, some find that reading demonstrates that IC just works better for seeing things, and some have switched back to IC.