The good news? One easy green way to save money on your electric bill is by buying CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs to replace all of your incandescent bulbs. According to the Energy Star program, CFLs use 75 percent less energy, last up to 10 times longer and also prevent over 450 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per bulb.

The bad news? Many of the CFLs on the market don’t pass the muster of the Energy Star ratings that they tout. They also contain excessive amounts of mercury, which is released into your house as mercury vapor if the bulb breaks. Mercury levels in the air can be very high for some time after a bulb breaks, and some of these Energy Star rated bulbs are illegal in Europe because of their high levels of mercury.

The environmental and financial benefits of using CFLs are clear, but the market is flooded with CFLs of all kinds. How can you tell which brands and models are best?

You’re in luck, because the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done the work for you. They’ve listed hundreds of bulbs that don’t pass the Energy Star efficiency ratings, and come up with their picks of the top seven bulbs that do surpass the ratings, and contain the least amount of mercury.

The top performing bulbs with the lowest mercury content according to EWG:

  • Earthmate Mini-Size Bulbs (13, 15, 20, & 23 Watt)
  • Litetronics Neolite (10, 13, 15, 20, & 23 Watt)
  • Sylvania Micro-Mini (13, 20, & 23 Watts)
  • Sylvania DURA-ONE (reflector bulbs)
  • Feit Ecobulb
  • MaxLite
  • Philips with Alto

Download your copy of EWG’s Lighting Guide (PDF) and refer to it when purchasing CFLs for your house, and reference the Bulbs with the Energy Star logo that fail 2008 standards list to make sure you’re not being swindled.

Image: Paul Keller at Flickr under Creative Commons

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