Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs…

There’s a lot of talk, these days, about compact fluorescent lights. Australia, for example, has taken the impressive step of banning traditional incandescent light bulbs. In three year’s time, you won’t be able to buy them in shops across the country.

Today I happened upon Lighter Footstep’s big guide to CFLs, and learned a bunch of stuff:

Speaking of efficiency, modern CFLs have almost immediate startup time. That means that when you flip the switch, there’s very little lag before the bulb turns on. But to achieve the sort of power efficiencies advertised on their packaging, CFLs must warm up to their operational temperature. This takes anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes. During this period, they’re not much more power-stingy than incandescent bulbs.

One way in which CFLs have improved is the tone of the light they can produce. I used to really dislike them, because the light was far too white, and quite close to traditional flourescent lights. They seem to have made some progress on achieving a warming, yellowed light.

Of course, most sci-fi films portray the future as cold and white, so I might just have to get used to it.

UPDATE: Here’s a great video my friends made on the benefits of switching to CFLs:



  1. Thanks for the mention, Darren.

    It’s true: CFL light is pretty decent these days. Behind me, here in my office, I have a fairly large 3-way GE CFL in a floor lamp. It’s more than enough light for the room, and gives of a pleasantly warm glow that’s very much like a traditional bulb.

    Things have come a long way. 🙂


  2. My DH and I were talking about the new measures to phase out the traditional light bulbs as we know it. We were wondering about disposal issues. Will this be like nuclear power? Short term gain for possibly future long-term pain?

  3. Mercury disposal is a real issue. The good news is that CFLs are quite recyclable. The bad is that there aren’t yet enough facilities and programs for the general public.

    I’m fairly sure big-box vendors like Wal-Mart will be obliged to make recycling available. In the meantime, if you don’t have a facility in your town, store your used CFLs in a box. They wear out so slowly that I’m sure system will catch up with demand.

    CFLs contain about 4 mg of mercury. While no level is safe, that’s not much. Conventional thermostats have about 300 mg, by comparison.

    Mercury is also produced by coal-burning power plants (about half of all US energy). The average incandescent bulb is responsible for about 10 mg of atmospheric mercury over its lifetime. CFLs account for 2.5 or so. Even if the mercury isn’t recycled — which it should be — CFLs represent a net reduction in the release of mercury into the environment.

    Up next: plastic LCD lighting. Cheaper, brighter, safer, and even more efficient. But not ready for prime time just yet.

  4. as requested, fluorescent lights typically come in two colours of light: warm and cool. the warm, predictably, has a more yellow tone, while the cool is more blueish. as every person is an individual, some people naturally prefer light of one colour or the other. the problem with this either-or choice is that there’s no medium. full-spectrum blubs reproduce the entire range of the light spectrum and are purported to reduce the problems associated with effectively eliminating half of colours in normal daylight.

    there are studies showing that children in classrooms lit by standard cool or warm fluorescent tubes have higher incidents of aggression, depression and learning difficulties. i wish i could find the site i recently read which described a classroom which was observed with standard tubes for half the year and then switched to full-spectrum bulbs for the other half — without their knowledge; there was a marked improvement in all these areas in the latter half of the year.

    i’m not entirely sure if full-spectrum CFLs are available, but until i am, i can’t afford to switch. i’m very sensitive to the quality of light in my work and recreation areas. in my office, i had the overhead fluorescent tubes removed and i work with natural light from the window and a small task light with an incandescent bulb. if i were subjected to the overheads all day, every day, i might just lose my mind.

  5. Thanks for the explanation, Heather. Yeah, when I worked at a software development company, I removed all the fluorescent bulbs in my office, and got lamps for my office mates.

  6. I despise industrial fluorescent lighting. But you’ve got the right idea: use natural light as much as possible, and spot where you need it.

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