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All about Fluorescent Lighting

CFLs are More Energy Efficient than Incandescent Bulbs and Halogen

© 2008 by ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

A Kitchen Fluorescent Light Fixture

This article was updated on 01/30/19. Happy National Croissant Day!

Fluorescent lights represent a big step up in energy efficient from conventional incandescent bulbs (6 times more light for the same expenditure) or line voltage halogens. Changing existing incandescents to CFLs will qquickly lead to utility bill savings.

This is great time to take advantage of fluorescent lighting and energy savings! Why would these money-saving bulbs be used instead of incandescent light bulbs? Here’s 3 obvious reasons that make them a great choice:

  • When President Bush’s penned his final energy bill, he instituted a deadline engineered to gradually eliminate incandescents over the course of the next 4 to 12 years. Mandated for their replacement are compact fluorescent bulbs, LED (Light Emitting Diode) light bulbs, and low voltage halogens (line voltage too).

  • Although not new, they set a new standard with respect to energy savings! Consider that fluorescent bulbs produce 6 times more light than incandescent bulbs as well as lasting 5 times longer!
  • Because they use so much less electricity, they are a great choice in your on-going quest to go green and live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Drawbacks of Switching to CFLs

It’s not all ideal. 2 of the most obvious drawbacks are:

  • Initially cost. CFLs are a relatively new technology which makes them rather expensive. In order not to take the financial hit all at once, a good economic strategy is to replace them as the old incandescents burn out.

  • Disposal of mercury-containing bulbs. Fluorescents contain mercury which is toxic. How to dispose of old bulbs is a grey area just now. This means they are green in power consumption, but non-green in materials. The law is a bit strange on this point; it depends on how many you dispose of. Most users can just toss them in the trash. For example, my Ameriwaste recycling bin instructions on the lid does not specifically prohibit nor permit them.

Fluorescent Light Fixture Components

The components that all fluorescent light fixtures use are:

  1. Tubes: Tubes come in many shapes and sizes. They may be long, linear tubes (from a few inches to a number of feet, depending on the application), or tubes made into a variety different shapes to fit specific sockets. For example, circuline bulbs are circular, hence the name. Most common for home use mimic traditional incandescents so you can use the fixtures you already own.

  2. Ballasts: Fluorescent ballasts are key to firing up the tube. When the light switch is flipped on, the ballast provides the electrical current that stimulates the gas in the tube. Then it lowers the current down to the minimum necessary to maintain the proper level of illumination. The voltage drop at this point is the key cause why fluorescents are noted for being so energy efficient. It only takes a trickle to maintain.

    If you have to replace a ballast, take the old one to the store with you to get an exact match.
  3. Sockets: These are available in more shapes and sizes than ever before. Sockets are dual-purpose; they secure the tube in place and transmit electricity to it.
Note: Some fixtures also use trigger switches or starters.

Fluorescent Color and Temperature

Different applications call for different fluorescent temperatures and colors. The temperature, rated in degrees Kelvin, ranges from warm to cool.

The ranges for cool tubes are 4000° K and higher. Their harsh light is often referred to as “factory light” and is is a good selection for task lighting. Use it in areas such as over your wood shop’s work bench, when you need a stronger illumination than that provided by LED undercabinet lights.

But warm-rated tubes range from 3000° K and lower. They emit comparetively the same light as a standard incandescent.

A third category are medium temperature tubes. A fluorescent bulb’s temperature and wattage is labeled on the tube itself, near its end. Of course, it is also printed on the carton.

The Definition of Color Rendering

Basically, it’s the bulb’s ability to illuminate. The color rendering index (CRI) of 100 is considered the standard. It’s logical when you ponder it; it’s close to true, natural sunlight. This is probably what you want if you suffer with seasonal affectiveness disorder during the winter when days are shorter.

They are also a good choice in work areas, such as the kitchen, where you cook and brew coffee.

Now, the bulbs rated with a CRI in the 90s range are generally employed for plant grow lights. A tube in the 50 range is considered a typical, standard warm bulb. Which type you should install is simply a matter of application and personal preference.

How to Identify a Burned-Out Bulb

It’s a simple matter to identify a spent bulb. Fluorescent bulbs use cathode filaments. As time passes, they’ll slowly degrade This leaves a sooty deposit on each end of the bulb. They cease to perform their task correctly.

This describes the natural “burning out” progression, a decrease of effectiveness. This is opposite of incandescent bulbs which perform fine until finally, the filament snaps abruptly and the lights go out due to a loss of continuity.

Looking at a brand new tube, no visible black deposits can be seen. Then over time it will appear and grow until it’s prominent. Finally, it reaches the end of the bulb. A frequent misunderstanding is that flickering or blinking bulbs indicates a burn-out.

Not so; this might be a number of other issues, like a faulty starter, a bad ballast, extremely cold weather, or simply a dirty bulb.

I hope you enjoyed this article on the basics of fluorescent lighting and found it helpful in making your choices. If so, please share the link with friends. And if you have some related ideas please share them with our readers in the comment section below.

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About the Webmaster:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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