The right compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) can make the difference between a warm, welcoming room and a home that looks like a cheap discount store. A number of my green conscious clients complain their new CFL’s make a stark unattractive light. They miss the warmth of incandescent (Edison) light bulbs. (I admit that I exaggerate a little – no one looks green, but the wrong CFL’s will make you look pale and sickly.)
The remedy to this is “warm white” or “soft white” CFL’s with a color temperature between 2700 K to 3000 K, which approximates the warm light of 2400K incandescent light bulbs.
“Bright white” CFL’s have a color temperature of 3500 K. These are best for situations where you need bright light – such as craft work. Please note that CFL’s labeled “sunlight” or “daylight” are cool white fluorescent and only suitable for precision work areas.
Unfortunately light bulb manufacturers do not offer color temperature or Kelvin information on their packaging. You will either have to trust the “warm white” or “soft white” labels or go online and double check the color temperature ratings of specific bulbs. Sparsam™ CFL’s (available only at IKEA stores) provide the warm light of incandescent bulbs.
Update #1: Since I first wrote this blog there have been changes in the manufacturing and labeling of light bulbs. A new label “Lighting Facts”, which looks similar to the nutrition facts labels on food, will list brightness – in lumens, estimated yearly cost to use the bulb, estimated life of a bulb, “light appearance” using a “warm/cool” scale and degrees Kelvin.
Hint #1 : I find that I need more wattage than the conversion factor listed on the label. If you want to get 75 watts of illumination you will do better with an 18 watt CFL than a 15 Watt CFL. I honestly don’t know why this is. If anyone knows, please contact me.
Hint #2 : CFL’s contain mercury, so dispose of them as a toxic material at special recycling places, or see if your retailer will accept them for safe disposal.
Update #2: CFL’s now contain 60-75% LESS mercury than previously. Continue to dispose of the carefully.
Update #3: To get the full estimated life expectancy from a compact fluorescent bulb, they should have as little on/off activity as possible. Also they need to be in a vented fixture. This means a lamp should have some air vents or heat outlets, rather than in a fixture with a solid metal or plastic covering. Similarly, CFLs in recessed ceiling fixtures need to have heat vents in the fixtures.
Take a look around your home and see if you have lighting in the right places and if your light bulbs give you the warmth that makes your space inviting, relaxing and user-friendly.