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5500K balanced office = better productivity?
October 31, 2011 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Office Colour Temperature: will I be less tired if the room's fluorescent lamps in the ceiling were daylight balanced to 5500K?

Right now, the fluorescent lamps in the office have that pukey green tint.

No scientific data, but I think because of the lack of warmth in the lights, it is one of the factors contributing to my fatigue—affecting my productivity. I think if the lights were warmer and closer to the colour temperature of the sun, then I wouldn't fall asleep as much. Am I correct or does the colour temperature in a room not matter at all?

If it does matter, then what are my options to filter the fluorescent lamps to daylight? What about LEDs?
posted by querty to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about the psychological aspects of this, but you've got your understanding of color temperature confused. "Warmth," when you talk about color, generally means reds, yellows and oranges. However when you're talking about color temperature as measured in degrees K, higher numbers (like 5500K) mean "cooler" light that's closer to the blue end of the spectrum. Think of the colors of fire, where a blue flame is hotter than an orange one. If you want warm light that's more similar to incandescent lighting, go for bulbs that have lower color temp numbers.
posted by jon1270 at 8:27 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

The three typical natural lights are: incandescent, direct sunlight, light from the sky.
These are orange, bluer, bluest, respectively.

Myself, I like to mix various color temperature bulbs in the fixtures, although "full spectrum'' bulbs should equate to that, I still prefer a mix. The shadows look more natural to me.

The biggest issue for fatigue is the frequency of the transformer. Older ones can be low, like 60HZ. Newer ones can be faster, like 4000HZ. The faster, the better.

Shake your fingers in front of your face, if you see much strobing, then that light will be more fatiguing.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:44 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like broad-spectrum light, and find that it does affect my mood.

5500K is too cool light in my opinion. While that is the color of daylight, midday sun is way brighter than indoor lighting. The reduced light level of indoor lighting causes the same color temperature to be perceived as too blue. I find that around 4000K is nice for indoor lighting.

I'd definitely try a few 4000-ish fluorescents with a highish CRI number. At least above 90. CRI or Color Rendering Index isn't a perfect measure, but a high number is a strong hit that the lighting is more pleasant.

Personally, my small company went with 4100K Solux halogen bulbs. We're waiting to have them installed, but people rave about them. Very very broad color spectrum. Museums are using these. Including the Van Gogh museum etc. Serious stuff.
posted by krilli at 8:54 AM on October 31, 2011

I haven't liked the full-spectrum lights I've tried; they come across as very blue and cold to me.

What I've done to help with the coldness of fluorescents in offices is to put a small task light on my desk with an incandescent bulb in it. This gives you a much warmer, yellower light right where you need it and I find it to be very cheerful. And it's my understanding that the combination of incandescent and fluorescent covers a good portion of the spectrum.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:05 AM on October 31, 2011

I agree with everyone with 5500 is quite cool. You may want to go more like 3600-4000. If you place a white piece of paper by the light, you can see what color it is and then you can get a color gel to warm the lights up a bit. If it is greenish as you've mentioned, try something pinkish.

Solux makes a great product, I use their bulbs and their representatives are all very nice.

Is it warm/dry in the office? A cool mist humidifier may help too. Bed, Bath and Beyond carries a very small one that could work in a small space.
posted by Yellow at 10:09 AM on October 31, 2011

Just dropping in here to add that it's not just color temperature, it's also spectrum/color rendering index. My old roommate was building these weird-ass custom fluorescent lights in this loft we were building, and we prototyped with all different kinds of lights and diffusors. It turned out that it wasn't just the raw temperature that made the light pleasing or intolerable, a lot of it had to do with the spectrum. High CRI makes a huge difference in the agreeableness of light, if you go with those multi-phosphate deals with way higher CRI, I will bet money you will like them better no matter which temp you get (although you might still prefer the warmer (lower) temps). Ultimately, we also put them behind white paper and plexiglass.
posted by jeb at 11:51 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fluorescent lights are frequently blamed for cases of office-related malaise. In my experience, the light bulbs are the least of the problems. It's an understandable target, because you're staring right at them, and they make everything look different than it does at home.

If you're feeling tired at the office, my first question is how much sleep you are getting at night. Do you sleep in later on the weekends? Are you eating as well during the week as you do on your days off? Do you have a general zest for your job when you're not at the office, or does thinking about it make you feel "bleh"? How is the air circulation - is your area getting enough fresh air, or does it feel stuffy?

You are correct that the color temperature can make a difference in the feel of a room. But other factors, in my experience, have far greater impact on your mood.
posted by ErikaB at 3:49 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

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