How can I save money and energy and still have attractive lighting?
August 23, 2006 9:32 AM   Subscribe

I understand that incandescent light bulbs are antiquated and extremely wasteful, but LED and fluorescent light looks horrible...

I replaced my outdoor deck light with a compact fluorescent, and not only does it take minutes to warm up, the light it projects is stark and ugly. I recently bought a couple Philips LED rope lights to light the front porch, proud of myself for finding a cheap, long lasting, efficient solution that would allow me to leave the light on all night for security. When I got them home and plugged them in, the light they produced was the ugliest, starkest, harshest light I have ever seen. Back to the store they went.

I am somewhat obsessed with the light in and around my house, I believe that the quality of light you are exposed to effects mood and relaxation profoundly. I hate fluorescent and LED seems even worse. How can I save money and energy and still have attractive lighting?

Side question: Does anyone know a good chart online showing the electrical consumption of common light solutions, in particular, rope light?
posted by bradn to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
"I replaced my outdoor deck light with a compact fluorescent, and not only does it take minutes to warm up, the light it projects is stark and ugly."

I recently bought 13W (60W Equivalent) and a 42W(150W Equivalent) compact fluorescent bulbs, and they instantly come on and take no time to warm up. They have light quality comparable to a regular incandescent bulb, although perhaps more white and less orange.

I guess my only advice would be that if you're using say, a 100W deck light, replace it with a higher equivalent wattage CF bulb, like a 125 or 150. You'll only be saving about half the electricity, but it will be even brighter.

Where CF bulbs really shine (no pun intended) is for indoor use, since they produce very little heat, in addition to saving electricity.
posted by mhuckaba at 9:44 AM on August 23, 2006

Actually, there's no technical reason that LED light should be harsh. It's going to take a while, but I fully expect that once LED home lighting becomes commonplace, LED "bulbs" (emitters? whatever) will have tunable light frequencies. There are already some "warm white" LED lights out there.

My psychic powers are poor, so it's hard for me to know what you find attractive in lighting. I kinda like rope lights.

As a rule of thumb, LED lighting seems to use about 1/10th the wattage of an equivalent incandescent; fluorescent, about 1/4th.
posted by adamrice at 9:48 AM on August 23, 2006

Erm... I'm not quite sure what you mean by harshness/ugliness of the light. Do you mean how it is tinted?

Do you want even daylight colored light or traditional *warm* incandescent light?
posted by mhuckaba at 9:48 AM on August 23, 2006

Response by poster: I want the same warm light you get from a "soft white" incandescent bulb, as opposed to the office building quality of fluorescent light.

mhuckaba: To be fair, the CF bulb I use is a cheaper brand, maybe that is the reason. It's my first experience with CFs.
posted by bradn at 9:57 AM on August 23, 2006

I use CF bulbs wherever I can (i.e. any light that isn't on a dimmer). They come on pretty much instantly and the quality of the light seems fine to me. If you are finicky, I'd suggest you try a few different brands of compact fluorescent bulbs to see if there's one that meets your standards.
posted by alms at 10:03 AM on August 23, 2006

We have replaced many of our incandescent bulbs with the compact flourescent but I, too, hate the short hesitation and warm-up time of the new bulbs. One thing I've done is when I have a lamp with two light outlets I'll use one incandescent and one flourescent. I cut down on the electrical use but get the immediate light I'm used to.

I have heard that they've come out with the flourescent bulbs that now come on immediately but I haven't been able to find them. Am I dreaming this?
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:12 AM on August 23, 2006

If you use flourescent bulbs of any variety outside, they will take much longer to warm up (and might not even work at all) during cold weather because the mercury vapor condenses inside the tube.
posted by leapfrog at 10:16 AM on August 23, 2006

Incandescent light is the distorted color, you know - sunlight is white light like fluorescents are, you just happen to be used to a very weird yellowish artificial light source. If you switch to CFLs for a while, you won't notice it any more.

That said, there are CFLs that come on instantly, and ones that take a full minute to reach max light output. There are CFLs that are extremely bluish, and ones that are much closer to yellow incandescent light. Shop around.
posted by jellicle at 10:24 AM on August 23, 2006

Best answer: I've played around with CF bulbs quite a bit; i too like the yellow light from regular bulbs and tried to approximate it (I hate the white-blue light from CF bulbs). However the energy savings and long-life is too good to pass up. Here's what I learned:

-First off, you dont have to replace *every* bulb in the house in order to see substantial energy bill savings. For instance, I've left some desk or bed lights with regular bulbs, but I did replace ceiling lights and lights that are on continuously, 'general lighting', with CF. That combination has been enough and has worked well in terms of saving me money substantially on the electric bill.

-Second - you need to look for a kelvin rating of 2700 or LESS. This is sold as "soft white" sometimes. The Kelvin rating, from what I understand, determines the color spectrum of the light; and the lower it is, the closer it is to a yellow, approximating a regular bulb. Here is an example of one that I've liked. It has a Kelvin rating of 2700 and is sold by GE as 'soft white'.
Does it really approximate a regular yellow light bulb? To be honest, its NOT BAD. And I think there really is a noticable difference between these CF bulbs and the higher kelvin CF bulbs which become white-bluish in color.

-lastly, note that you dont even have to get "spiral" shaped CF bulbs anymore; they do have "regular shaped" CF bulbs now, which is nice. The example (link) above is one such.

In sum, it looks like a regular bulb in both shape and color (well, 'just about' a regular bulb in color; my friends couldnt tell it was CF until I mentioned it), has the savings of a CF bulb, and therefore has worked great for all my 'general lighting' purposes.
posted by jak68 at 10:25 AM on August 23, 2006 [5 favorites]

i am a big compact florescent user. newer style bulbs don't have any hesitation at all--but some of the older ones do. there is some difference on shading--i recently picked up a bunch of new ones at menards that specialized in full spectrum light. try different brands.

one place i don't use them is outdoors. in order for cf's to save a lot of money, they need to not be turned on or off a lot. outside lights often tend to do this. also, compact florescents stop working at all around 40 degrees ferenheight.
posted by lester at 10:27 AM on August 23, 2006

Like others above, I mix and match. My bathroom fixture, which takes three bulbs, has one incandescent and two fluorescent bulbs, which I find is sufficient to give me a spectrum I'm comfortable with.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:37 AM on August 23, 2006

As others have said, your "preference" for light is based largely on what you are used to. Incandescents are skewed way towards infra-red and hence produce a yellowish tinge. CFs skew towards ultra-violet, and so appear bluish-white.

A few years ago, the whiter-than-white CF thing bothered me on the main house lights - but I realised a while back that I had gone beyond not noticing it: now it's incandescents that appear unusual, with their sickly tinge.

For my bedroom reading lights, I got off-white creamy paper lamp shades that envelop the CFs - they work very well and produce a nice soft, dim, reddish light.
posted by meehawl at 10:49 AM on August 23, 2006

lester writes "also, compact florescents stop working at all around 40 degrees ferenheight."

-40 you mean. I've got CF in all my outdoor fixtures and they come on instantly well down into the -30s (it hasn't been colder than that here the last couple of years)
posted by Mitheral at 12:05 PM on August 23, 2006

Does anyone know a good chart online showing the electrical consumption of common light solutions

Have you taken a look at the lighting research center, they may have what your looking for.

Incandescent light is the distorted color, you know - sunlight is white light like fluorescents are

Not necessarily. Common fluorescent lighting has a deficiency in the red spectrum, ask any photographer who's taken pictures with daylight film in their camera under fluorescent light and they'll tell you everything comes out with a green cast to it. With light sources it comes down to how many degrees Kelvin the bulb generates and what colours it generates in the visible colour spectrum. Gas discharge lights, like fluorescent, are stunted in parts of the visible colour spectrum whereas incandescents cover the whole spectrum.
posted by squeak at 12:21 PM on August 23, 2006

I'm wondering if the lamp preference might be age-related? My kids much prefer light from incandescents but I don't find a significant difference in light from CF bulbs. I'm 63, they're teens & twenties.
posted by anadem at 12:32 PM on August 23, 2006

I'm wondering if the lamp preference might be age-related?

I grew with both types in my life; I still prefer yellow ones, they are 'warmer', meaning perhaps they remind me more of 'flame', and thats a 'homy' or cozy kind of light. I guess I associate yellow light with that - cozy, warm, homy stuff. CF on the other hand always reminds me of institutions: libraries, hospitals, and (ugh), work.
That said, I hope CF bulbs keep improving, I think they will, and the 'warm white' or 'soft white' ones out now really arent that bad. I can get used to them pretty quickly, while still keeping assorted cozy regular lights around the house.
posted by jak68 at 12:54 PM on August 23, 2006

I'm wondering if the lamp preference might be age-related? My kids much prefer light from incandescents but I don't find a significant difference in light from CF bulbs.
I'm mid-way between you, and CANNOT. STAND. any of the fluorescent lights I've tried. I keep trying them because "oh, they're better now" -- and no, they're not. The color of the light is terrible and I can sort of "hear" them, even the new ones we got that are supposedly full-spectrum. They've been banished to the basement. Has anyone tried the "warm" LEDs, or is there a specific brand/model that can be recommended?

PS: You're not alone for finding them hard to deal with
posted by mimi at 1:11 PM on August 23, 2006

I suspect it depends as much on the user as the lights. The numerical measurement of how clean a fluorescent light's spectrum (or indeed, any type of light's) is called the Color Rendering Index; the closer to 100, the closer to sunlight.

Current Daylight/Full Spectrum fluorescents, properly warmed up, can gat up as high as 94 or so these days; maybe a little higher.

The higher the CRI, the 'better' the light will look -- specifically, the closer it will look to an incandescent of equivalent color temperature. Not all fluorescents of high CRI are daylight balanced, though most of them are.
posted by baylink at 2:26 PM on August 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

some time ago i was able to purchase some regular fluorescent lights with 'rare earth' coatings which resulted in significantly warmer light. not sure if they are making CF bulbs with the same materials now.
posted by joeblough at 4:01 PM on August 23, 2006

There have been a few previous threads about compact fluorescent bulbs, and light bulb colour in general:
Home Lighting Filter
February 27, 2005 7:16 PMWill I burn down my apartment?
May 26, 2005 3:33 AM
Pick me a light bulb
October 12, 2005 1:43 AM
When should I replace my lightbulbs?
February 8, 2006 10:16 AM
Actually, I think there are probably a couple more.. Anyway, here is my review of CF bulbs available in Canada:
  • The Luminus bulbs at Costco have great colour and they are very inexpensive. They turn on right away, but there is a 10 minute warm up before they reach full brightness. They are a little larger than conventional bulbs.
  • Ikea bulbs have been terrible for years (my last experience is starting to be out of date now though, so something might have changed...). The colour is very blue/white and the price for a given brightness isn't that good. They sometimes flicker a little on turn on I think, but I don't recall a warm up time. They are perhaps a little larger than the luminus bulbs.
  • I just tested a pack of very small bulbs from Walmart, can't remember the brand, but it is the same as the one they always have on sale cheap. These were a bit expensive because they were the same size or smaller than standard bulbs in every dimension. The brightness was good but the colour was a little blue/white. No flicker on turn on, and I don't remember a warm up issue.
  • Philips bulbs (I got them through the 2 free bulbs for Toronto residents at Home Depot promotion). They are really great, but might be a bit pricey if you actually have to pay for them. Brighter and better colour than Luminus. No flicker on the start, but possibly a little warm up time. Exactly the same size as Luminus - as if they are made by the same manufacturer.
  • 13W NOMA bulbs from Canadian Tire. .5-1s turn-on delay, very close to full brightness right away. Brightness was very good but the colour is a little blue/white (especially compared to the luminus bulbs from costco). The same plastic base as luminus and other models, but the spiral is slightly shorter and slightly smaller diameter.

posted by Chuckles at 7:00 PM on August 23, 2006

Damn, one extra carriage return and that would have been a beautiful post..
posted by Chuckles at 7:01 PM on August 23, 2006

And, I completely forgot to include this interesting link..
Finding compact fluorescent light bulbs that can be tolerated by multiple sclerosis victims.
posted by Chuckles at 7:13 PM on August 23, 2006

Baylink is on the ball with this one. It's mostly about the Color Rendering Index, which is a measure of the smoothness of distribution of light colors emitted by a source across the spectrum of visible light. A smooth distribution gives accurate colors to the human eye.

Next is color temperature. Then another factor that's supposedly in play is scotopic vs. photopic vision, with the color distribution of equally bright light sources supposedly influencing how much the pupil closes down, with tighter pupils yielding better focus on details (good for reading) by minimizing exposure to variations in the curvature of the lens. That one's pretty new to me and I'm not sure what to make of it yet.

As for startup speed, we have some CFL bulbs from Technical Consumer Products (TCP) that are instant on. They've kind of spoiled me for the slower ones.
posted by NortonDC at 9:45 PM on August 23, 2006

I couldn't agree with you more, Bradn; good lighting makes or breaks a room, and despite attention to environmental concerns in almost every other way, I haven't yet been able to bring myself to switch to CFL's (except for the basement and the outside light). Mostly I've compromised w/ halogen bulbs, which at least save a little energy, and give a very nice light.

Apparently the magic combination is high CRI and low (or warm) Kelvin temp (around 2700)...that's what will make fluorescent light look most like incandescent. the problem is that most high-CRI bulbs are also high-Kelvin (5000+). Higher Kelvin temp may indeed be more like daylight, but it doesn't do much for skin tones or wood tones, so even people who think it looks less "sickly" will themselves look, well....sickly.

I've been looking around online, and intend to go to Home Depot this week. Apparently the Westinghouse realite is high-CRI; I think at least some of them are warm white, too.

Meehawl is right, though--in the absence of the perfect light, the shade can help a lot. It also makes a big difference if your rooms are painted in a warmer-toned ivory, rather than a grayer-toned white.

I'll check in again if I find the perfect light. I'm always amazed how few people notice what a big difference lighting makes....

FWIW, I also suffer from SAD, and use a lightbox (the golite from apollo health). Apollo Health's site has some interesting comments on CRI & Kelvin as they apply to full-spectrum lighting and whether it matters (for SAD; needless to say they're not against it if someone simply likes these lights). But grateful though I am to my little blue light, I'm still not going to compromise on nice reading lights....
posted by ejask at 9:14 PM on November 4, 2006

« Older Sample query letters for freelance editing work   |   RSS feeds for NYC events Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.