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October 19, 2007 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Best replacement for light bulbs in apartment building halls and common areas?

I've taken on the responsibility of selecting light bulbs to replace the incandescent and tube-style fluorescent ones that are currently in use in my condo building's halls and common areas. Criteria are:

- energy efficient.
- pleasant light.
- low heat output.
- low initial cost to buy.
- easy to install in the existing fixtures.

Initial research suggest the compact fluorescents made by GE or Osram fit most of these criteria, but does anyone have any personal experiences with differences between different manufacturers or with use in common areas of larger (8 floors, 28 units) residential buildings?

Finally, are there any rebates or tax benefits (for a building in Washington DC) associated with installing more efficient lights?
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: See Lighting Efficiency Comparison.

Linear fluorescents are, as you can see, the most efficient sources that do not produce too much heat. This is why they are used in parking lots, subways, etc.

Are the bulbs on all the time? Switching a fluorescent on and off constantly may be more expensive than using incandescants. In case of a 5 minute on/off cycle the lifespan of a CFL can be up to 85% shorter reducing its lifespan to the level of a normal lamp
posted by stereo at 6:29 AM on October 19, 2007

Keep the tubes, replace the incandescents with CFL.

For your tube lights, check the ballasts -- older/cheaper ballasts suck ass, and are largely (but not entirely) responsible for the bad reputation of tube fluorescents. My office uses Sylvania T-8 "ecologic" lights in very modern fixtures with quality electronic ballasts, and they're actually rather nice (I'm sensitive to flicker, so older systems drive me up a freaking wall).
posted by aramaic at 6:41 AM on October 19, 2007

For the "pleasant light" requirement, pay attention to color temperature and color resolution index.

Color temp. is expressed in degrees Kelvin. Typical incandescent light is just under 3000K. Higher numbers mean cooler/bluer light.

CRI is a scale from zero to 100, and indicates how well the light source lets you distinguish between different colors. The sun is the gold standard, with a CRI of 100. Cheap fluorescents can have CRI ratings in the 60's, which make it impossible to, for example, distinguish black from navy blue. The don't reduce the world completely to black and white, but the effect leans in that direction. Better fluorescents can have CRI's as high as the mid-90s, but get expensive at the top of the range. You should probably settle for the mid-80s.
posted by jon1270 at 7:20 AM on October 19, 2007

If you choose compact CFL lights, do NOT use them in light fixtures that are recessed, or have some kind of close fitting shade around them. We did this by mistake and ended up with a living room full of noxious smoke.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:21 AM on October 19, 2007

Why, may I ask, no tube-style fluorescent?
posted by TomMelee at 7:49 AM on October 19, 2007

Bear in mind that if you choose decent CFLs that fit into standard incandescent-style bases, tenants will steal these $8 items for their own use, or resale, or who knows what they do with them. At least they have everywhere I've ever lived.

The empty socket is a liability for people who fall, injuring themselves; or are robbed during darkness, too.

So "easy to install in the existing fixture" is actually a negative from some points of view.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:04 AM on October 19, 2007

Response by poster: Several good points made:

- worthwhile warning on the stealing of the bulbs. Some are high enough that it would be difficult. May need a test run to see what happens with the others.
- also on the recessed fixtures. i haven't seen that warning elsewhere, though some bulbs specify that they are OK for recessed lighting, which implies others aren't.
- i was being lazy in using tube-style to mean older harsher types of fluorescents, not the actual shape.
- most of these lights are on all the time, so no worry about the on-off.
- ballasts are the connections on either side of the fl. tubes?
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:12 AM on October 19, 2007

Best answer: R-CFLs (reflector) are recommended for recessed fixtures, but there's disagreement about the risks and effects. It's basically a function of the heat being concentrated in the ballast instead of being radiated by the bulb, and the fixture's reflective sides being designed for the latter.

I wouldn't necessarily expect theft in a condominium, as opposed to an apartment building. But it's a good point.

Note that some municipalities are considering requiring CFLs going forward, and that incandescents are expected to be phased out in Europe by 2010 or so.

As for tax credits, there are some for appliances, but not for light bulbs as of now.
posted by dhartung at 11:51 AM on October 19, 2007

- ballasts are the connections on either side of the fl. tubes?

Sorry, no. Unlike an incandescent, which has a pretty constant electrical resistance, a flourescent has very high resistance when you first start it, and really low resistance when it's running. Ballasts regulate how much power the light can draw so when it's on (low resistance), it doesn't act like a short circuit and trip a breaker, or worse.

CFLs have their own ballasts (it's the lumpy bit at the bottom), but for tubes, the ballast is part of the fixture; the tube is just a tube full of mercury vapor with electrodes on the sides. Sadly, new ballasts are the biggest difference between the older lights that flicker and buzz, and the newer ones. The newer smaller tubes (T8?) are nice too, but even the older style of bulb will do very well in fixtures with good ballasts.
posted by rossmik at 4:22 PM on October 19, 2007

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