I want energy efficient lighting, but hate the cold light of fluorescents. Can you help?


I want energy efficient lighting, but hate the cold light of fluorescents. Can you help?

Asked by Maya Leonard, Huntington, NY

I know that fluorescents are much more energy efficient than standard lightbulbs, and I want to do the right thing for the environment, but I hate the cold, bluish light of fluorescents. Is there a bulb that provides pleasant, natural light but will still save energy and money?

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David Bergman's picture

Yes, there is. In fact, there are many. That's because the fluorescent bulbs you buy now aren't the same as the ones you had in your basement growing up (unless you're a lot younger than I am) or in your school classroom.

The new ones are so different that I've argued they deserve a different name.

  • Everyone thinks they hate fluorescents when they're actually thinking of the old ones. What's different, you ask?
  • The two big changes have to do with the electronics and the coatings, and the result is that the new fluorescents don't buzz and flicker like the old ones, and the colors are much nicer.
  • Some of them can even be dimmed.

Choosing a fluorescent that gives off light like an incandescent

Fluorescents now come in many colors as well as different shapes.

If you want a fluorescent bulb to give off light like an incandescent, you want a warm color.If the bulbs are marked with a color temperature, look for ones between 2700 and 3000 degrees.

At Home Depot, they call them "soft white," as opposed to "bright white" and "daylight."

  • Be aware that "daylight" is not actually warm or similar to incandescent light. To get a handle on this, think about the color of the sky at midday (on a clear day, that is) versus dawn or dusk. Incandescent bulbs are much closer to twilight yellow than noontime blue.
  • To make matters still more confusing, the color temperature of that warm sunset is actually lower than "cold" daylight. To understand that, think about the color of flames: a blue flame is much hotter than a yellow flame. So a warmer color is a cooler temperature. It's a mess, I know.

Full spectrum bulbs

You may also have heard of "full spectrum" bulbs. There's a variety of opinions on them. Many people profess to feel better under them, but studies don't tend to support that. You may find them pleasing-or just a form of greenwash.

Try it, you'll like it!

CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) have also gotten much less expensive. So try one out. I bet you'll like it and might not even be able to tell the difference.

For more information:

Read David Bergman's Q&A "Should I worry about the mercury in fluorescent lightbulbs?"

If you need help finding a CFL in the right color, size, and shape, give Environmental Defense's energy-saving lightbulb finder a whirl.