Learning to love your compact fluorescent

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Now that new efficiency standards for light bulbs have been signed into law, we can expect two things to happen: compact fluorescents will become a lot more prevalent, and the technology will improve markedly in the next few years. We’ll also see the lighting industry in general shake up quite a bit, as the venerable incandescent dies a rapid death.

Future improvements are small solace, though, to the people who hate compact fluorescents today. So here’s a bit of service journalism for those trying to improve their experience with the swirly bulbs.

The first set of tips are some I excavated from the comments thread of a blog post a while back on this same topic:

  • The electronics in CFLs are heat-sensitive, which means that recessed or enclosed lighting fixtures are a problem. For the same reason, it’s preferable to keep the base of the bulb pointing downward (as in a standard table lamp). If you have recessed lights, look specifically for CFLs designed for this use. In particular, you may want to look for reflector CFLs.
  • Some people find the lifespan of the bulbs to be disappointing. One semi-plausible conjecture is that line noise in the electricity supply affects the durability of the bulbs. If you have spiky voltage in your neighborhood, you may run into problems. If you fall into this category, perhaps you want to investigate other types of bulbs (see below).
  • Possibly for similar reasons, dimmer switches can be bad news for CFLs. Several people praised Satco bulbs that are designed for dimmer switches. The G.E. Energy Smart Dimmable has also won some praise.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any consistent advice on manufacturers. Some swear by name brands, but plenty of people have had good luck with off-brands. I suspect this is because other issues are in play that people tend to mistakenly ascribe to the type of bulb.

And recently the Times rounded up some judges to rate the light from various bulbs. Amid the harsh comments, they do find a few bulbs they like, including some energy-efficient incandescents, halogens, and LEDs.

Although most of the compact fluorescents were deemed unacceptable by the panel, there were several that were found to be not only acceptable but attractive. The n:vision TCP Home Soft White, for example, was deemed “a warm pleasant light.” The TCP Spring Light/Soft White was “almost warmer than incandescent,” one person said. And the MaxLite SpiraMax was generally liked, considered “pretty good” and “clean.”

Handy chart included. Bottom line: try ‘em out, and see what works for you. Read the fine print on the box before buying — if you’ve got recessed lighting fixtures or dimmer switches, look for an appropriate product. If nothing works, consider alternatives such as energy-efficient incandescents, halogens, or LEDs.

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