Monday, March 28, 2011

Light Bulbs - A Survival Guide

When I was young, light bulbs were simple. You simply had a choice of wattage, the higher the wattage, the brighter the bulb. If you wanted more light you simply used a higher wattage. Things have become more complicated - florescent bulbs, compact florescent lights (CFL). You may have tried a few of these new energy efficient replacements, perhaps even the new LED variety. I did. I wasn't happy with the results. I'm sure they are more efficient, I even love the idea that I don't have to change those hard-to-reach bulbs very often. But the light just doesn’t look or feel right. I'm not alone. I drove past a beautiful home in my neighborhood where the bulbs had obviously been replaced by new energy efficient bulbs. It looked awful! Sitting at night under the light of florescent light is just not pleasant. So why would anyone want to switch to bulbs that eliminate the warm cozy feeling we had before? Should we have to trade this just for the sake of the environment?

I did quite a bit of research and found that the problem is not the bulbs after all. There are energy efficient bulbs that give off the same light as our old favorites. So where are they and how do you get them? The answer is simple. They're all around us. You just need to know what to look and ask for.

Let me give you a bit of light bulb education. I'll start with our old favorite, the incandescent bulb. When incandescent bulbs first came on the scene, the only choice you had was the wattage. Higher wattage - more light. This changed and eventually you could buy a variety of incandescent bulbs. I'm not going to even touch on size, shape, decorative or other, just the simple standard bulb that goes in a typical table lamp. The new choices included warm white, soft white and day light. These descriptions refer to the color of the light given off by the bulb. Warm white was more yellow, soft white less yellow, and so on. As you move to the other end of the selection, day light has more blue and cool white even more blue.

What does this mean to you? It’s really quite simple. When you buy a light bulb it is important to think of the color of the light it will give off. In the bedroom do you prefer a nice warm color? Then you would choose the warm white. If it is too yellow for your taste, then the soft white would do. What about the living room? Perhaps soft white is ideal for you. In an office where you may want to supplement the existing light during the day, day light would be a good choice.

Would you consider using the florescent light you see in a supermarket to put on makeup? The light is too cool. This would result in what many call the cadaver look. Obviously the name alone tells you that it would not put you in a flattering light. Food prepared and presented in the wrong light looks unappetizing. Green beans look wonderful under warm white light, but look canned under cool white. What many people don't know is that florescent bulbs also come in different colors as well. Use the wrong one and the results are unpleasant, the correct one and you will be delighted.

So now we have these new CFLs or compact florescent lights. If you follow the same logic, you can achieve wonderful results. If, on the other hand you just pick the first bulb you see, well the odds are against you. You may be very unhappy.

Now that you understand the problem and how to deal with it, let me give you a simple guide to choose the correct bulb. Many bulbs now show the spectrum in degrees Kelvin (K). The higher the number, colder or more bluish the light, and the lower the number, the softer or warmer or more yellow the light.
  • Warm white (2700K) is ideal for table lambs in the bedroom, dressing tables and putting on makeup. I prefer this for lighting in the kitchen as well.
  • Soft white (3000K) for general household use. When in doubt, this is usually a good choice. If it is not yellow enough switch to warm white. If this is too yellow switch to day light or cool white.
  • Day light (5000K) - I find this to be unacceptable for home use, but a good choice for the office.
Now you should be able to choose the bulb that will give you a desired light. You will be able to replace incandescent bulbs with new energy efficient CFLs and still be satisfied. But there are still a few things you need to know about florescent and CFLs. Not all of these bulbs can be used with dimmers or enclosed in bathroom fixtures. There are bulbs that will work in most situations, but make sure you get the correct bulb. And remember that when you replace a bulb, if it is being used with a dimmer, enclosed, etc. make sure you have the correct bulb. Labeling your bulbs may be a very good idea.

I have a number of indoor floodlights. I intend to replace the 65w bulbs over the kitchen counters. Now, in addition to a CFL replacement, I have a choice; the 2700K which would be almost identical, or a 3000K soft white which I think I might like even better. I have always wanted to add more light, and now with the CFLs I can increase the amount of light from the original 65w by choosing the 90w equivalent!

Not all bulbs are created equal! Some require time to warm-up before they are at full brightness. Look for bulbs labeled Instant On or the equivalent.

If you have 3-way bulbs, then you probably have a few with only one working. 3-way bulbs are expensive. I have replaced these with 3-way CFLs and solved that annoying problem.

I hope this helps!

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