Your Home and Fluorescent Light Bulbs

by Lisa Stewart 21 Aug 2010

Energy saving fluorescent light bulbs present a few challenges for home use. While larger fluorescent lamps have been used in commercial or institutional buildings for some time, the compact fluorescent lamp is now available in the same popular sizes as incandescent and is used as an energy-saving alternative in homes. Here are a few things to know when using them:

Aesthetic Challenges:
-The color of the light is the biggest challenge when doing interior design. Colored objects are perceived differently under light sources with differing spectral distributions, such as fluorescents with their typically low red light content.  As a result skin can appear ashen and sickly compared with incandescent lighting.  Also, objects can appear to change color, with reds appearing dull red or even brown and with yellows turning cold and bluish. Some people find the color rendition to be just plain harsh, displeasing and kindling an uneasy feeling. I've helped some clients feel better in their homes just by asking them to switch back to incandescent bulbs.
-The shape of the bulbs can be somewhat distracting.

Other Challenges:
- The bulb is more costly because it requires a ballast to regulate the current through the lamp. However the lower energy cost typically offsets the higher initial cost of the lamp.
- Fluorescent light fixtures cannot easily be connected to dimmer switches intended for incandescent lamps.
- The disposal of phosphor and particularly the toxic mercury in the tubes is an environmental issue. Governmental regulations in many areas require special disposal of fluorescent lamps separate from general and household wastes. Call your local disposal company for their guidelines.

Technology is constantly changing and soon there will be something new and better. For now, I recommend using these bulbs in closets, laundry rooms, garages and exterior covered fixtures.

Lisa Stewart is an Interior Designer in Raleigh, NC.