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Some queries about low energy lighting

11-02-2009

Are CFL lamps safe?

There are arguments for and against the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL). Some of those arguments don�t really stand up to scrutiny, but there are some serious aspects that, in my opinion, haven�t been properly addressed. The health scares that have been stirred up in the press are grossly exaggerated; we�ve had fluorescent lighting in our working lives for more than half a century, so the true numbers of those affected by that type of light are already known. But the real problem affects us all; the safe disposal of CFL lamps is not something that can be down-played. These lamps contain toxic materials (though they are perfectly safe in normal use) and we must find suitable ways of ensuring that dead lamps don�t find their ways into landfill, which would ultimately find these toxins bleeding into the water system.
So there is an important message here: save energy by using CFL lamps, but PLEASE dispose of them correctly. I take ours to the council recycling facility.

Do I have to accept poorer lighting if I use low energy lamps?

No � not at all, although I have sympathy with some people�s experiences. The lighting industry hasn�t done enough to help itself to gain the confidence of its customers and that�s been the biggest problem.

The common complaints are these:

CFL lamps take too long to come to full brightness:

All true � but the situation is improving as the science gets better. For me, its about accepting a bit of change. Is it a problem, or is it something that�s just a bit different.

But the light is too dull:

Two things here � I know that first impressions are important, but the dullness that we experience when we switch on a CFL soon disappears once its come to full brightness, and, there is a more serious issue of understanding what size of lamp you need to use to replace an incandescent lamp. If you�re using a 100W light bulb, there isn�t a CFL or LED lamp to replace it, so you need to think a bit more carefully about what you�re trying to do.
On a personal point, in my living room I�ve replaced six 60W candle lamps with six 12W CFL lamps. No problem, just an electricity meter going round slower. But I�m keen to see how the new LED lamps perform, because they may provide an even bigger saving.

And the light is too cold:

You�re using the wrong type of lamp. Fluorescent lamps are available in a number of different colour temperatures, and the CFLs that you�ll buy in a supermarket will usually be the ones that properly replace incandescent lamps, but if you�re buying from a market stall or from a geezer in the pub, you may be buying one of the less suitable versions.
Always check that the CFL lamps that you buy for your home have a colour temperature of 2700K. It should be shown on the packaging and on the lamp.

I don�t get the same spotlight effect as I used to?

Ah � here we have a real problem with fluorescent replacements for tungsten halogen lamps. There�s a clever bit of science going on here, but to no good end, I�m afraid. Tungsten halogen lamps are designed to collect as much light from the filament as possible, re-focus it and send that light down a controlled light beam. Putting a coil of fluorescent tube into such a small lamp is clever, but it�s impossible to focus that light into a defined beam. So you used to have a beautifully lit piece of artwork � or maybe some working light on your kitchen worktop, and now it�s disappeared. And that�s why.
The answer is to look at LED options. Earlier LED versions were also annoyingly diffuse, but the latest lamps may give you the answer that you�re looking for. But buy one and check first before committing to a wholesale change. This is a tricky one.

 

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