For decades, Americans have obsessed over their electric bills.
Let’s face it, most people don’t use fluorescent lights for their strikingly beautiful light. People use them to save money. The incandescent-banning Energy Independence and Security Act, which kicked in this year, has homeowners flocking to fluorescents.
But all fluorescent lights are not created equal. Tubes are coated with different phosphors. They vary in brightness, light color and temperature. And there’s nothing subtle about their visual effects.
You can spend a fortune on furniture, wall coverings and window treatments, but low-priced lights will ruin everything.
Cheap, cheap, cheap
Yet, most consumers pick out lights looking only at the price tag. They’re unaware of any difference in the products.
Retailers and hoteliers know better. They hire lighting designers who select, arrange and install lights that make clothes and crystal, lettuce and lobbies look magnificent.
What’s the big deal? Profits. Good lighting gets people to buy stuff. Bad lighting keeps them out of the store. Sales hinge on lighting. So they spend.
The consumer bulbs market, however, is price-driven. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Don’t blame Home Depot and Lowe’s – they’re just selling what the public buys. Right now, that’s CFLs – “compact fluorescent lamps” – and fluorescent tubes with a low, low price.
Unfortunately, once you’re home and you’ve turned them on, there’s an under-whelming, dull, eerily green tinge in the living room. That’s just the way it goes with feeble, low-priced, twist-in CFLs and their cousins, T12 and T8 tubes. Tsk, tsk.
Happily, it’s not that hard to pick out quality lights like a pro. There are energy-efficient fluorescent tubes out there that produce light more beautiful than your favorite incandescent bulb. Next time you shop, look for the “CRI.”
Cracking the CRI Code
You probably pause to read labels for “Cool White,” “Warm White” or “Soft Pink” bulbs. Truth is, those labels are not helpful.
It costs money to manufacturer a lightbulb that’s a real full spectrum bulb – glass coated with rare earth phosphors, instead of the more common “halophosphors” used on less expensive bulbs. Marketers often slip in terms like “daylight” or “full spectrum” into bulb names to imply quality.
Luckily, you don’t have to guess at quality. You can check the CRI.
The CRI is printed on the side of the package. “CRI” stands for “Color Rendering Index.”
The ideal CRI is 100. This is the light that radiates at noon on a warm, beautiful summer day. This is perfect light. Your white sofa sparkles. Your green and yellow striped wallpaper glows. You see reds that roar, blues so true they your breath away. This is the wonderful world of color, and it all begins with great lighting.
Lots of research has been done on lighting. During the 70s and 80s, studies at factories, schools, hospitals and offices proved that the best full spectrum fluorescent lights make us healthier, happier and more productive.
Old, watt-guzzling incandescents start phasing out this year. In their place: the spiral CFLs, which fit old incandescent sockets, and T8s (1-inch-wide fluorescent tubes) and T12s (the traditional tubes, 1 1/2 inches wide).
Screw-in CFLs don’t match T8s and T12s in quality — yet. CFL bulbs targeting the photography market rate have CRIs than those cheap CFLs at Home Depot.
Some CFLs have a 3-digit code for the CRI and bulb temperature. The first digit stands for the CRI. The next two digits are the Kelvin temperature. If the 3-digit code is 827, that CFL has a CRI of 80-something and color temperature of 2700K. There’s no way to tell if that bulb if 82 or 88, but it does not have a CRI of 90 or better – or less than 80.
Here are the best T8s and CFLs you can buy right now:
T8 and T12 Fluorescent Tubes
1. Philips TL950 Series – 25 in., 5000K, 1370 lumens. CRI: 98
2. GE Linear Cinema 5500 Kelvin – 48 in., 5500K – lumens not available. CRI: 97. Not yet available in the U.S.
3. Ushio 900 series Ultra8lamps – 48 in., 6000K,1960 lumens. CRI: 95.
4. Philips Colortone 50 , 48 in., 7500K, 2000 lumens. CRI: 95
5. Verilux Instant Sun , 36 in., 6280K – lumens not available. CRI: 94
1. BlueMax A-21 Traditional , 20-watt 5900K, 1230 lumens. CRI: 94
2. Ecolume Full Spectrum , 15-watt 5000K, 900 lumens. CRI: 96
3. BlueMax Full Spectrum HD Compact , 23-watt 5500K, 1380 lumens. CRI: 93
4. ALZO Digital Full Spectrum , 45-watt 5500K, 2800 lumens. CRI: 91
5. Mercola Healthy Home Full Spectrum , 30-watt 5500K – lumens not available. CRI: 93