Fluorescent lights


Fluorescent lights – Four things you need to know about fluorescent lights

Fluorescent lights (bulbs) can be found in almost every home these days. You can also find them in stores, in warehouses, on streets, and in many other places. Despite the fact that they are commonly used, many people don’t know much about them. All they know is the fact that fluorescents use less electricity than regular (incandescent) light bulbs and that they usually need some time to “warm up” before they start working at full power.

In this article I would like to present you some important things I believe you need to know about fluorescent lights. First, I would like to share with you how they work and what the main difference between fluorescent and incandescent light is. I would also like to present to you some advantages and disadvantages of fluorescent light usage. At the end, I will present my point of view – are fluorescent lights the future, or they are only a step forward in the development of lights? Let’s get down to business.

How do fluorescent lights work and what is the difference between fluorescent and incandescent lights?

Because fluorescent lights are quite complicated, I must warn you that I will simplify some things (with the intention that people who don’t want to know too much about the physics involved will still have a basic understanding of what’s going on). Here we go. In order to produce light, electrons (the negative parts of an atom) must become “excited.” This means that they will jump to a higher energy level. The light is “made” when an electron returns to its normal level (which happens in a fraction of a second). The excessive energy is released in the form of light photon. Now the question is, how do electrons get excited? The process of exciting electrons in fluorescent lamps is a bit complex – and since this website is focused on lighting design, I will say it simply: Electrons in fluorescent bulbs get excited when they collide with atoms of mercury. When the light photon is released, we get ultraviolet light, which needs to be transformed into the light that people can see. This is done with the help of phosphor.

Light in incandescent light bulbs is produced with the help of a very thin tungsten filament, which is encased in the glass bulb. Electricity runs through the filament and because the filament is very thin, there is a lot of resistance, which turns electricity into heat. The filament shines, which is what we call light. The problem is that a lot of electricity goes to waste because it’s transformed into heat (and not into light as it should be in a light bulb). Now let’s take a look at some advantages of fluorescent lights.

Fluorescent bulbs look different than incandescent ones

Picture 1: Fluorescent bulbs look different than incandescent ones

The advantages of fluorescent lights

The main advantage of fluorescent lights is better efficiency (they use four to six times less electricity than incandescent bulbs). Fluorescent bulbs also last much longer than incandescent ones – an incandescent bulb works for 750 – 1000 hours, whereas a fluorescent one can work for 10,000 hours. Light temperature from fluorescent light is pretty much the same as incandescent light, especially if you use compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). More good news: You don’t need to change your light fixtures if you want to use fluorescent bulbs – you can simply replace an incandescent bulb with a fluorescent one and you are good to go.

Any disadvantages?

Unfortunately, yes. The first disadvantage is the price. Fluorescent bulbs are five to seven times more expensive than incandescent ones. Since they last much longer, though, you will get your money back in the long run. But if you decide to replace all your incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones, you will need some money. Another disadvantage is the use of mercury in fluorescent bulbs. Since mercury is a dangerous gas, fluorescent bulbs need to be disposed of properly and if they break (which isn’t very common), they can cause some inconvenience. As many people have experienced, fluorescent bulbs also need some time to warm up before they start lighting a room properly (which is very unpleasant in hallways, since you can barely see anything for a few seconds). Manufacturers also say that it’s not recommended to switch fluorescent lights on and off all the time, since this will shorten the lifetime of the bulb.   

My opinion and conclusion

I must say that I use fluorescent bulbs everywhere in my house (even in the garage and hallways). I like the fact that it’s been two years since I moved into a new house and I still haven’t changed a single bulb. I also don’t mind paying the price because I know I will save money in the long run. But despite all that, I believe that fluorescent lights aren’t the future because of two issues – the use of mercury in the bulbs and the fact that 10,000 working hours isn’t enough for modern needs. LED lights have everything fluorescent lights have; their only problem is their higher price (which I expect to go down in the future). Their light is similar to natural light and they don’t use mercury. And LED lights can last 50,000 hours without a problem.

LED lights

Picture 2: Will LED bulbs eventually replace fluorescent ones?

Now that you know how fluorescent lights work, their advantages and disadvantages, and also a possible alternative to fluorescents, you will be able to decide whether or not fluorescent lights are suitable for you. I wish you good luck with your lighting decisions.

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