Choosing Between Incandescent Lights and Fluorescent Lights

By: Moses Wright

There has always been much discussion of the pros and cons of incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs. To further confuse things, CFL (compact fluorescent lights) and LEDs have joined the argument.

Incandescent bulbs are so called because of the heat produced. Incandescence means to glow with heat. Inside the bulb, there is a partial vacuum with a tungsten filament inside it. When energy is pumped through the wire, the electrons react and there is resistance. Then, the filament will get so hot it will glow.

The inner coating of the bulb diffuses the brightness of the light that the filament produces. Some bulbs do have clear glass, but this only changes the look, and not the way the bulb operates.

The idea behind the light bulb is to simulate the wavelength of the rays given off by the sun. The main factor in determining this is the sun's surface temperature, which is about 6,000 Kelvin. In Celsius, that would about 5,700 degrees. The formula is K = C + 273. The more commonly known measurement would be 10,300F. This transfers to light bulbs in something known as color temperature.

For the interior, the bulbs have a slightly bluer tint to its light. This means that the color temperature will be a bit less also. Color temperature is actually different from real temperature. When an incandescent bulb glows, it will be anywhere from 120F-200F or more. To get a feel for how hot that is, water boils at 220F or 100C.

Fluorescent bulbs are different so they do not give out as much heat.

Fluorescent bulbs consist of gases or vapor such as mercury and electrodes. One end of the electrode receives some voltage, which is then propelled toward the other end. Along the way, it makes contact with the mercury atoms. This gives energy to the mercury atoms, which is released as the light we see.

The amount of energy lost is almost negligible and thus little heat is produced. For this reason, fluorescent bulbs are a much more efficient form of light. It just means that their energy output is equal to the energy input.

The light that comes from incandescent bulbs is due to the filament actually burning white hot. More heat is being given off than there is light. The issue at stake is that most of the energy consumed for the bulb does not translate into light.

Fluorescents have always been known to produce a different looking light than incandescents. This is because they operate at a different color temperature and spectrum. Fluorescent lighting was usually used in basements and garages before the advent of CFLs.

A fluorescent bulb tends to cost more than an incandescent bulb by at least 3 - 10 times. It's up to you to decide which is better for you, paying less for a bulb that doesn't last as long (750-1000 hours), or paying more for a bulb that will last longer (6,000-15,000). Your overall savings for fluorescent bulbs will be about 70%. this includes the electric bill and the initial purchase price.

People do argue about the environmental cost of the different types of light. When compared to other factors, such as auto exhaust and industrial gases, it really has no impact at all. Actually, the amount is negligible and isn't a point to consider.

The decision is usually based on an individual's likes or dislikes. This and your budget will be the biggest factors, at least until you learn about LEDs.

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