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Some Real Turn-Ons : If You Take a Dim View of the Average Bulb, Fluorescents May Put Things In a New Light


With their awkward shapes and unflatteringly harsh light, for decades fluorescent lights paled in com parison to incandescent bulbs for most home-lighting needs.

But compact fluorescents, introduced into the U.S. market in the early 1980s, may be worth another look.

These lamps are shorter than traditional fluorescent tubes, fit into smaller spaces and give a warmer, incandescent-like glow, says Gregory B. Sharp, a specialist in residential technology at Southern California Edison.

They also use about a quarter of the energy to produce the same light as incandescents. (A 20-watt compact fluorescent produces as much light as a 75-watt incandescent.) And they last about 10,000 hours--much longer than incandescents.

"Over the life of the compact fluorescent lamp, you'd go through at least 12 to 14 incandescent replacements," Sharp says. "(Each) compact fluorescent will save you $30 to $35 based on the cost of bulbs and energy--using Edison's residential rate."

The lights are best used in "areas that you need to light most--such as the kitchen or living room--because the pay back is shorter," Sharp says. "If you have a little closet light that you rarely turn on, a standard incandescent would be recommended."

One drawback to compact fluorescents is the retail price of $16 to $20 apiece, which makes them too expensive for many stores to carry. They're usually available in large building-supply outlets.

The light also may come on slowly. "When the lamp comes on, it needs to heat up to produce a full amount of light," says Fred Berryman of the California Energy Commission. Some older lamps blinked when switched on, but new ones start as fast as incandescents or within a second.

Compact fluorescents come in screw-in or plug-in versions. The plug-in lamp is cheaper to replace because the ballast required to start and control its output is in the fixture, not the lamp. Some ballasts for plug-in lamps are part of the fixture; others can be replaced separately.

Just as compact fluorescents have won converts, so has another newer light source, halogen bulbs. These produce about 10% to 20% more light than incandescents by creating a higher filament temperature. They also last about twice as long--1,500 to 2,000 hours.

So while they're more efficient than incandescents, they're less efficient than fluorescents. "They're also not necessarily a better value economically because purchase prices range from $3 to $12," Sharp says.

But the lights can produce nice effects.

"Some people like the mood they can give," Sharp says. "They will also accurately portray colors and focus a beam of light into a small area, so they are effective accenting something or lighting artifacts. And they work well with dimming systems."

The traditional incandescent light--which works by driving current through a tungsten filament thinner than a human hair--also has advantages. The bulbs are relatively cheap to buy, give good color rendition and are versatile enough for most household uses, Sharp says.

But they have a shorter life than other light sources and require more energy.

In one area vital to many people--putting on makeup--fluorescents are superior, experts say. A full-spectrum fluorescent is most effective in applying makeup, while a soft pink is most flattering once the covering is complete.

"The full spectrum is as close to daylight as you're going to get," says Jessica Vitti, manager and vice president of Aida Grey, a Beverly Hills institute of beauty. "It doesn't give you shadows and tells you exactly what your skin is going to look like in the light.

"The soft pink brings out the natural color of the skin. It makes everyone look good. You don't want anything with blue in it. It's almost a hospital kind of lighting where you look very pale."

At one time fluorescents were considered too unflattering to use in many areas of the home because they appeared white or almost blue, says Michael Siminovitch, who has researched compact fluorescents for six years at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley.

But new phosphors--powders on the inside of the glass tube--give a warm, incandescent-like appearance more suitable to the home, the scientist says.

Lighting designer Paulie Jenkins adds that people with darker complexions might try using different shades of light.

"Very black people sometimes have almost a blue tint and a lavender (fluorescent light) will make their skin look good," says Jenkins, who has created lighting for almost 300 shows worldwide. "But if you have a black person who has more of a brown or yellow cast to the skin, you need to go more into ambers."

"For someone with an olive-toned skin, you might use pale amber. I'd stay away from pink. That turns the skin gray," says Jenkins, who has worked on such shows as "A Little Night Music" at the Doolittle Theater and "In the Belly of the Beast" at the Mark Taper Forum.

In many outdoor situations, halogen lamps may be effective. These lights, which resemble head lamps in a car, bounce light off a reflector, creating a beam that can light a specific area, Sharp says.

Yet compact fluorescents would also be a good selection for outdoor lamps that will be left on a long time.

"If you need to light up an outdoor area for security," Berryman says, "these are . . . longer lived than incandescents, and they run three to five times more light per watt, so they are significantly more efficient."

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