I have to admit that she was right. Not only that, but the light from the fluorescents was kind of harsh, making our faces look like the Incredible Hulk, just what we all DON'T need, right?
Since then, things have come a long way in the world of compact fluorescents, and the quality of light is getting better all the time. Still, you might have to go through some trial and error before you find a light that makes you, and the things around you, look the way you want. Here are some helpful hints to make a good choice.
We're all so used to the incandescent light bulbs that have been around for more than a century that we don't really think of their light as anything but, well, light.
But there's plenty of variety in light--from the blood-red glow of a sunset to the blue-white flame in your gas range. Scientists measure this difference in color by assigning a temperature to the light. The lower the temperature, expressed on something called the Kelvin scale, the redder the light. The higher the temperature, the bluer the light.
Daylight on a bright summer day around noon has a color temperature of 5,500 degrees Kelvin, or k. That's a pretty white-looking light, and it can make things outdoors look great. Certain high-intensity lights, the ones with those tiny halogen bulbs, also shine near this temperature, and I think they pretty successfully mimic sunlight. (It's a different story with the fluorescents rated for daylight, as you'll see).
Most of our traditional bulbs put out a much yellower light than sunlight, but that's what we've gotten used to in our houses. The color temperature of incandescent lights is about 2,700k to 3,300k. Inside, that kind of light looks “normal” to many of us.
So what color are the fluorescents today? The bulb manufacturers are now giving us a choice
My local Home Depot, for example, offers three! All were the same brand, made by a company called n:vision.
- One, labeled "Soft White," was rated at 2,700k.
- The second was labeled "Bright White" and had a temperature of 3,500k.
- The third had a temperature of 5,500k for a "Daylight" rating.
I found the 2,700k Soft White bulb the most pleasing for my taste. The light was yellowish, somewhat more than the incandescent light it replaced.
The 3,500k Bright White bulb was much less yellow, but it had hints of blue that made it look too cold for our living room. I have another one installed in a fixture in our basement, and it looks fine there.
The 5,500k, Daylight bulb made me gasp. It had none of the warmth of sunlight, but instead was a stark blue-white that made our living room look inhospitable.
My experiments took me beyond the Home Depot. In Target I found a Soft White bulb from GE rated at 2,700k, and to my eye, the color was very similar to the first one I tried from Home Depot, but slightly less yellow.
I also tried a 2,700k light from a Web site called BuyLighting.com. It was from a manufacturer called TCP, and its light, too, was pretty pleasing.
Finally, we purchased a packet of compact fluorescent lights made by Westinghouse, sold by my daughter's school for a Green Energy project. The bulbs didn't carry a color temperature rating, but must have been in the 2,700k range. I declared this one the winner by a whisker. It had less of the yellow without more of the blue.
My conclusion is that the color of light is a matter of taste. What looks good to you depends on your own color perception and on the hues of the things around you, from the paint on your walls to the shades of your sofa. The best way to find the right light is to shop around and try some of the lights for yourself. With a little luck, you and your family won't end up looking like the Incredible Hulk.