Choosing Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Choosing a Compact Fluorescent Bulb

Tipsters are fast to suggest substituting CF bulbs for regular light bulbs as a way to save money and the environment. I wish it was that easy. There is a single reason people don't make the switch, and that is they don't know which bulb to buy for which application. I have bought three different CF bulbs (three different brands), and the light quality was so poor that I took them out and put them in the closet.

Could readers tell us which brands work best for different applications? (Example: For a corner lamp, use General Electric CF Bright White 65 watt. Or for recessed lighting, use Sylvania CF Soft White 75 watt.) For those of us that get sensory over load when we walk down an aisle, a little help is appreciated.

Choosing a Compact Fluorescent Bulb: Allow Warm Up Period

I only buy the 100-watt Compact Fluorescent light bulbs. I've found that anything less than 100 watts is too dim. Also, they will get brighter the longer they are on. They have to "warm up" to reach their true lighting potential.
Christy G.

Choosing a Compact Fluorescent Bulb: Tried-and-True Formula

I have replaced about 90% of my light bulbs with CFL. After some mistakes, I came up with a "formula."

  • Be careful about using the CFLs that say they are "natural sunlight." They have a lot of glare but are great for basements, etc. where you want a lot of bright light. I have four of these in my basement. They have just about killed the mildew since it is very bright there now and mildew needs darkness to grow. I leave those lights on 24/7 for less than it would cost to burn old style lights for two to four hours per day. And now that area is lit up like an airport runway.
  • If the place is in a closet that is not a walk-in, go with the equivalent to 60W.
  • If the closet is a walk-in, go with the equivalent to 75W or 100W, depending on how big the area.
  • If it is a multi-light fixture such as an overhead ceiling light or fan with lights, go with the 60W equivalent. By the way, the CFL does fine with the vibration from a ceiling fan.
  • If it is a single bulb fixture such as a table lamp or one light overhead in an open room, go with the 100W equivalent especially if you use it as a task light or it is the only light.
  • If the area is naturally very dark, go with the 100W equivalent for maximum light.

I have found that if you will buy the ones guaranteed to last five years in a multi-pack, you will usually have two that die within a year. Take them back with the receipt and they will be replaced with better ones in single packs. The rest of the multi-pack usually will last until the end of the five years.

My house has about $200 worth of CFLs in it now. My new recessed kitchen lights use CFL floods. Only the bath and the dining room still have old fixtures, which cannot use CFLs. When I was buying the CFLs, it was pricey, so I did it room by room and watched for sales. It has now been over three years since I've had to replace one of those bulbs. And my power bill dropped by $15-22 per month too! Along with all the other things I do, it made my electric company come out and check the meter to see if I had found a way to bypass it. No, I didn't cheat the electric company, but the lower bill month after month sure makes me happy!

Choosing a Compact Fluorescent Bulb: Check Out This Website

The Environmental Defense Fund provides an Energy-Saving Light Bulb finder website at

The Color of Light

I've found that Home Depot sells the CFLs that offer the best quality of lighting for my taste. Their N:vision brand comes in three varieties: Warm White, Bright White and Daylight. For me, the Warm White is too dim and yellow, and the Daylight is bluish white. The Bright White ones replaced my "reader" incandescent lights with a similar color of light and more even coverage. These are the spiral-shaped ones that I use in table lamps.

For recessed ceiling lights, N:vision also has a flood light in the same colors. Again, I replaced the floodlights in my kitchen with the Bright White floods, and the color and coverage are better than the Sylvania 65W floods that I used before.

I have the 120W equivalents in my living room lamps, replacing 240W GE Reader incandescents. In the kitchen, I used the 65W equivalent form of the N:vision floodlights replacing 65W incandescent floods.

The secret to knowing which CFL to choose is to learn about light color, which is expressed as a Kelvin temperature. Not all brands put this information on the label, but look for brands that do. Warm white light that has a yellowish cast is generally about 2700K. N:vision's Bright White CFLs are 3200K or 3500K if I remember correctly, which makes colors look more realistic than the yellowish lights. Daylight bulbs that are about 5000K simulate summer daylight, which is good for bright lighting but may be more than you want indoors at night. There are some bulbs sold as daylight that are 6500K. I actually have a couple of those in my basement laundry area, and they're good for finding stains or sorting dark blue socks from dark brown or black ones, but I wouldn't like the bluish light in a living area.

You may need to experiment a bit to find the color of light you prefer, but remember to return those rejects to the store and get your money back. I've done it several times at different stores, and they always take them back. Don't waste your money keeping something you won't use.

Choosing a Compact Fluorescent Bulb: Look for Wattage Equivalence

There are a few things to know about CF bulbs. You choose them the same way that you choose regular bulbs, which is by the light the bulb puts out. So look for the wattage equivalence on the package. If the incandescent bulb you are replacing is 60 watts, look for a bulb that says it is equivalent to 60 watts. When you put it into your lamp and turn it on, you'll think it's not 60 watts. Give it time as CF bulbs need a few minutes to warm up to full strength. When you are replacing incandescent bulbs with CF bulbs, you'll want to put them in fixtures that you leave on such as a lamp or your kitchen light. CF bulbs will not last as long if they are turned on and off frequently. So don't put them in fixtures that you turn on for a couple minutes and then off again. Also CF bulbs cannot be used with dimmer switches.

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