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Pros and Cons of Fluorescent Lighting

Since it's development by four scientists at GE in 1934, the modern fluorescent light has had both its admirers and its critics.


Those that are for fluorescent lighting talk about the lamp's long life span when compared to traditional incandescent light bulbs, which also makes it environmentally friendly and lowers maintenance costs. Additionally, the pro circuit also touts the overall better quality light emitted by a fluorescent lamp.


On the flipside, those against fluorescent lighting many time focus on the fact that fluorescent lamps do contain mercury inside, which can be poisonous if ingested or inhaled. Additionally, fluorescent lamps do have some limitations when compared to incandescent light bulbs and do cost more upfront.


To help you navigate through the thoughts of both sides of this debate, and to help you make the best choice about what lighting option is right for you, here's a look at the major pros and cons to fluorescent lighting.

Pro -- Energy Efficiency

One of the best benefits of fluorescent lighting comes from its energy efficiency. Overall, a fluorescent lamp normally offers about a 25-35% savings in the amount of energy they use, compared to a conventional light bulb, according to the US Department of Energy. And a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) uses about 75% less energy than a traditional light bulb. That means a fluorescent lamp would only need to use 20 watts of power to produce the same amount of power as an incandescent bulb that needs to use 75 watts of power.


Fluorescent lamps also do not produce as much heat as traditional lighting options. They make about 75% less heat compared to an incandescent bulb because they are not using resistance to emit light. That also results in an energy savings, and also helps to keep whatever room they are in at a cooler temperature.   

Pro – Cost Savings

Over time, that amount of savings can make quite an impact on your overall electric bill. In fact, according to Energy Star, estimates that home owners can receive a return on their initial investment of a CFL in about six months. Energy Star also says that you can save $40 or more by just replacing one traditional light bulb with a CFL, and the savings just continue to rack up from there.

Pro -- Long Light Life

Another major selling point of fluorescent lamps are the long light life they provide. On average a traditional incandescent bulb will last between 800 to 1,500 hours. However, fluorescent lamps go way beyond that. Most will last about 10,000 hours, but many fluorescent are rated to last even higher, some even going as high as an incredible 50,000 hours.


Having such a great light life offers another added savings, this time in maintenance and labor. Obviously there will be no need to change out lamps as frequently as you would with conventional bulbs, meaning you'll need to purchase them less often and need to switch them out rather infrequently. And being you don't have to replace them very often, you can use fluorescent lamps in harder-to-reach areas with confidence.

Con -- Contains Mercury

The con that fluorescent lighting naysayers will usually mention first is the fact that a fluorescent lamp includes a small amount of mercury liquid inside of it, which is converted into a mercury vapor when the lamp is turned on and is vital to the lamp's ability to make light.


The amount of mercury in a fluorescent lamp is, on average, about 4 milligrams, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This amount is incredibly small, especially when you think about the fact that not too long ago, we were still using thermometers that contained almost 500 milligrams of mercury. And certainly fluorescent lamps do not cause the largest threat of mercury exposure to humans -- that honor goes to coal. The EPA says mercury is naturally found in coal, so when it is burned at power plants, mercury is released into the air.


We do not wish, however, to discount the fact that mercury is a very poisonous substance and should not be treated lightly. That is why when a fluorescent lamp breaks or goes out, there are strict guidelines on how they should be cleaned up and disposed of, which have been set by the EPA.

Con -- Higher Initial Cost

Another negative usually associated with fluorescent lamps is their initial cost, which is higher than those of conventional lighting options -- sometimes as much as three times higher. So really then it becomes dependent upon your budget whether or not you can use fluorescent lamps in a new construction or retrofit project.


However, it is important to remind you of the cost savings pro we already discussed. So while the initial cost may be more than you were expecting to pay, there is a good chance the lamp will pay you pay after six months and even continue to provide you with savings for years to come.

Con -- Limitations

And the last con to fluorescent lighting are the few limitations it has when compared to incandescent light bulbs.


For instance, not all fluorescent lamps and CFLs are dimmable. If you need a dimmable lamp, it's important to make sure it says so on the package or from the manufacturer. If you use a non-dimmable CFL with a dimmer, it can cause the lamp to prematurely burn out, which is no fun for anyone involved.


Another negative is the buzzing sound that fluorescent lamps sometimes give off when turned on. The good news is that this is more of a used-to-be problem. Back in the day, most fluorescent lamps used a magnetic ballast, which was the culprit. But nowadays most use an electronic ballast, which has helped solve the problem.


And last but not least, flickering light -- sometimes this can be a problem with a fluorescent lamp. Again, today's technology advances has many manufacturers solving that problem with better ballasts and other technologies that allow the lamp to start and restart flicker-free.

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