There’s something about compact fluorescent (or CFL) bulbs and the light they put out. The light looks different from what we’re used to with energy-wasting incandescent bulbs. Why is that? And is there a CFL that comes close to the light quality of incandescents?
There are two ways to describe indoor light: its color temperature and how it renders color on other objects.
Color temperature is easy to describe. As an example, look at an incandescent lamp, and then look at an overhead fluorescent tube. The lamp’s light is warm, yellowish and cozy, like a candle or a fireplace. The fluorescent tube’s light is colder and bluer in quality, more like daylight. Color temperature is measured in kelvins–the higher the value the cooler the light. So 2700K-3000K is considered “warm white” when you see that term on CFL packs, and 4100K+ is “cool white.” For indoor use you definitely want “warm white,” and if the pack lists the kelvin value then the lower the better.
The second factor is a bit harder to quantify–basically it speaks to how richly colors on an object look when you shine a light on them. Think of how different your skin and clothes look under an incandescent lamp and an outdoor street light. Under the first, your skin tone and clothes look vivid and full of life; under the second, they look pale and dead. This difference in how objects are rendered is measured by what’s called the Color Rendering Index (CRI). A score of 100 denotes incandescent light that perfectly renders color.
The issue with CFL’s is that their CRI falls short of incandescents. They generally have a CRI score of around 70. That causes skin color, clothes, and other things around the lamp to not look quite as vivid, hence the difference in light quality we see.
However, not all CFL’s are alike and some definitely render color better than others. Which one is the best?
I have tried many CFL bulbs–I’m picky and the light quality of most CFL’s bothers me. After many tests with bulbs from different companies I can say there is one unqualified winner: the N:Vision compact fluorescent light bulbs sold at Home Depot. They come in several color temperatures, but you want the “warm white” ones in the green packaging for indoor use. They have a CRI of around 82, far superior to most other bulbs. Their light is bright and warm, and I have even come to prefer them over incandescents for general lighting.
It’s important to switch to CFL light bulbs since they use far less energy and is therefore the environmentally responsible thing to do. Now we can do so without sacrificing most of the light quality we expect indoors. Try out the N:Vision CFL bulbs and I think you’ll agree.