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The Differences Between CFLs and CCFLs

Apr 14, 14 The Differences Between CFLs and CCFLs

By now, almost everyone knows what a compact fluorescent, or CFL, lamp is. If they don’t know what it is by name, they certainly know it by its twisty shape resembling the top of a soft-serve ice cream cone. But if I were to ask you what a cold cathode, or CCFL, fluorescent lamp is, would you be as confident in your answer? Although CFL and CCFL bulbs may have a similar look, they do have their differences, with advantages and drawbacks to each one. This post will give you a rundown of the differences between CFL and CCFL bulbs while helping you decide which type is best for your specific lighting needs.

Hot vs. Cold Cathodes

First things first: although CFL and CCFL bulbs both use a ballast and cathodes to produce light, the temperature, type, and durability of the cathodes vary. The most common type of fluorescent bulb is the “hot cathode,” or what most people know as a standard CFL. In standard CFLs, the cathodes are constructed of a thin wire tungsten filament that is heated to temperatures reaching at or above 900 degrees Fahrenheit when the lamp is turned on. Heating the cathodes in standard CFLs causes them to release electrons that react to the mercury in the glass tube to create ultraviolet (UV) radiation, eventually producing visible light. This reactive process that standard CFLs go through to produce light is why they usually take at least 30 seconds to reach full brightness.

On the other hand, the cathodes in CCFLs are not heated by a filament. Instead, CCFLs use cathodes that do not require filaments to heat up. These cathodes resemble small metal thimbles that reach temperatures of 200 degrees Fahrenheit. While nothing about these cathodes is actually “cold,” 200 degrees Fahrenheit is considerably cooler than the 900-degree temp of the hot cathode.

Start Times and On/Off Cycling

Whereas standard CFLs have delayed start times of 30 seconds or more, CCFLs are instant-on, taking little to no time to reach full brightness. This is because the process of heating up a CCFL bulb is much quicker and requires less heat to create visible light. The thimble-like, metal construction of the cathodes in CCFLs, like the one to the right, are also sturdier than the thin filament used in standard CFLs and are able to handle around five times the amount of voltage.  This is why CFLs and CCFLs react differently to frequent on and off cycling. If you’ve ever had a CFL bulb burn out on you quicker than it was supposed to, it may have been because it was switched on and off a lot in a short amount of time.  The weaker cathodes in standard CFLs cannot handle frequent surges of electricity. This makes cold cathode bulbs ideal for use in flashing signs and residential applications where lights are often switched on and off.

Dimming

Litetronics MicroBrite MB-500DL Dimmable CCFL

Litetronics MicroBrite MB-500DL Dimmable CCFL

It’s no question that dimmable CFL technology has advanced over the years and will continue to do so, but there are still differences between dimmable CFLs and CCFLs. As I mentioned above, the cathodes of standard CFLs must reach extremely high temperatures to produce light. Dimming a CFL bulb requires the amount of voltage being received by the ballast be reduced, also reducing the temperature of the cathodes and causing CFLs to have limited dimming capabilities. This is where the lower operating temperatures of cold cathode fluorescent lamps present an advantage. Dimmable CCFLs require much less heat to produce visible light and can be dimmed to as low as 5 percent of their original light output. Traditional CFLs, although improving, typically can only be dimmed to about 20 percent.

Rated Life Hours

Now that you know that the cathodes in CCFLs are able to withstand more than the filament cathodes in standard CFLs, it’s probably no surprise that CCFL bulbs have longer rated lives. With proper use, CFLs can last anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 hours, depending on the rating. While that is still impressive, CCFLs are able to last as long as some LED bulbs on the market with life hour ratings up to 25,000 hours.

All of the information above considered, choosing between CFLs and CCFLs is very dependent on what is best for a particular application. If you’re looking for a bulb that can withstand cold weather, frequent on and off cycling, or has flexible dimming capabilities, CCFLs will be your best bet. However, CCFLs tend to be offered in lower wattages and don’t have lumen outputs equivalent to standard CFLs, which are able to reach incandescent equivalents of up to 150 watts in household applications. Either way, compact fluorescent lamps are a cost-effective lighting solution that will help you save energy.

Do you have any more questions about hot and cold cathode fluorescent light bulbs? Leave us a comment or reach out to us on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Pinterest!

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Standing Out at Trade Shows

Apr 11, 14 Standing Out at Trade Shows

Trade shows are a great opportunity to showcase your business’s latest products or services. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste by getting lost in the crowd! Creatively illuminating your company’s exhibit can draw more attention to your products and even enhance your sales. Although your options will vary depending on your set-up, below are a few key pointers for creating a unique lighting design that will attract more visitors to your booth.

Layer Your Lighting

Before heading out to your next trade show, expand your lighting inventory. Layered lighting is the essential principle of lighting design. Using different types of lights throughout your exhibit will make it look more interesting and professional, and thus more enticing, especially if the light is coming from two or three different directions.

There are certain areas you’ll want to spotlight, or draw attention to, as well as areas you’ll want to accent, or illuminate for a subtle artistic effect.  Areas you’ll definitely want to spotlight include shelves or display cases, logos, wall graphics, and company literature. Areas that would look great with accent lighting include underneath or around countertops as well as behind posters. Each kind of lighting will often require different types of bulbs and fixtures. So what kind of lights would you need (and where would you need them) to achieve these effects?

Spotlighting

CREE-LE6US Adjustable Eyeball Trimmed Downlight

CREE-LE6US Adjustable Eyeball Trimmed Downlight

Spotlight-style lights, such as recessed downlights and track lights, are the most common type of display lights. Recessed downlights are great for highlighting singular items, and are often used inside shelves or embedded within ceilings. Track lights are ideal for highlighting graphics splayed across a large wall, or depending on how you angle the lights, they can illuminate key items on countertops. Usually the same kinds of bulbs are used in both downlight and track light fixtures, so the specific bulb you’ll need depends on the fixture you choose.

Popular bulbs for these fixtures include MR16s, PAR lamps, R lamps, MR8s, and MR11s. The “R” in these bulbs’ names stands for reflector, meaning that the bulb emits brighter, more concentrated light because it reflects light off the inside of its surrounding metal casing. When choosing a reflector bulb for use in a display light, pick one with a warm, inviting color temperature (2700 or 3000K), an excellent color-rendering index (above 80), and a beam angle that is narrow or wide enough to adequately show off your items. To add a little more pizazz to your display, you could even go with colored reflector bulbs.

Accenting

FT2-L120WW1230 30 ft. LED Rope Light

FT2-L120WW1230 30 ft. LED Rope Light

Due to their versatility, both rope light and tape light are excellent choices for accent lighting. No matter the size or shape of your exhibit, each option could be easily incorporated in discreet, out-of-the-way places such as along the corners of your walls, underneath counters, around cabinets, behind posters, or anywhere that a hint of light could create a dramatic impact. Rope light is durable, rounded, and requires screw-in rope light channels or clips to keep it in place, whereas tape light is flat, thin, and simply sticks to surfaces with its adhesive backing. Both can be cut and capped to different lengths. So which option would be best in your booth?

FLX-5050WW1230 10 ft. LED Tape Light

FLX-5050WW1230 10 ft. LED Tape Light

Although tape light gives off brighter light and is easier to install due its sticky backing, it’s not as easy to configure into unique shapes as rope light is, nor is it as durable. So if you’re going for a quick, easy set-up and don’t want to accentuate a uniquely shaped place, tape light is probably your best option. However, if you want to accent something a little more interesting (for instance, rope light could be easily wrapped around rails or columns) or if you want 360 degree, multi-directional light, you may want to go with rope light after all.

To conclude, these are just a few of our ideas, and there are certainly other fixtures you can use to create layered lighting designs. What are some interesting ways you’ve seen people use layered lighting at trade shows? Share your thoughts in the comments or send us a line on  Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, or LinkedIn!

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The Three Layers of Lighting Design Explained

Apr 07, 14 The Three Layers of Lighting Design Explained

When decorating the interior of a space, lighting – one of the most important elements of interior design – is often neglected. Having stylish furniture in a room that’s been feng shui-ed to your heart’s desire won’t have nearly the same effect if the only illumination you’re using is a single table lamp or wall sconce. Just as an interior designer would layer colors or fabric, lighting designers use three layers of light – ambient, accent, and task lighting – to enhance a room’s visual appeal.

 

Why is Layered Lighting Important?

Have you ever been inside a department store dressing room or a dim restaurant bathroom and wondered why the reflection you’re looking at seems less than appealing? It may be because these locations tend to lack multiple layers of lighting, causing unflattering shadows instead of even washes of light. While having all three layers of lighting in public restrooms and dressing rooms isn’t always considered a priority, it should be when it comes to your own home and any other area where a balanced and comfortable ambiance is desired.

The Three Lighting Layers

So that you can get a good idea of how to use ambient, accent, and task lighting in your own home, we’ll break each of these layers down by explaining their function and what kind of light source or fixtures can be used to create them:

layeredlighting41. Ambient Lighting

The ambient lighting layer could also be referred to as the “general lighting” layer. Ambient lighting should give your room overall illumination that provides an adequate visual of the entire area. Typically, ambient lighting is created by ceiling light fixtures such as recessed lights, troffers and panels commonly used in commercial lighting, or large overhead fixtures like pendants or chandeliers. This type of general lighting is typically uniform and, dare we say, boring. That’s why the next two layers of light are crucial in lighting design.

2. Accent Lighting

The second layer of light is known as the accent lighting layer. This layer can also be referred to as the “decorative” layer because it allows you to highlight points of interest in your interiors such as architecture, artwork, or anything other features that can’t be made more prominent just with ambient lighting. Types of fixtures typically used for accent lighting include wall sconces, track lighting, uplighting, and even LED tape lighting installed in coves and under counters for toe-kick lighting.

3. Task Lighting

layeredlighting3As you might have guessed, task lighting, the final layer of lighting design, provides illumination for specific tasks performed in an area. When choosing light for this particular layer, you should first evaluate what is done in that designated area. For example, if you typically read in your favorite chair near the bookshelf, you may want a floor lamp or swing arm sconce for better reading light. Commonly used task lights are table and floor lamps, desk lamps, under cabinet lighting, bathroom vanity lighting, and pendant lighting above smaller areas such as a kitchen island, the one shown in the picture to the right

Now that we’ve explained the three layers of lighting design, this doesn’t mean that you have to use separate fixtures for each layer when choosing your own lighting. Some fixtures can function as two layers of lighting at the same time. For instance, downlights can be used as both general illumination and accent lighting. Similarly, a wall sconce can be used as both accent and task lighting.

Do you have any questions about the best way to use layered lighting in your home? Leave us a comment or send us your question via Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, or LinkedIn!

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Choosing the Right Fluorescent Ballast

Apr 04, 14 Choosing the Right Fluorescent Ballast

Unless you’re an electrician, it’s probably news to you that many fluorescent lights, such as those used in your kitchen or garage, require electrical devices called ballasts to operate. Ballasts supply the proper voltage to start and run the majority of fluorescent lights. Although typically connected by wires in-between the power source and the bulb, ballasts are sometimes included within the bulbs. This is often the case with compact fluorescents, but this rarely happens with fluorescent tubes.

If your fluorescent bulb doesn’t specify that it has a built-in ballast, chances are, you’ll need to purchase one separately. But with the wide array of options on the market, we understand how finding the right ballast can be a little confusing. That’s why we’ve updated our previous article on choosing fluorescent ballasts: to make this process even easier. The comprehensive information below will help you select the fluorescent ballast you need.

Five Factors to Consider

Lamp Type
Knowing the type of fluorescent light you will use with your ballast is a good start to your search. They can be generally divided as compact fluorescents or fluorescent tubes. When researching your fluorescent bulbs, pay attention to attributes that will help you narrow your options down. Bulb name (such as 2-pin, 4-pin, T8, T12, etc.), base type, and wattage are usually the most helpful information.

ANSI Code
When considering a ballast for your lamp, make sure they have corresponding ANSI (American National Standards Institute) codes. Matching ANSI codes guarantees that the ballast you chose can be used with your lamp. However, ballasts are often compatible with more than one lamp, and vice versa. Based on design and start method, certain ballast options may be preferable to others because they can help your lights operate more efficiently, have longer life spans, or use less energy.

Magnetic vs. Electronic Ballasts
Fluorescent ballasts can be either magnetic or electronic in design. Unless you are simply wanting to replace an older magnetic ballast, try to purchase lights that use a newer electronic ballast instead. Although simpler and cheaper, magnetic ballasts tend to flicker and hum, and they consume excessive amounts of energy to operate. On the other hand, electronic ballasts don’t flicker or hum, and they use modern, more energy efficient technology.

Start Methods
Because an initial current can be quite high, fluorescent ballasts are great for safely starting fluorescent tubes. Fluorescent ballasts have four main types of starting methods: Preheat Start, Rapid Start, Instant Start, and Programmed Start. The latter two (with the most current technology) are the most popular. Each start method has its advantages and drawbacks, as detailed in the following chart.

Preheat Start
(Magnetic Design Only)

Preheat Start ballasts require a starter (usually built-in) to establish the circuit through the ballast and pre-heat the lamp filaments. When the filaments have heated up, the ballast then provides a suitable voltage to the lamp. Several seconds may be required to complete the starting operation.

Rapid Start
(Magnetic or Electronic Design)

Rapid Start ballasts preheat filaments to the proper temperature before fully turning on the lamp. Usually, this is only a brief delay. This method diminishes the stress on the filaments from a strong, initial power surge, thereby extending lamp life.

Instant Start
(Electronic Only)

Instant Start ballasts turn lights on the moment you flip the switch. They provide the quickest, most energy-efficient lighting and are intended for areas with infrequent switching and “on” cycles of several hours, as the initial surge from turning on the lamps can damage them in the long run. These ballasts are ideal for offices, warehouses, and retail spaces.

Programmed Start
Same as Programmed Rapid Start
(Electronic only)

Programmed Start ballasts are the newest ballasts on the market, designed to reduce the energy used by rapid start ballasts as well as the damaging effects of instant start ballasts. These ballasts provide slower-starting, energy-efficient lighting that prolongs lamp life and performs well in frequently switched applications. These ballasts are ideal for hallways, stairwells, and bathrooms.


Ballast Factor and Light Output
Lastly, ballast factor is a measure of the total lumen output for a combined lamp-ballast system. By selecting a ballast with an ideal ballast factor, you can optimize the light output of your fluorescent lighting system and maximize your energy savings. To estimate your total system lumens, multiply the rated lumens of your lamp by the ballast. For example, 3200 lumens x 0.77 BF = 2464 total system lumens.

  • Low Ballast Factor (below 0.77)
    Lower energy usage and reduced light output. Ideal for hallways and bathrooms.
  • Normal Ballast Factor (0.77 to 1.1)
    Near rated energy usage and light output. Ideal for most applications, including offices and retail stores.
  • High Ballast Factor (above 1.1)
    Higher energy usage and up to 10% more light output. Ideal for warehouses and areas with high ceilings.

Do you have any questions for finding the right fluorescent ballast? Let us know in comments or give us a shout on FacebookTwitterGoogle Plus, LinkedIn, or Pinterest!

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