Many people in lighting and design circles are already familiar with the Plumen CFL. If you’re not, Plumen’s tagline sums it up pretty well: “The world’s first designer energy saving light bulb.”
To many, the typical spiral shape of a compact fluorescent is an eyesore, so they hide it under a lampshade or within an enclosed light fixture. That’s unfortunate, because there’s no reason a CFL has to be so ugly. In fact, the bulb’s glass tube can take virtually any form. There are plenty of fixtures, from pendants to desk lamps, which challenge the status quo. Why shouldn’t a bulb do the same?
The creators of the Plumen—designer Samuel Wilkinson and British design company Hulger—took that challenge. Their revolutionary bulb takes its inspiration from bird feathers (the “plume” in Plumen). Instead of twisting the glass tubes of the bulb into a utilitarian and industrial shape, the designers gave them an airy, organic form. The unique design has already landed Plumen in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and earned it the Brit Insurance Design of the Year Award.
Popular applications for the Plumen include pendant lights, floor lamps, and anywhere you might use an antique light bulb. Indeed, many stylish, yet energy conscious customers find the Plumen satisfies their desire for much less efficient incandescent antique bulbs. The Plumen uses only 11 watts to produce the equivalent light output of a 60 watt incandescent light bulb. This means the bulb saves 80% on your energy bills. In addition, the 8,000 hour bulb will outlast 8 to 10 incandescent bulbs. Lower bills, fewer carbon emissions, long life, and beautiful design: What more could you ask for in a light bulb?
You know the feeling. You just came home from the hardware store with a blister pack of brand new, energy-saving CFLs. You screw them in and hit the switch. “Oh, this is gonna be good,” you say to yourself. You’re going to save tons of money and your bulbs are gonna look great! Then you notice they’re dim, really dim. Defeated, you retreat to another room to find your receipt. But then, when you return a minute or so later, they’re as bright as you expected them to be! What sorcery is this?
Everyone has had this experience with their first batch of CFLs, though maybe it wasn’t as melodramatic. To understand why compact fluorescents start off dim, you have to know a bit about how fluorescent lighting works. Unlike an incandescent bulb, which creates light by heating a filament until it is white-hot, fluorescent lights use cathodes to heat a special gas or mix of gases to create UV light. The UV light is then filtered through phosphors to create white or colored light. To do this however, the cathodes have to warm up.
Every new CFL on the market uses different proprietary technology to shorten the bulb’s warm-up time, with varied results, so we chose to test four of our best-selling 60 watt CFLs. Though this is far from a scientific study, here’s how we conducted the experiment: We screwed each bulb into a lamp, and set a light meter about one foot to the side the lamp. We propped up the light meter so it was roughly on the same horizontal plane as the CFL’s midpoint. We then turned on each bulb and used the light meter to record the maximum light output of the bulb. Finally, we replaced the bulbs with identical bulbs of the same make and model (using the already warm bulb would have skewed our results). We then switched the bulbs on and recorded the time it took to meet the previously recorded maximum output.
Bulb One: Energy Miser
The first bulb we tested is a 13 watt, 2700K CFL from Energy Miser. Just over $1.00 each, this bulb is not only the most inexpensive of the bulbs we tested, but it’s also our best seller. The manufacturer doesn’t make any claims about the bulb’s warm up time, though our customers have given it an average 5-star rating. In our tests, the bulb reached its maximum output in 2 minutes, 2 seconds. That’s not exactly quick, but according to most manufacturers, it’s about on par for a typical CFL.
Bulb Two: TCP TruStart
The second bulb we tested, a TCP TruStart, is a fairly new addition to our product line. In their spec sheet, TCP claims this bulb is the “Best on/off CFL ever made!” Unlike the previous bulb we tested, TCP does make a claim about this bulb’s warm-up time; specifically, TCP says the CFL has a less than 30 second warm-up time. Our tests showed this claim to be mostly true, with the bulb reaching its full brightness at 38.7 seconds.
Bulb Three: Sylvania DULUX EL
The third bulb we tested is from the “big three” of lighting manufacturers, Sylvania. Sylvania also doesn’t make any specific claims about warm-up times for this 13 watt CFL from their DULUX EL family, nor do our customers (who give it an average 4-star rating). So how did this name brand product fare? Pretty well, it turns out. The bulb reached its full brightness at 1 minute, 7 seconds. That not as good as the TCP TruStart, but it’s nearly twice as fast as the Energy Miser.
Bulb Four: TCP InstaBright
The final bulb we tested is a little different from the other four we tested. This covered CFL from TCP has a glass cap over the fluorescent spiral tube so that it looks more like a typical A-shape incandescent bulb. In their InstaBright G2 brochure, TCP claims the bulb has the “Fastest run-up time and significantly improved light build up time,” and it is supposed to reach full brightness in 45 seconds. Surprisingly, this bulb beat even its own estimates, reaching full brightness in only 35.1 seconds!
Which of these bulbs should you buy? It depends how much you’re willing to pay and how much you value fast warm-up times. There is a spread of more than $4.00 between the cheapest and most expensive of these bulbs. Is a few seconds quicker to reach full brightness worth the premium? Let us know what you think in the comments, or connect with us on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.
Whether you’re shooting at friends in a laser tag arena, venturing through the narrow passageways of a haunted house, or simply watching your favorite episode of CSI, black lights never cease to amaze. There’s something fun and mysterious about revealing secrets and hidden messages with that strange purple light. But how do black lights work? (Hint: It’s not magic.)
The signature glow produced by black lights requires two separate things: A source of ultraviolet light and a surface coated with UV-reactive phosphors. The source of the light is a bulb, whether incandescent, fluorescent, CFL, or LED. You can find phosphors—a loose grouping referring to special compounds and minerals—in and on all kinds of things: Highlighters, soap, rocks, glow-in-the-dark toys, and even your teeth. When ultraviolet light hits a phosphor, the phosphor glows in a phenomenon called luminescence.
Incandescent Black Lights
You may remember from our previous article on yellow bug lights that the short-wavelength spectrum of light beyond visible light is ultraviolet light. All light sources produce UV in varying quantities. For example, the simplest form of black light, an incandescent black light, produces very little ultraviolet light but uses a special filtering glass called Wood’s Glass to block most visible light produced by the bulb filament, thus enhancing the effect of the UV spectrum. However, the relatively small amount of UV light incandescent bulbs produce makes incandescent black lights the least impressive of black lights.
Fluorescent Black Lights: BL vs. BLB
Fluorescent light sources naturally emit much more of the ultraviolet light spectrum, making the technology ideal for use in black lights. Fluorescent black lights fall into two different categories, black light (BL) and black light blue (BLB). Fluorescent black lights use special phosphor coatings on the inside of the bulb to filter out visible light and enhance the emission of ultraviolet light. In both BL and BLB technologies, this ultraviolet light causes external phosphors in its surroundings to glow, just like an incandescent black light does. However, because fluorescent technology produces much more of the UV spectrum, fluorescent black lights are more effective than incandescent black lights.
While both a fluorescent black light and a black light blue use UV light and phosphor coatings to create luminescence, the difference between them is how much invisible ultraviolet light they emit in relation to visible white light. A fluorescent black light, which appears similar to any ordinary white fluorescent lamp, emits a relatively large amount of white light mixed with ultraviolet light. The light from a fluorescent black light looks similar to what we are used to from ordinary fluorescent sources, yet still causes limited luminescence of external phosphors.
Black light blue fluorescents are much more commonplace. Like other fluorescent black lights, they use a special phosphor coating to filter white light; however, for more complete blocking of white light, black light blue bulbs also are made of a purple-colored filtering glass. This combination allows them to emit a greater amount of ultraviolet light than white light. The result is the familiar purple-colored light and a very pronounced luminescence of phosphors in black light reactive objects.
Other Black Light Technologies
Of course, fluorescent black light technology lends itself equally well to compact fluorescent black lights. Though compact, CFL black lights work according to the same principles of black light or black light blue fluorescent lighting. LED black lights are less common, though they are starting to emerge, especially in stage and nightclub lighting. Other niche applications include HID lighting, especially mercury vapor, and “bug zapper” lights like the Paraclipse Mosquito Eliminator.
We hope we haven’t completely destroyed the mystique of black lights for you. But if we have, be sure to let us know in the comments, or drop us a line on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter page.
It’s a long accepted fact that production of the hormone responsible for sleepiness, melatonin, can be suppressed by light. The pineal gland uses the presence of light to determine when to release and suppress the hormone, setting our “internal clock” to a cycle of wakefulness and sleep, also known as a circadian rhythm. Not surprisingly, the large amount of artificial light we encounter in the modern world can have a negative effect on this cycle by suppressing melatonin production even at night. However, recent studies suggest that not just the amount of light, but also the color of the light we encounter may affect our sleep cycles.
A 2005 study conducted by researchers at Kyushu University in Japan suggests that exposure to high color temperature light immediately preceding bedtime reduces the length of stage 4 sleep. In the study, the researchers exposed different subjects to 3000K, 5000K, and 6700K light sources for 6 hours before going to sleep. Researchers monitored the subjects’ sleep patterns and came to this conclusion:
Given that the S4-sleep period is important for sleep quality, our findings suggest that light sources of higher color temperatures may reduce sleep quality compared with those of lower color temperatures.
Though these findings are not yet accepted scientific fact, it’s worth noting that manufacturers have already started to create products with these ideas in mind. Philips, for example, produces an entire line of “Wake-Up Lights” that use increasing light intensity and color temperature to wake you from sleep, a method that is marketed as a more natural alternative to alarm clocks. The computer program and smartphone app f.lux reduces the color temperature of screens for less obtrusive nighttime reading. On the flip side, companies have long used “full spectrum” office lighting to increase alertness and productivity, assuming that if high color temperature lighting discourages sleep, it must also encourage wakefulness.
While the scientific community works this all out, what can you do now to improve your sleep? Start with what we do know: Bright light of any color temperature suppresses the production of melatonin, so limit the use of artificial light in the hours preceding sleep. This is easy to do with dimmers, 3-way bulbs, and even low wattage bulbs. Second, conduct your own study: If you currently use high color temperature bulbs and have difficulty sleeping, switch them out for soft white or warm white bulbs and see if you notice a difference.
If you try these ideas out, we’re curious about the results. Does color temperature have any effect on your sleep? Let us know in the comments, or drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.
Despite the media hype surrounding the phase-out of incandescent light bulbs, most news outlets failed to mention that manufacturers will also phase out other popular light bulbs this year. These other phase-outs—which are not part of the EISA 2007 legislation, but rather 2009 US Department of Energy regulations—will affect some of the most popular bulbs on the market today: T12 fluorescent tubes and Halogen PAR lamps.
T12 Fluorescent Phase-Out
The T12 fluorescent tube phase-out has been a long time coming. More efficient T8 and T5 lamp types have all but replaced the once ubiquitous T12 already, perhaps because the standard 4-foot T12 lamp burns a whopping 40 watts, while its T8 replacement uses between 25 and 32 watts. To anyone who has installed a fluorescent fixture in the past 5 years, it’s been a no brainer: Go with the T8 and save up to 60 watts per fixture.*
Here’s a partial list of T12 lamps affected by 2009 DOE regulations:
The DOE regulations also affect some T8 lamps, but those affected aren’t very popular. Though the phase-out doesn’t take effect until July 14th of this year, you’d be hard-pressed to find a T12 lamp in any local hardware store, so you’ll have to check online if you intend to stock up.
Perhaps more significant than the T12 phase-out is the elimination of most Halogen PAR38, PAR30, and PAR20 lamps. The ban covers most Halogen PARs between 40 to 205 watts. Do you have a PAR38 in an outdoor fixture or a PAR20 in a track light? Chances are, you won’t be able to get either of those after July 14th, 2012 when the ban takes effect.
Fortunately, there’s a silver lining to the Halogen PAR ban. Most eliminated PAR lamps will be replaced with IR Halogens, which have a special infrared coating on the Halogen capsule to redirect heat inward and increase the efficiency of the bulb. This allows them to meet the minimum efficiency requirement of around 18 LPW. Other options include CFL and LED PAR bulbs and even some self-ballasted metal halide PAR lamps.
So what do you think? Are these regulations a step in the right direction, or are they a case of government overreach? Leave your thoughts in the comments section, or connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.