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For over 100 years, the standard light bulb has been of one type—incandescent. A wonder of the modern world, Thomas Edison’s elegantly simple invention was reliable, inexpensive, and everywhere.
But technology marches on, and certain drawbacks and limitations of incandescent technology have opened the door for newer, more efficient, and longer-lasting light bulb designs. One of the most popular of these is the compact fluorescent lamp, or CFL. Boasting far greater energy efficiency than its wire-burning cousin, the CFL emits much more light per watt of energy, and far less heat to boot. But how?
Incandescent bulbs create light by passing electric current through a small wire, or filament. The electrical resistance of the filament causes it to heat up and glow. But only about 10% of the electricity used is emitted as light. The other 90% is given off as heat. While this heat can be desirable in certain applications (heating lamps and botanical grow lamps, for example), it is usually just a wasteful by-product of incandescent inefficiency.
Instead of a filament, CFL bulbs contain a gas, which emits ultraviolet light (UV) when electricity is passed through it. But we cannot see ultraviolet light, so a special phosphor coating is applied to the glass to convert the UV light to visible light we can see. Since the CFL does not rely on heat to produce its light, it is far more energy efficient. And different phosphor coatings can be applied to customize the quality of the light output.
In order to precisely control the electricity traveling through the gas, the CFL uses a device called a ballast. In the past, fluorescent lights have been associated with flickering, humming and slow starting. This was largely due to the use of electromagnetic ballasts. Today’s CFL bulbs use advanced electronic ballasts which do not tend to produce these performance anomalies.
Let’s look at some of the main advantages of replacing incandescent bulbs with a CFL light bulb.
For more information about CFLs and other lighting technologies, use the visual guide on our Lamps Plus bulb finder page.
Or explore more with one of our other articles:
1. Using a Dimmer with CFL Bulbs
2. How and LED bulb works
3. How an Incandescent bulb works
4. How a Halogen bulb works
Need help finding a CFL light bulb or other types of home light bulbs? Our American Lighting Association trained consultants are here for you! Use the Lamps Plus store locator to find a superstore location near you, or contact us for more information!