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All About Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Graphic with title "All About Compact Flourescent Light Bulbs"

Long-lasting and energy efficient, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) offer consumers an affordable alternative to the incandescent in today’s ever-demanding race to go green. One of the greatest developments in lighting since the 1879 incandescent, recent advances in technology and drastically reduced costs have compact fluorescent light bulbs flying off the shelves. The history of compact fluorescent light bulbs Fluorescent light bulbs, including compact fluorescent light bulbs, are comprised of a large family of light sources including cold cathode, hot cathode, and electroluminescent. Though the idea of fluorescents has been around since the 1880s, it wasn’t until the 1930s that they were developed for commercial use. The technology of compact fluorescents has progressed thanks to the hard work of many inventors in fluorescent light technology over the years…

  • Henrich Geissler and Julius Plucker These 19th century German inventors discovered the ability to produce light by removing almost all of the air from a long glass tube and passing an electrical current through it. The Geissler tube, a discharge lamp, remained in the dark until the early 20th century when researchers began looking for ways to improve lighting efficiency.
  • Peter Cooper Hewitt In the early 1900s, Hewitt created a blue-green light by passing an electric current through mercury vapor and incorporating a ballast to regulate current. Though more efficient than the incandescent, it had limited use due to its color spectrum.
  • American Lighting Companies Research in the 1920s and 1930s into phosphors, material capable of absorbing UV light and converting it into useful white light, spark research programs in the U.S. by lighting companies. By the late 1930s, American lighting companies demonstrate the technology, three times more efficient than incandescent lighting, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. They also introduce the technology to the to the U.S. Navy as a way to meet the need for efficient lighting in American war plants.
  • Sylvania An energy shortage resulting from the 1973 oil crisis prompted Sylvania researchers to attempt to miniaturize ballasts and tuck them into bulbs, however the light was unable to be feasibly produced.
  • Edward Hammer and GE Two years later, in 1976, GE’s Hammer bends the lighting tube into a spiral, creating the first compact fluorescent bulb. Unfortunately, production was postponed due to the expense of machinery needed to mass-produce the bulb.
  • The U.S. Government and Utility Companies Lend a Hand Large orders for bulbs placed by the government and utility companies spur the production of compact fluorescents, but mid-1980s prices were still cost-prohibitive to most consumers at $25-35. The bulb’s poor fit and performance don’t help matters. However improvements since the 1990s have drastically reduced performance, price, and efficiency, making compact fluorescent light bulbs a viable option for all Americans at as little as $1.74 per bulb.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs – raising the bar. Used in place of incandescents in standard light sockets, compact fluorescent light bulbs offer an array of light colors, last 10 times longer, and use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescents putting out the same amount of light. What are CFLs made of and how do they work? Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain argon and mercury housed in a spiral shaped glass bulb. An integrated ballast produces an electric current to pass through the vapors. Electricity excites the gaseous molecules, producing ultraviolet light. This UV light then stimulates a fluorescent coating painted inside the tube of the bulb, and as the coating absorbs the energy, it emits visible light. How common are CFLs?

  • CFL sales in the U.S. accounted for more than 20 percent of light bulb sales in a 2007 study.
  • As of 1996, 80 percent of Japan households and 50 percent of German households utilized CFLs.
  • 2002 statistics show 14 percent sales in China, and 17 percent in Brazil.
  • CFL sales and use worldwide continues to grow at a fast pace as incandescents are phased out, technology improves, and prices continue to drop.

Ready to ditch those inefficient old incandescents for compact fluorescent light bulbs? To learn more about the latest in energy saving lighting trends, contact Mr. Electric® today.