A Good Idea Flickers Under Fluorescent Bulbs

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So a Washington, D.C., coalition wants to force us to use fluorescent bulbs, instead of the incandescents we've known since the days of Thomas Edison. The group's members would enact new energy standards that would essentially outlaw the inefficient lightbulbs we now use. Fine, as long as their new regs include standards for how fluorescents perform.

I'm a fan of compact fluorescent lights and use them throughout our home. I'd use them more if I could be sure how they would perform–including how quickly they light up, how bright they are, and what color they cast. Those are critical issues in winning over skeptics, including my wife.

She wants a room lit as soon as she hits the light switch. Imagine that. Too many fluorescents bought flicker for a few seconds or don't light at all for a second or so. Doesn't sound like much. But when you're used to lights coming on immediately–as with incandescent bulbs–it's annoying. I've bought the same brand, same fixture, and one flickers and one doesn't. Doubly annoying. I've learned "instant-on" on the package is often a come-on.

Some promise a more pleasing light than the bluish glow that make many fluorescents unattractive for indoor lighting; but how pleasing is often a guess. And at prices that typically start around $1.50 a bulb, I don't like guessing.

Wattage was a sure bet with incandescents, but it isn't as good a guide for fluorescents. A better measure is the "lumens" they promise, when you can find it on the package. Even then, some can take minutes to reach full brightness, while others do it more quickly. Another guess.

Labeling, in general, seems inconsistent; in fact, entire sites exist for rating how fluorescents truly perform. I'm all for saving energy and money. But fluorescents have a way to go before they satisfy most Americans, who've been spoiled by incandescents.