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CFL Bulbs - a handy guide

Author: Glenn Harper
Published: May 15, 2016

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A compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) is a slim fluorescent tube folded or twisted into a small size. This type of bulb first emerged in the 1980s, but never sold in the desired numbers. Since then, the appearance of CFLs and their quality of light have been greatly improved.

Advantages to CFL

LED technology is better in some respects than fluorescent, but both offer major advantages over filament lighting. Here are some CFL benefits:

  • A CFL uses about 70% less energy than an equivalent halogen bulb and is often close to LED technology for efficiency.
  • A CFL emits light in all directions, so it is a natural replacement for incandescent lighting. (Tip: always check the size of a CFL against your light fitting before buying, as the bulbs tend to be a bit larger than originals.)
  • The lifespan of a CFL is usually between 8,000 and 20,000 hours, which is 8 to 20 times longer than most traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • CFLs are still cheaper, on average, than LED bulbs. They needn’t cost much more than halogen when sourced from a specialist seller such as Lyco.
  • CFLs emit a soft light that flatters nearby decor.

The main drawbacks of a CFL are lack of dimmability and the warm-up time needed to reach full power.

CFL examples: lamp types

The various CFLs available include the following:

    • A 2D lamp produces lots of light for slim fittings such as bulkheads. Note that 4-pin CFLs are usually dimmable, which is rare in CFLs (requires dimmable control gear in the fitting).
    • Pin-fitting CFLs are used in dedicated low-energy fittings. Just to confuse you, these bulbs are named differently according to brand. If you're looking for a specific pinned CFL and have a code, find it quickly with our handy CFL code look-up chart.
    • Spirals and sticks have standard bayonet or screw-fit bases. Their look takes some getting used to, but is often hidden anyway by shades. The stylish Plumen bulb is designed to be seen and is a popular choice in hospitality settings and homes.
    • GLS bulbs are available in CFL form, and they make a good replacement for incandescent bulbs with their bright, omnidirectional light. Our Low Energy GLS Bulbs last 5 times longer than most original filament bulbs while costing only a little more.
    • CFL candles tend to be slightly larger than other types of candles and don’t have a clear finish (sometimes preferred for decorative fittings). They do emit a soft light with little glare, however, which makes them ideal for eye-level fittings as well as some ceiling lights.
    • Golf balls and globes are both sold in CFL form. A CFL like the 20W Low Energy Globe is usually used in open ceiling lights and emits enough light for a large room.
    • CFL reflectors replace the incandescent reflectors often used in ceiling lights. Like the originals, their reflective interior coating gathers light and creates a spotlighting effect. Unlike the originals, they are energy efficient.

Feel free to browse our full range of energy saving CFL bulbs.

For more advice and guidance take a look at our Lighting Advice section.