Incandescent vs. Fluorescent Lights; What Comes Out on Top?

Hykolity pits Incandescent and Fluorescent Lights Against Each Other

Being an LED light supplier, we are hard advocates of its higher efficiency and brighter output. And while we’ve pitted LED against incandescent and fluorescent lights, we’ve never taken a look at them against each other. So this week, we are going to explore how they work in order to see which light you should buy if LED isn’t accessible to you at this time.

How Incandescent Lights Work

Anatomy of an Incandescent Light BulbAn incandescent bulb is made up of a glass mount holding the support wires and a 1-inch coiled tungsten filament inside. Inert gas fills the bulb to keep the filament from evaporating. When you flip the switch, electricity flows from the bulb base to the tungsten filament. While the current travels through the filament, electrons run into the tungsten atoms. This makes the filament vibrate, heating up the atoms and boosting the electrons to higher energy levels. The electrons release their extra energy as light as they return to their original energy levels. Keep in mind however that light only makes up 20% of the energy output. The other 80% is released as heat, making incandescent lighting very inefficient.

How Fluorescent Lights Work

A fluorescent tube is made of a phosphor tube, filled with argon and mercury vapor, with tungsten cathodes on either end. When electricity runs through the tube, an electric arc of power excites the vapor causing it to release ultraviolet light. The UV light stimulates the phosphor coating to create the visible light we see.

There are two types of fluorescent lights. Hot cathode fluorescents are powered by an external ballast. To create the glow of light, it spikes the standard 120 volts to almost twice that amount. Inside, the tungsten filaments rapidly heat up causing the jumpstarting arc and light up. The ballast chokes the voltage to prevent short-circuiting.

A cold cathode uses solid metal thimble-like cathodes which are not heated beforehand. High voltage is applied so the lamp turns on to full brightness almost instantly.

5000K Fluorescent Tube Lighting

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs are hot cathode fluorescents and work the same way as linear fluorescent lights. CFL bulbs feature a spiral appearance and are self-ballasted, so they light up the same way as an incandescent light bulb (screw-in).

One thing to note is fluorescent lamp gas has a temperature-dependent resistance. If it is cold, more voltage is required to power the light. While the ballast will prevent over-voltage, 

LED is by far the superior technology over either incandescent or fluorescent lighting. But if we had to choose, we would side with fluorescent lights.

While both are prone to shattering, fluorescent is at least 75% more efficient than incandescent lighting. Fluorescent makeup grants a longer shelf life than that of incandescent light bulbs. This means purchasing and replacing them less often. Despite these benefits over incandescent lighting though, we cannot ignore the dangers of the mercury vapor inside and UV light emission.

We consider fluorescent lighting to be the next best option to be your lighting solution. Most are powered by a ballast, which can also stop functioning after a period of time. But if your lights go out, how do you know if it's your tube lights or the ballast? Find out soon, but be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn for more tips and updates!