Posted by Doug Root on 6th Apr 2021

Fluorescent Lights and Fluorescent Light Fixture Types: Pros and Cons

Atlanta Light Bulbs is your source for lighting technology and information, whether you’re a homeowner or an industrial manager responsible for outfitting a factory with compliant lighting! Here we’re going to take a high-level view at a relatively old form of lighting technology that is still relevant and widely used today: fluorescent lights.

How they Work: High-Level View

Fluorescent lights are very interesting among other lighting sources in how they produce visible light. To learn more about the specifics of fluorescence, please see our blog A Primer on Fluorescent Light. Otherwise, here are the simple details.

The fluorescent light contains an inner tube with electrodes that is filled with inert gas and a little bit of mercury. Passing electricity through the tube with the mercury in it vaporizes the mercury. This in turn emits UV light.

The outer tube of the fluorescent light, the one that appears white, looks white because its inside surface is coated with phosphors or similar materials known as fluorescents. Fluorescent materials glow with light on the visible spectrum when they are irradiated with UV light. When the UV light from the inner tube strikes these phosphors, they fluoresce, producing the cool, white light for which fluorescent lights are known.

Types of Fluorescent Lights

Generally speaking, there are a few different types of fluorescent lights that are used widely in a variety of settings. Fluorescents, like LEDs, are some of the most versatile forms of lighting that there are and can be used in residences, for decorative purposes, medical and dental lightings, industrial and commercial lighting, high bay lighting, and much more.

Linear Fluorescent Lights

Fluorescent lights are probably the most recognizable form. These are the long, straight, white tubes that are commonly encountered in garages, in shops, in high-bay lighting, and all over the country in hallways in schools and gyms, auditoriums, and other places of public accommodation.

However, not all fluorescent tube lights are created equal, and not all fluorescent fixtures can accommodate them!

●T5: T5 linear fluorescent bulbs are some of the most common linear fluorescents out there. They are ⅝ of an inch in diameter, and though they are the smallest, they are also the brightest among linear fluorescent lights and also the most energy-efficient. They’re also the newest development. They’re also incredibly long-lasting. Some particularly efficient and long-lived T5 bulbs last almost 100,000 hours, although the projected lifespan will vary widely according to specs and use.

●T8: T8 fluorescent lights, which are an even inch in diameter, are actually more common even than T5 lights. They’re used all over the place, with 4-foot T8 fluorescents being fairly ubiquitous in all different sorts of places of gathering. Not only are they used all over the place, but they’re pretty efficient and provide good luminosity, despite lagging slightly behind T5s in both of these arenas. However, since they were developed and produced earlier, they’re more widespread.

●T12: The oldest and most primitive of the linear fluorescent family, T12 fluorescents are an inch and a half in diameter and, though once widespread, are growing less and less prevalent with the advent of new, technologically superior lighting technology. Also, because they are so old, they are mostly compatible only with magnetic ballasts, many of which are no longer made. For that reason, many are starting to switch away from them and move over to T8 or T5s in their stead, although some prefer to retrofit compatible LEDs into their place in preference to newer fluorescents.

U-Shaped Fluorescent Lights

U-shaped fluorescent lights, also known as bent fluorescent bulbs or lights, are basically the same in operation and function as linear lights; they’re just oriented differently, and of course, require different fluorescent light fixtures. They also provide similar light output to equivalent fluorescents, with the main advantage being that they can be made to occupy less space because a bent fluorescent has the same amount of surface area as a similarly rated linear but it requires less linear space to install. Oftentimes, the use of these lights is dictated by personal preference or the limitations of the fixture in question.

Circline Fluorescent Lights

In addition to linear fluorescent lamps and U-shaped lamps, we also have circline fluorescent lamps, which are just lined linears and U-shaped lights except for the fact that they are sized differently and require fluorescent light fixtures that can accommodate them.

Those of you who are familiar with circular or circline lamps probably know them from their use in medical applications as overhead lighting, or for their decorative uses. They can produce a gentle “halo” of light due to their shape and orientation, which has some specific decorative purposes; other than that, their use, like the use of U-shaped lamps, is dictated by the fluorescent light fixture or by the user’s preference.

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs)

Finally, we have a special class of fluorescent lights that are specifically designed for use in residential settings as (typically) directly plug-and-play replacements for incandescent lights. In case you haven’t heard it repeated before, incandescent lights have a short lifespan, burn a huge amount of energy which is terrible for the environment, and then result in waste at the end of it when they get thrown out.

Compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs as they are more widely known, look like the light pictured at the right. They’re like small, condensed, manipulated linear tube lights that have been “compacted,” hence the name. Since they last longer than incandescent lights and burn less energy, they are considered environmentally friendly by comparative terms and have been widely used to replace incandescent bulbs. Again, as with the other types of fluorescents mentioned here, they require a specific type of compatible fixture to be used.

What You Need: The Right Fluorescent Light Fixture

Except in the case of CFL bulbs that are designed to be a direct replacement for screw-in incandescent bulbs, you’ll need a special fixture with the right socket for your fluorescent lights. Here at Atlanta Light Bulbs, we have a large selection of fluorescent light fixtures designed to accommodate linear, bent, and circline lamps with a variety of base sizes. We even have luminaires, including models that are designed to accept the ubiquitous 4-foot fluorescent lights that seem to be in every public location throughout the country. That brings us to something else you will need with your fluorescent lights: a fluorescent ballast.

What You Need: A Ballast

In nautical terms, ballast is some densely weighted material that helps to stabilize a ship at sea, often taking the form of water, heavy stones, or cargo. In the sense that it stabilizes the ship, it is similar to a light’s ballast.

Lighting ballasts, which are either magnetic or (more commonly in modern settings) electronic, regulate the voltage or the current to the lamp (or both) in order to provide a steady light output and to prevent the lamp from overdrawing and thus burning out.

Most ballasts today are some form or other of electronic ballast, many of which can provide rapid starts to fluorescent lights that contrast strongly with the slow, labored start-up provided by some aging magnetic ballasts. If you want to learn more about ballasts, make sure you give us a call.

Why People Use Fluorescent Lights

Now that you’re somewhat more familiar with some of the basic types of fluorescent lights out there and the components that are necessary with them, you might be wondering why anyone would want to use them in the first place when there are modern alternatives like LEDs.

Despite being older than some other forms of lighting, fluorescents still have a lot of draw, including some of the following benefits:

●They are energy efficient

Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, may very well be more energy-efficient than fluorescent lights (and they are) but fluorescent lights are still extremely efficient by the standards of basically all other forms of light. This, coupled with their long lifespan, makes them very attractive to those who need efficient lighting sources, especially in large gathering areas. Even today, fluorescent lights make illuminating cafes, libraries, schools, retail locations, and other public locations relatively affordable.

●They have a long lifespan

Adding to the general affordability of the solution is the fact that fluorescent lights last a long time. In fact, until LEDs came along, there was basically no other contender that could challenge the longevity of fluorescent lamps. Today, some fluorescents can last nearly 100,000 hours, which rivals even some really efficient and long-lasting LEDs.

●They don’t produce too much heat

There’s one more way that fluorescent lights can help users save money, and it’s a fair reason that some locations hang onto them. Fluorescent lights don’t produce that much heat. They’re significantly cooler than incandescent bulbs and HID lamps, which is a huge benefit, especially in large indoor locations.

Imagine if all the overhead fluorescent lights in a public building, restaurant, or mall produced a lot of heat. That would make cooling costs a nightmare in the summer; luckily, most fluorescent lights don’t produce a lot of heat.

Why People Are Switching Away from Fluorescent Lights

With those above benefits in mind, there are actually a couple of reasons why people are switching away from fluorescent lights, typically in favor of LED replacement bulbs, many of which can be utilized as plug-and-play replacements.

●There are potentially better alternatives, like LEDs

Fluorescent lights are energy-efficient and last a long time, but despite these benefits, LEDs generally last longer, are more energy-efficient, and even produce less heat. They also start up immediately and are not adversely affected by extreme temperatures and other conditions that can make fluorescent lights temperamental.

●Fluorescent lights are difficult to dispose of because they contain mercury

Despite the fact that fluorescent lights have a lot of benefits when it comes time to replace a fleet of them it can result in a big (and expensive) headache. This is because of the fact that fluorescents contain mercury and so are considered environmentally hazardous. That means they can’t just go out with the trash. Now, as you can imagine, disposing of one is a hassle in its own right. It’s a way bigger issue for businesses that have hundreds if not thousands to replace and dispose of properly.

●Fluorescent lights are relatively expensive, despite their other benefits

Also, fluorescent lights are actually decently expensive. It makes their other benefits pale in comparison to alternatives like LEDs. throw in the fact that LEDs used to be more expensive but in recent years have dropped precipitously in price and you have a pretty compelling argument against fluorescents.

●Turning them on and off frequently diminishes their lifespan

These types of lamps also do not make a good match for settings where they will be switched on and off frequently, which is why they are often left burning in public spaces even when no one is present. For one thing, there is usually at least a minor delay before they reach their full-brightness, which makes them inconvenient for most residential applications. For another, it shortens their lifespan.

●ultraviolet light emissions

Finally, fluorescent lights require UV light to operate, which also means they emit a little bit of UV light to which those around them will be exposed. The amount is minimal and the effects are considered marginal, but it is still UV light and it is still known to cause hazards to human health, especially in individuals that are overexposed.

Still have questions about fluorescent lights, which components are compatible, or which type of fluorescent light fixture or ballast you need to use with your current configurations? Don’t look for the information on your own, especially if you aren’t comfortable with the topic. Just get in touch with an expert specialist on our team here at Atlanta Light Bulbs!

For forty years we’ve been growing and we didn’t achieve our success by accident. If there’s one thing we have besides one of the greatest collections of lighting and equipment around, it’s expertise. If you have questions, we’ll get you the answer - just call us up at 1-888-988-2852.