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What are the Disadvantages of Fluorescent Lights?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 16, 2024
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Fluorescent bulbs have become more popular in recent years, due to the fact that they use less energy than more traditional bulbs. This is useful for saving money and energy and helps to preserve the environment. There are some disadvantages of fluorescent lights, however, including sizing issues, a difference in bulb strength and coloring when compared with incandescent bulbs, and a higher up-front investment.

In general, one of the biggest disadvantages of fluorescent lights is that they are often made larger than incandescent bulbs. This makes fitting them into certain light fixtures difficult or impossible. For inexpensive fixtures, it may be practical to buy a replacement that is suitable for use with a fluorescent bulb. More pricey lighting fixtures may not be practical to replace, therefore conventional bulbs may be a better choice. Fortunately, specialized fluorescent lights are becoming more widely available to fit a wider variety of fixtures.

The color of the lighting is also one of the disadvantages of fluorescent lights for many people. Choosing a fluorescent bulb that has the same appearance and brightness level as a corresponding incandescent bulb can be hard to do. This is because the manufacturer's comparisons between the two refers to power only, not to the bulb’s appearance. Therefore, buying a fluorescent bulb that is the equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent bulb may not give the same amount of light. The lighting given off by a fluorescent bulb can also be harsher and less natural in appearance when compared to incandescent bulbs, although manufacturers are slowly coming out with more natural-looking options.

Fluorescent lights also tend to be dimmer in cold weather, making them poor choices for harsh climates when used outdoors. Garages, patios, and porches are likely better suited for use with a more traditional bulb, especially if having bright light is important, as in an outdoor workshop.

One of the other biggest disadvantages of fluorescent lights is that they are more expensive up-front when compared with incandescent bulbs. Although they are slowly becoming more affordable, compact fluorescents can still cost up to three times more than other bulbs, depending on the wattage and brand. While it is true that fluorescent bulbs save money over time by using less energy, thus offsetting the cost in a relatively short amount of time, some families do not have the money for the up-front investment.

Finally, perhaps one of the biggest disadvantages of fluorescent lights is the fact that most fluorescent bulbs contain mercury. Not only does this pose a hazard if a bulb is broken or cracked in the home, but it poses environmental risks if they are not properly disposed of. Most manufacturers list disposal instructions on the box, often requiring consumers to return used bulbs to them for proper waste management. Other times it may be up to the user to determine where and how to dispose of used bulbs.

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Discussion Comments

By Reminiscence — On Feb 21, 2014

One of the disadvantages I've noticed since switching over to fluorescent light bulbs is the shortened lifespan. CFLs were supposed to last for years, so the higher upfront cost would be made up by their longevity. Maybe it's the wiring in my home, but I have been replacing these compact fluorescent lightbulbs every two months or so. I haven't broken any bulbs, so that's not a major concern, but I haven't experienced the extended lifespan I was promised by the manufacturers, either.

By AnswerMan — On Feb 20, 2014

To be completely honest, I have never called out a hazardous materials truck to sweep up a broken fluorescent light bulb. I don't know how much mercury is in a single bulb, but it can't be much. I'd like to see a day when we all switch to LED bulbs and get rid of fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs completely.

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