Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) have gotten a bad rap. And in many cases, because they deserved it. Ugly light quality, annoying humming, and much shorter-than-rated lifespans plagued CFLs of yesteryear.
But thanks in part to improved technology and higher ENERGY STAR standards, today’s CFL are excellent. Good quality, good light, good performance, and still energy-efficient.
One of the challenges with CFLs has been dimmability—or rather lack thereof. And most CFLs still aren’t dimmable. However, some are. And when connected to a high quality dimmer, these dimmable CFLs are efficient and good quality. I won’t geek out on the technical issues that have been addressed here other than a couple of short points. Dimmable CFLs have a different ballast than standard CFLs—the ballast are designed to operate as the power level drops, and the ballast sends a decreasing amount of juice to the bulb. And quality dimmers adjust to current to the light.
If you want CFLs that dim, get a dimmable CFL! You’ll get better results with a good dimmer. I like the Philips dimmable bulbs and the Diva dimmer by Lutron. But don’t expect the full range of dimmability you’d get with incandescents. There are some decent ciculine and GE’s double-U shaped bulbs, especially in dedicated torchieres. [You can get even better results with T-5 linear flourescents with dimmable ballasts–but you won’t have the flexibility of a variety of fixture types.]
When buying CFLs you’ll also want to pay attention to the “temperature” and this works the opposite of what you might expect. A higher temperature number gives a whiter light—often advertised as “cool”. A lower temperature number gives a more yellow “warmer” light than we associate with incandescent lighting and which most people prefer in their homes. Higher/cooler, lower/warmer—hey, I don’t decide this, I’m just reporting! And look for ENERGY STAR. Their spec includes quality standards, and their website includes buying guidance.