Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wal-Mart Changing the World One Lightbulb at a Time

Glenn Reynolds links to this article. He says that he isn't too happy with his fluorescent bulbs:

I replaced the bulbs in the overhead fixture in my study with compact fluorescents, and I'm not crazy with the quality of the light they're producing. But I may not have chosen the best new bulbs. I have been replacing outdoor lights with fluorescents, though, as I don't care as much about the light quality there.

Then Glenn, I have something for you: Full-Spectrum lighting. Not quite as energy efficient as fluorescent but much better. Full-spectrum (really "fuller spectrum" since only the sun is full spectrum) light is more natural light. So reading is easy. They are quiet and they last for years. We have them at our Chiropractic office and use them constantly. They required changing only every five years, or so, with constant daily use. Not bad. They use 60% less energy than incandescent, but more than fluorescent. The downside? About 10x the expense. But in my opinion, for an office and other works spaces, it is definitely worth it.

Here's more:

Lighting designer Stefan Graf, IALD, principal of Illuminart in Ypsilanti, Mich., says to think of full-spectrum lighting in audio terms. "Full-spectrum sound has bass and treble frequencies, as well as everything in between," he says. "Most light sources have peaks and valleys across the spectrum of light frequencies, but a full spectrum lighting system delivers nearly all light frequencies equally."

Graf inserts the word "nearly" in that phrase because he says that the only true full-spectrum light source is the sun. Many electric light sources come close to full-spectrum—some labeled as full-spectrum and some not—but none truly are so. "They should be labeled ‘fuller-spectrum,'" Graf says.


Full-spectrum lighting does offer some positive human effects. Graf points to recent research that proves that fuller-spectrum lighting helps improve visual acuity and accuracy. "Almost everyone who lives or works under a fuller-spectrum lighting environment says the space just ‘feels' better," Graf says. "It enables your eyes to work more efficiently because of better visual acuity and depth perception, so almost every task is easier and more comfortable to perform in some way."

Perhaps that is where the greatest benefits for full-spectrum lighting are: in areas and for tasks where visual acuity, accurate color rendering and comfortable light levels are needed. Spaces such as offices, retail stores, print shops and design studios may benefit from the improved color quality and visual acuity offered by full-spectrum lamps.

I should note here that there is controversy over health benefits with "full spectrum" lighting. They may or may not exist due to "full spectrum" bulbs.

It is universally recognized, though, that all people should spend at least 20 minutes per day out in the sun with little sunblock (depending on your skin tone--darker pigmented skin requires less sun-block) or sun glasses to help with Vitamin D production. This action significantly reduces colon and other cancers, as well as prevents osteoporosis. Get your young girls, elementary to teenagers, into the sun for bone development! Good diet alone will not meet the needs of your daughters bone formation. They do need Calcium (lactate cheap and effective, no carbonate) supplemented as it is imposssible to get the calcium needed through diet.

The sun isn't bad. Excessive burning is bad. There is a difference.

Update: Reader Sharon sent this link. Looks like Wal-Mart is changing the world one Rainbow Flag at a time, too.

Update II: Oh my goodness! I've been Instalanched!!! Thanks, Glenn & I really do hope you buy some full-spectrum lights.

Update III: Now, that I'm back on the granny computer, I just got an Apple (woo hoo!), I'd like to point you new people in the direction of a post or two you might like. Two days ago, I posted about the "neuterization" of America where any gender tendencies are scorned. Also, the Duke case has bugged me since the beginning. The NYT's article made it more irksome. More today, too. Thank you for visiting! I hope you come back soon.


Sharon said...

Got a forwarded e-mail today from a friend about Wal-Mart "coming out of the closet."

It says: "Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, has asked for and received permission to join the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The NGLCC is a leading promoter of homosexual marriage."


Any thoughts? (Sorry no comment about Wal-Mart's lightign...I'll have to go back and read all of your post.)

Sharon said...

Ha! I obviously just went by the title of your post! At least I put a disclaimer at the end of my first comment. Now that I've read your two cents: fluorescent lights make a space feel a little "off." Where I work, we have regular bulbs and fluorescent lights, on two different switches. We don't even bother to turn on the fluorescents because they put the office room on edge and bother our eyes.

Regarding sun's good to see that there are some voices of reason out there. When our kids were really little, we gave in to the peer pressure of lathering the kids up. Didn't take long for me to get tired of that and now, hardly ever use it on them and no bad burns to date; but...some extra money in my pocket due to NOT buying the monster bottles of sunscreen.

About Wal-Mart and their new ad venture...I suppose it was just a matter of time before they joined all the other companies trying to lure customers to their businesses.

Anonymous said...

When we did our office (approx 100 people) I was amazed at the diff full spectrum made, not so much for me as for others. We put fs in for anyone who wanted them. It really surprised me how big a deal it was, and how many folks got rid of tired eyes and persistent headaches w/the switch, but there was no denying the benefits. Some of the people swore that fluorescent gave them a headache in just a few minutes, a couple even mentioned migraines coming on.

I was a little befuddled at first, mostly cuz I didn't really notice a big diff in my own eyes, at least not right away. But after the fs were in, no probs at all for anybody, just a lot of thank-you's.

And no, I don't work for a fs company; just sounds that way :)

John (Useful Fools) said...

I have used "full spectrum" flourescent lights for decades. They are not that much more expensive than regular fluorescents (I am using standard 48" tubes) - certainly not 10 times. It probably depends on "how full" the spectrum is, or perhaps the smaller incandescent-substitute lights cost a lot more in full spectrum.

Fluorescent lights work by generating UV from passing electric current through mercury vapor. A phosphor coating on the inside of the glass converts this light to the visible spectrum. As far as I kinow, full spectrum simply uses a different phosphor coating, producing more wavelengths of light.

When I started illuminating a room with them, I would walk by the door and momentarily think the sun was shining in the room.

Also, I leave them on continuously in my home office - fluorescents last a very long time if you don't turn them on and off, and have a low power drain.

Brooke said...

Full spectrum lighting has gotten a lot of publicity over the past ten years. As a lighting designer and researcher I have been involved with the testing of full-spectrum lighting. The testing we have done has not yielded any significant differences in productivity, visual accuracy, or speed of task under full-spectrum lighting and standard fluorescent lighting.

To clarify Stephan Graf's comment about full-spectrum lighting filling in the "peaks and valleys" that is an oversimplification. Full-spectrum lighting is typically a fluorescent source with additional properties added to the phosphor coating to increase the color temperature of the lamp. Standard fluorescent come in color temperatures of 3000K, 3500K, 4100K, even 5000K. Full-spectrum fluorescents come in 500K, 6500K and 7500K. Daylight (blue sky) is approximately 10,000K or higher (to give you a point of reference). Therefore full-specctrum light is a "bluish" color compared to most fluorescent lamps. In one of our tests a subject's comment indicated that being under the full-spectrum light felt like being in a refrigerator. Other commments suggested it felt like a hospital or institution.

Most information on full-spectrum lighting that you read on the web is propaganda. Read carefully. Some very good research on Full-spectrum lighting has been done by Jennifer Veicht at the Canadian National Research Council.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I heard about the value of full spectrum lighting years ago. It is supposed to be much easier on the eyes of students who spend hours each day reading and writing. It also eliminates that annoying buzz that often emanates from classroom lights, a real plus for ADD students who are easily distracted by noise. Unfortunately, I have never taught at nor visited a school with full spectrum lighting, due to the additional cost.

Dr. Melissa said...


Thank you for commenting. Actually, I read Jennifer Veicht's research today. I'm embarressed to say--about fifteen pages worth, actually.

While the research certainly indicates that full spectrum preference is hooey, there are so many brands (by her own admission) with such different properties, I'm guessing that it would be tough to generalize across all types.

Maybe I'm just trying to rationalize my love of them. My son (autistic) and husband (very sensitive) are bothered terribly by typical fluorescent lights. The full-spectrum ones feel better. I don't think it's imagined. My son doesn't have the capacity to fake a "benefit".

Anyway, I'm not trying to be a huckster, just share my experience. I love the full-spectrum lights. At the least, the ones we use don't buzz and cycle like the cheapo fluorescent ones they replaced.

Marian Booker said...

I used to pay $25 for those curly bulbs to get a full-spectrum fluorescent, and nearly that for a 48" tube. Then one day, walking in Home Depot, I saw Sunlight, or Daylight tubes, and Arctic White bulbs. They are full spectrum, $4-$6 each. The light temperature for a fluorescent to look like daylight is 5000K, if you get 6500K they are REALLY bright and white. The 6500K tubes make your kitchen feel like there's a skylight over your head.

You can get compact fluorescent screw-in bulbs there now (Home Depot), need to look on the base for the light temp. A regular fluorescent won't have a light temp in Kelvin, or it will be in the 3000K range. A 5000K light will have a slightly greenish color when compared to a 6500K one. You need to make sure you get the same color temperature for all the bulbs in a room.

Don't even bother buying those incandescent "daylight" bulbs from Norway or wherever - they're very expensive, not bright at all, and have a very strange color. And they NEVER burn out, so you can't throw them away in good conscience. :)

Walmart has some compact fluorescent 5000K bulbs even cheaper than Home Depot but I'm so used to the very bright ones I get there that the Walmart ones didn't satisfy me. They would be a cheap way to try full spectrum, though.

Ron said...

Try this test:
Night: Turn off all the lights. Wait. Adjust. Now light a candle and feel the difference.
This time switch on an fs. Feel the difference.
Repeat. Switch on an incandescent. Feel the difference. Repeat etc.
Fs FEELS artificial in a way that incans don't. Fs's KILL mood. NEVER use them at a party!

Dave Hardy said...

As a photographer from the old (film) days, and a videographer from the present, I find this a bit confusing.

1. Fluorescents, in my experience, were VERY close to direct sunlight in color. A little blue, but that was it. In contrast, tungsten bulbs, which nobody seems to think strange, are very, very red (lower, in temp. terms). Daylight film was usable under tubes, the image was a little blue. Daylight film under tungsten lighting was a horrible orange.

2. Color in the shade is much bluer, since you're getting not sunlight, but a lot of blue light scattered from the sky.

3. The sun's ouput is highest, as I recall, in the yellow-green area of the spectrum, and so is our visual sensitivity.

4. I wonder if the effect is really that we've grown accustomed to "warmer" (actually lower temp) tungsten lighting indoors, and thus expect something more red-orange than daylight or tubes.

Marian Booker said...

Brooke posted while I was writing. I used to live in Anchorage, and I can guarantee that full spectrum lights will keep you from doing something awful to yourself or your neighbors during those days when there is only 4 hours of daylight (like November to Feburary). Regular fluorescents have a bluish or pinkish tint, and when you have months of darkness you simply crave bright light. Your mood lifts, you quit craving carbohydrates, and you leave the revolver in the drawer (just joking) when you change to full spectrum.

It's simply not hooey. Even doctors up there will prescribe full spectrum light, and some people need to have 4-tube fixtures suspended over their bed that turn on automatically several hours before they wake so they so their bodies can feel "sunlight" to get rid of their depression. It's a big problem in northern latitudes.

Norman Yarvin said...

There was a study done in 1999 which compared full spectrum lighting against Vitamin D pills, for treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder. The pills won hands down. The abstract of the study can be read here.

I tried large doses of Vitamin D myself, last winter, and was surprised to find my usual winter feeling being replaced by a feeling of being in an unusually cold, dark summer. (The surprise was because I hadn't yet read the above-linked abstract; I found it only later.)

The spectrum of almost all these "full spectrum" lights isn't really full; it is very spiky, with peaks at three, four, or five discrete frequencies, and little light in between. This always makes colors look a bit odd. The website you linked to (selling Paralite brand lights) lies in a major way about this, according to one of their competitors (

When I looked into the question of whether there was really any such thing as a full-spectrum fluorescent light, a couple of years ago, it seemed that there wasn't anything available in compact fluorescents -- all the ones made had very spiky spectrums -- but in full-size fluorescents there were a few bulbs (e.g. the "Lumichrome" brand), which fit the bill. But the situation may since have improved. There was a good thread about this here.

anony-mouse said...

A couple posters have already commented on "buzz" from traditional fluorescents. This is a sign that your overhead fluorescent lighting is using a conventional ballast to drive the bulbs, essentially a long coil of wire inside a brick of tar. Some sort of ballast is necessary because there is no real limit to how much current the bulb will sink once the gas inside is ionized, BUT bulbs driven this way will flicker at at either 50 or 60 cycles per second (60 in the US and Canada), in time with the AC mains frequency.

This (and not the lack of a full spectrum) is a commonly cited cause for migraine headaches and other physiological fatigue (even nausea, in less-common cases) related to use of fluorescent lighting.

The solution is to use fluorescent lighting with an electronic ballast, which is not only far more energy efficient, but also drives the bulbs at frequencies between 30,000 and 50,000 cycles per second, eliminating the flicker problem and its physiological side effects. Full Spectrum Solutions is apparently doing this, but you don't have to buy from them to get the technology.

Most incandescent-replacement fluorescents, including all of 'ice cream cone' swirls, automatically do this. So do fluorescent camping lanterns. Many overhead fixtures also use electronic ballasts now, and if so, the box will usually say something about 'electronic' in the fixture description. Weight is another clue, since conventional ballasts are heavy (although the final fixture weight will also depend upon the type and quality of materials used). With mini U-bulb fixtures, you have to pick and choose carefully, since many of them use conventional ballasting. If the bulb flickers a couple times before lighting -- often in tandem with audible 'clicking' noises -- it is not electronic.

Meanwhile, you can get excellent results with color blending by purchasing either "daylight" bulbs (really blue) or "cool white" (flat white); and "kitchen and bath" (noticably red); and then mixing and matching between overhead fixtures according to your preference. Most overhead fixtures use bulbs in pairs, so this is a really easy way to get a good balance of color temperatures in the final light output.

Anonymous said...

By the time any light from a fluorescent bulb gets to your eyes, it has bounced off multiple surfaces and the color has been filtered and mixed up, so there are no "peaks and valleys." Those only occur if you measure directly off the bulb.

There _is_ a greenish color cast to fluorescent bulbs, but there's a color cast to all light sources, and your brain adjusts almost instantly. The only time you'd really notice anything is in a mixed light environment.

Full spectrum is one of those things like organic milk -- no different, but if it makes you feel better, hey, go for it.

Dr. Melissa said...

Hey! I drink organic milk, too.

Isn't the 'net great? All these smart people. Any-mouse, sounds like good advice.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous' 11:18 comment about the multiple color surfaces removing the peaks and valleys is most likely wrong.

As far as I know, the color of almost anything (fluorescent colors aside) is a result of light reflecting off of it, with the reflection containing only the wavelengths that were in tghe original light.

The quantum physical nature of light requires that this be done by a material absorbing the energy at some specific wavelength, and then re-emitting it and a different one. I find it unlikely that this will produce the kind of mixing effect described.

It is important to understand the difference between color (what your eyes see) and spectrum (the amplitude of all the wavelengths present). You eyes have several color receptors (males more often 3, females 4). Color is the processed result of the responses of just these few receptor types. Hence you can produce the same color with a lot of different spectra.

This means that the "peaks and valleys" (few discrete spectral lines) light can change apparent color as a result of what it reflects off of, but it cannot add additional wavelengths ("peaks").

I don't know what spectral characteristics enhance vitamin-D production. I would not be surprised if only a single wavelength is responsible - one with the proper energy (wavelength) to fit a specific chemical reaction.

gus3 said...

First, some basic color theory:

There are two different types of color: reflected and emitted. Reflected color is a subtractive process, in which light frequencies are selectively bounced off a surface. Emitted light, on the other hand, is an additive process, in which light sources transmit directly to the eye.

Both processes are developed for the most common human optical reception: red, green, blue, and intensity. This is where "RGB" comes into play in computer monitors.

Here's the catch: You can make what appears to be white, but is spectrally very incomplete. The white you see on this webpage is actually three narrow-band channels, red, green, and blue, at full intensity. Your retina can't tell the difference; all three color receptors are highly stimulated, and that's enough for your brain. A diffraction spectroscope will break apart the light, and show you what's really in it.

(Incidentally, Anonymous 10:53 said that light reflection does not add new wavelengths. Anyone who has played with ultraviolet light knows otherwise. The process is called "fluorescence" and it is part of what makes fluorescent lights work.)

To make a low-grade spectroscope, you need just two pre-recorded music CD's or CD-ROM's (not recordables or re-writables). Here's what you do:

1. Turn off all lights in the room, except the dimmest.

2. Hold up a CD, printed side towards you, between your eyes and the monitor. The hole will be a giant "slit".

3. Using the other CD as a mirror, find the hole in the first CD.

4. Once you see the reflection of the white circle, slowly rotate the second (mirror) CD left and right in your hand, so that the reflection (and the image of the hole in the first CD) move around.

5. When you move the second CD enough, you should find three distinct red, green, and blue circles. They will probably be between the two holes, one reflected, one in the "mirror" CD.

When you see the circles, note how "clean" their shapes are. It isn't a big, blurry oval with several colors in it. The red, green, and blue are separated from each other, showing their very separated wavelengths.

Now repeat the procedure, but starting with an incandescent bulb instead of the computer screen. When you find the separated colors, you will see how many more wavelengths are present: yellow, purple, cyan. Basically, it's a rainbow cross-section. The spectrum is much more complete.

A real spectroscope will expose low-emission wavelengths in much finer detail.

Disclaimer: However tempted you may be, do NOT do this with the sun! If you do, we will not be held responsible for the resulting doctor bills.

triticale said...

Standard flourescent tubes come in what are called warm and cool varieties. Each has a fairly smooth non-peaky color curve with the high end at opposite ends of the visible spectrum. Combining the two (small warm and large cool in the old two ring kitchen fixtures was my first experiment) produces a very comfortable effect, altho it isn't a pure full spectrum. I'd love to see warm and cool compact flourescents as I have no tube fixtures at the current residence.

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