How to choose the right fluorescent lighting

There are two types of fluorescent lighting – compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and fluorescent tubes.

Fluorescent lighting is very energy efficient. It uses around one fifth of the power used by incandescent lighting to provide the same amount of light. Typically fluorescent bulbs last for 6000 to 8000 hours, whereas incandescent bulbs generally only last for around 1000 to 2000 hours. 

Although CFLs are slightly more expensive to buy than incandescent bulbs, their longer life and lower energy usage means that they are less expensive to use over their lifetime, making them very cost-efficient.

fluorescent tube and CFL

Where to use fluorescent lighting

CFLs and fluorescent tubes can be used in all areas of your home, but they generate the biggest savings if they are used in areas where lights are left on for long periods of time. This includes living rooms, kitchens, laundries, playrooms, hallways, garages, and other external areas.

Fluorescent tubes 

Fluorescent tubes are usually straight or circular, and come in different sizes to suit different sized and shaped rooms. They also come in a range of colours, from cool white (suitable for kitchens and bathrooms) to warm white (which takes on a yellowish tone, suitable for living areas and bedrooms). 

In the past, the appearance and performance (slow start-up and warm-up times, flickering, and sometimes an audible hum) meant that fluorescent tubes were not a common lighting choice in homes. However, fluorescent fittings have improved in recent years and specialist lighting stores have a wide range of modern fluorescent fittings now suitable for use in homes. Fittings that use the slim-line T5 fluorescent tubes start almost instantly when switched on and have no flicker. 

What to look for when purchasing CFLs

There are some practical issues you should be aware of when replacing incandescent or halogen lamps with CFLs. To ensure that you are happy with your new lighting, consult the handy checklist we’ve compiled for you below. 

What is the light output of the new lamp? The CFL packaging will usually show you the equivalent wattage to an incandescent bulb. 

What is the expected lamp lifetime? A good quality CFL should last for 6000 to 8000 hours – much longer than an incandescent bulb, meaning it will need replacing far less often. 

Are there a range of colours? Yes, there are warm and cool white CFLs available. Warm white (yellowish light similar to an incandescent globe) is generally preferred in the main living areas and bedrooms, but cool white is usually acceptable in kitchen and bathroom areas. 

Kelvin Rating Colour Room


Bright Daylight Offices


Cool White

Task: Kitchen, Bathroom


Warm White

Atmosphere: Bedroom, Lounge

Note: The higher the kelvin (k) rating the bluer the colour becomes.

The lower the kelvin (k) rating the more yellow the colour becomes.

What is the fitting at the base? CFLs have either a bayonet or Edison screw base. 

Will the CFL be compatible with the size and shape of my existing light fitting? CFL lamps come in many sizes and shapes, so it shouldn’t be a problem finding one to fit your light fitting. 

Is the warm up time acceptable? CFLs are generally slower to warm up to full brightness than other types of lighting; however, the newer CFLs have much shorter warm up times. 

Is the lamp that you are replacing in an enclosed or a downlight ‘can’ fitting? Not all CFLs may be suitable for use in these types of fittings. 

Can the lamp be used on a dimmer circuit? Standard CFLs are usually not suitable for use with lighting dimmers, but special dimmable CFLs are available, although they tend to be generally more expensive. Check the packaging. 

Are you replacing a 12V downlight?

Make sure that the size and shape of the replacement CFL lamp is compatible with your existing fitting.

Before you buy a complete set of CFL replacements, buy one lamp and check that it works properly in your existing fittings and that you are happy with the light output, colour appearance and warm-up time.

More information

Find out more about energy efficient lighting with our other how-to guides.