fluorescent kitchen ambient lighting

Jean Popowitz
April 17, 2008

I live in a town of mostly historic homes (but ours is from the 50s) and belong to a group that's investigating energy efficiency. As a result, eight of us had a professional home energy audit, we compared our results and are in the process of presenting those findings to the public. One surprising take away is that recessed lights are, after poor insulation, one of the biggest sources of heating/cooling loss. I wouldn't have believed it until I saw the infrared pictures!

I know you can get sealed cans which would help, but I've read less than stellar reports of how fluorescent cans work, i.e., fluorescent light travels sideways, not necessarily down like incandescent or halogen.

So I'm looking for feedback from those of you who are living with fluorescent overhead kitchen lighting OR those who have chosen any kind of flush mounted ceiling fixture. Naturally I will have some pretty pendants and under cabinet lighting, so we don't need to discuss that. PICS PLEASE. I simply can't envision a kitchen space with several ceiling fixtures AND pendants. Oh, and the contractor is no help.... he believes in halogen cans, period. I've lived with halogen in previous homes... they get so hot and here we only have 8' ceilings.

Enough rambling... too little sleep from reading GW 'til the wee small hours!


Comments (25)

  • bluekitobsessed

    I bought some CFLs in a floodlight shape to put into recessed light fixtures in a home office. The wide end (not the screw in end) of the CFL has the same sort of cross hatched glass cover that conventional floodlights do, which allegedly keeps the light pointed down. I found this at a local chain but I believe that HD has something similar. Not sure if that's what you're looking for.

  • mlraff53

    I saw those yesterday at Lowes. Floodlights with CFLs inside.

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  • mls99

    In our kitchen, we have 2 flush-ish (they stick down about an inch, which looks dramatic on our sloping ceiling) fluorescent fixtures. They hold circular fluorescent tubes, and look great. We found them at Home Depot.

  • sara_the_brit_z6_ct

    I replaced the halogen bulb in the current recessed fixture over my sink with a CFL bulb. I find it gives plenty of light and I'm very happy with it - it takes a few seconds to come up to 'full' brightness, but it's a tiny price to pay for a more sustainable solution. We currently have a big ugly fluorescent fixture for the rest of the room, but want something that looks better for the re-do, but is still as energy efficient so we're struggling with the same issues.

  • zelmar

    jaedwards, are the recessed lights always considered a source of energy loss or only in cases where they displace exterior insulation (similar to the way outlets on exterior walls are often sources of energy loss?)

  • Jean Popowitz

    blue & sara--what wattage is the CFL over your sink? You are happy with the amount of light from just that one fixture? We also currently have a big ugly fluorescent box in the middle of the room but it gives off a great amount of light. My DH had cataract surgery last year (in his early 40s!) and needs a lot of light now. That's why this is such an issue for me.

    mls99--I'd love to see a pic of your fixtures.

    zelmar--from what I understand, you can get sealed cans that allow insulation to bump up against them, but I've read on the lighting forum that folks are unhappy with the glare from fluorescent recessed cans. I would really like an attractive or unobtrusive alternative to cans. NJ is going to limit incandescent bulbs by 2012. I may as well be ready for it.

    What I'm thinking about now is having two FL flush-mount ceiling fixtures supplemented by two halogen pendants with a FL can over the sink and coffee bar. I'll have halogen lamps in my range hood and FL under cabinet lighting.

    Thanks for all the comments; the GW is great!

  • mlraff53

    I'm in the same boat, DH had corneal transplant many years ago but has serious problems in both eyes. He would have stadium lights if I let him. I still have the ugly flourescent box also but still looking for something nicer.
    (at least a nicer flourescent box). I just wanted to tell you that I've also seen halogen shaped lights with CFLs inside just like the foglights we mentioned above. I saw them online for over $20 each.

  • bluekitobsessed

    The specs on the floodlight CFL: 19watt/equiv to 75 watt, 950 lumens. Labeled for outdoor use. This is in a home office, not a kitchen, but I'll get something similar for the kitchen; however, I would probably want to go up to 100 watt equivalent where brightness matters. (The 75 watt light is okay but not quite as bright as I want.)

    CFLs are a rapidly expanding market and mfrs are falling all over themselves trying to get the next thing to market. Yesterday the hardware store had CFL colored party bulbs! I am thinking that all energy conscious GW'rs should go for fluorescent wiring now, mediocre light bulbs now, knowing that the next time you need to change the bulb there will be more choices...unless you want to look at LEDs (I understand those are where CFLs were 5-10 years ago -- still pricey, not yet mainstream, but the greatest energy saver since ?).

  • Jean Popowitz

    CFL colored party bulbs? WOW! When I was a kid, colored part bulbs were only FL black lights that showed off our psychadelic Jimi Hendrix posters and, uh, yeah, I'm older than DH ;-)

  • patser

    I have tried every just about every type of CFL that's currently out in our pendants that have ivory colored glass. Every single one of the CFL's make the glass appear blue and the fixtures look horrible. We're also in a town that is very green friendly, but until the CFLs work better with ivory glass, we're going to have to stay with the old fashioned bulbs in the kitchen....and use the CFLs in the basement/garage/attic. Just a thought if you end up with flush mounts that have ivory colored glass.

  • srchicago

    My 1981 kitchen has hideous fluorescent lights that have two long tubes in them - you know, the commercial kind. I hired a lighting consultant ($100 very well spent) to tell me how to replace the hideous things but he said I couldn't without tearing out the ceiling, replacing the wiring and adding recessed lights all over the place. No other light source would give off nearly enough light (weirdly, I have no place for under-cabinet lights). I am very "green-concerned" and would never do this. So now I need to find attractive flush fluorescent lights that use the long tubes...they don't exist yet, but I'm hopeful...

  • bluekitobsessed

    To Srchicago: This is exactly what I had, with the tubes in a dropped ceiling -- very popular during the Reagan years. I am going through a major project with removing the dropped ceiling altogether (and moving the drain pipe and other hassles), but I am posting to let you know a less disruptive alternative that many of my neighbors in my tract have done. They have simply removed the portion of the ceiling that had the light box and put in recessed lights in that portion. (You can use CFLs that look like floodlights...see above for info.) Some neighbors trim with crown molding, some don't. One neighbor was able to DIY with a buddy. The effect is a coffered ceiling (things I learn on GW!). I posted about a week ago and someone posted lots of pix of beautiful coffered ceilings. HTH.

  • mlraff53

    I'm considering one like this to replace my ugly fl box.
    There aren't too many "pretty" ones that use the long tubes, but this one uses smaller tubes and it looks pretty good. HD has one with some scrollwork for $110

    Here is a link that might be useful: flourescent

  • Jean Popowitz

    I've spent hours searching and come up with the fluorescent fixture linked below which I would place over my 9' X 3' island. Then two pendants along the 8' window wall with a recessed spot over the sink and another at the coffee bar. Under cabinet FL & halogens at the hood. Do you think this is enough for a 19' X 13' kitchen? I'll have medium dark cabinets, grey tile floor & soapstone counters. I'm going for an modern cottage feel.

    Here is a link that might be useful: wood trim FL ceiling mount

  • kansaslady

    mlraff53: I have 2 of those in my kitchen/dining area. They each hold 2 round fluorescent tubes and work great. That area is approximately 12 ft x 20 ft.

  • mlraff53

    kansas: do you have a picture? Do they give you as much light as a regular one with two tubes? thanks...

  • Jean Popowitz

    mlraff53--I had two of those in my previous kitchen which replaced the pillow kind of fluorescent. They gave off more than sufficient light... I had a galley kitchen ~8.5' X 20'... the only other light in the space was a recessed over the sink and recessed lights in the breakfast area. We had not updated the space when we got transferred & only lived there two years. Linked here is the listing (we were relo, no longer own it), there is a pic of the kitchen showing one of the two fixtures.

    Here is a link that might be useful: our old house

  • bluekitobsessed

    I'm posting a link to what I think is a pretty comprehensive selection of CFLs in a floodlight/recessed shape. Note that numbers such as 2700K, 3000K, and 6500K are color temperature -- warm vs. cool. I have not ordered from this website, although I believe it's mentioned favorably on an enviro website I also visit. I'm also going to do a separate post because I can't believe I'm the only one going crazy with Title 24.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Compact fluorescent light bulbs for recessed lighting

  • debbie_2008

    I can't do those lights. They change the color of everything. I'd have to repaint and redo it all AGAIN

  • mlraff53

    I painted my kitchen and family room in BM baby turtle (brownish green). In the family room it looks right but in the kitchen it looks like leaf green. You can actually see the color change on the wall as you change rooms. Eventhough I have cfls in the fan in family room, the ivory shades must help, but in the kitchen the fl is killing me but I know they save so much money. Specially the way my boys leave the lights on all the time. That is why I've been agonizing over the kitchen fixture over the last month.

  • Jean Popowitz

    blue--I checked out that site what a crazy number of options! What do you know about the halide bulbs? I haven't seen one in person to determine light quality, have you?

  • nuccia

    I have always hated fluorescent (the "F" word!) lights, probably because they've always been dim. I also like it bright, and it's possible I have a mild case of seasonal affective disorder.

    DH and my builder wanted to use them as much as possible, but I balked. We compromised, so we have them in the garage, basement, closets, laundry room and outside. The living area has LEDs, incandescent or halogen. When the lights in two can lights burned out, we replaced them with fluorescent ones of the (supposedly) same light output, but they appear noticeably dimmer than the others. It's possible that the light output is technically the same, but because of the dispersion, or perhaps the color temperature, it seems dimmer.

    I got a lot of good information on one of the light manufacturer's websites (GE or Philips?). One of the facts buried in the article was that the light output went down dramatically at the midpoint of the light's life span, down to about 15% before it finally burned out, so all the facts on the labels, IMHO, are really distorted.

    I know I'm just making excuses and trying to justify my dislike of them. I am looking forward to a more widespread use of LEDs--they just have to get the prices down a bit more. I personally would not invest in fluorescent fixtures, but just buy CFLs as needed. Many states have a rebate program of some type. In CT, Costco sells packages of CFLs with the rebates built into the price and you can often buy packages of 8-10 for as little as $4.00

  • napagirl

    Wow, nuccia, that's a big loss of light (see para 3, above). I didn't realize that.

    Trying to decide on what type of recessed can is my big problem right now. We're ready for rough electrical now and DH wants me to decide. I'd love to save energy (= $$) but still want lots of true color light (for my aging eyes). It would be nice if they also didn't generate a lot of heat.

  • nuccia

    Again, IMHO, you don't really need to purchase fluorescent fixtures if you can use a CFL in a normal fixture. When I was looking into coach lights for my garage, I found the ones that were specifically made for fluorescent fixtures were $30-40 more than incandescent, apparently because they have a built-in starter. I decided to purchase the regular coach lights and used a CFL that I bought at Costco at the rebate price. It works fine, but it still seems a bit dim to me. When it bothers me enough I'll replace the CFLs with a higher wattage.

  • kansaslady

    mlraff53: Sorry I don't have a way to add a picture right now but they provide LOTS of light. Of course you can choose either warm or cool lights and that makes a difference with the colors in your room. I'm getting ready to paint my kitchen and I definitely have to look at the paint chips in that room. When I move from my sunroom into the kitchen the colors change totally. But I still love having so much light in the kitchen and I'm not changing bulbs every few weeks like I did with incandescent.

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