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Personal: Residential


Choosing Lighting Fixtures –
Fluorescent Lamp Types

Until recently, fluorescent lighting was considered to be of limited use in most homes. Older fixtures were large, and their light quality was poor for most residential needs. But new types of fluorescent lighting today can provide the comfort and aesthetics traditionally associated with incandescent lighting — to say nothing of a new generation of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and fixtures.

Fluorescent lighting

Fluorescent lighting can now be considered for almost any area of the home, and it can be an economical choice over the long term. Although fluorescent tubes may have a higher purchase price, they use 60 to 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last 10 to 20 times longer. That translates into significant energy-cost savings and lower lamp replacement costs.

Consider these additional benefits:

  • Modern fluorescent lamps can have a high colour rendering index (CRI). This means they show colours well.
  • Lamp brightness and glare are relatively low and cause little discomfort.
  • The new electronic ballasts function quietly and don't flicker like older fluorescent magnetic ballasts.
  • Fluorescents work with conventional light switches. (Some may require special dimmer switches.)

Compact Fluorescent Lamps

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) can now be used in many standard light sockets and fixtures. They can consume up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs – and they last up to 10 times longer. This makes them ideal for use in fixtures that are not easily accessible, such as recessed luminaires and lights in stairwells. You will gain the maximum economic benefits from CFLs if you install them in fixtures that are used for at least three hours each day. Products that are ENERGY STAR qualified have met technical specifications meant to reduce electricity use in your home. When you are buying CFLs, look for the ENERGY STAR symbol on the package. It means that the product meets stringent specifications for long life, energy savings, start time, colour and brightness.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps

While it is often not possible to select lamp orientation, compact fluorescents work most efficiently when the lamp is oriented downwards, with the base up. This is because the efficiency of the bulb depends on the temperature of the coldest part of the lamp, which is the end furthest away from the ballast. Since heat rises, a base-up lamp will be coolest at the bottom, producing the greatest amount of light. Keep the lamp orientation in mind when comparing light output, which is rated for base-up operation.

Some wall, ceiling and porch fixtures are specifically designed to use CFLs. There are also dedicated table and floor lamps on the market. These fixtures are hard-wired – that is, the fluorescent ballast is built into the fixture, and only a pin-based replacement CFL can be used. This is important for two reasons: it ensures optimal placement of the CFL for light output, and it prevents replacement of the CFL with an incandescent lamp (which would result in lost energy savings).

Compact Fluorescent Lamps

If a CFL is too long for the harp (metal shade holder) of a table or floor lamp, you can purchase harp extenders. However, if the harp is too narrow, you may have to purchase a new harp at your local hardware or lighting store. Socket extenders are also available if the socket is too shallow for the CFL base.

CFLs should not be used in closed fixtures indoors (such as globes) because the ballast may overheat.


Dimmer Switches

Dimmer Switches

Until recently, screw-in CFLs were not compatible with conventional household dimmer switches. Using them on dimmer circuits created a fire hazard. However, new screw-in products can be used with dimmer switches, allowing for even more energy savings. To prevent any hazard, it is best to check the package for compatibility with dimmers or for a safety warning.

CFL fixtures can be purchased in single-, double- or triple-tube varieties. The tubes show in some models, while in others they are enclosed by the manufacturer in a capsule or globe.


The lamps are operated with electronic or magnetic ballasts. Magnetic (or core-coil) ballasts were used with the first CFLs and were usually separate from the lamp. This has the advantage of allowing lamp replacement several times during the ballast lifetime (assuming the lamps continue to be available). electronic (or high-frequency) ballasts are a more recent development and are usually integrated with the lamp in a one-piece unit. Compact fluorescents with magnetic ballasts are heavier (which can make floor lamps less stable), they "blink" when they start and can produce a faint hum. In contrast, electronic ballasts are lighter, start instantly (although they take up to a minute to reach full brightness) and do not hum.

In the past, electronically ballasted CFLs sometimes interfered with household equipment using infrared signals, such as television remote controls. Newer remote controls have filters that prevent this problem. If you encounter interference, try moving the CFL away from the television set or placing tape over the small, red rectangular receiver cover on the television.

Compact fluorescents use tri-colour "rare earth" phosphor coatings inside the tubes to give warm, natural light. These phosphors make the lamps more energy efficient than lamps with conventional phosphor coatings.

Linear Fluorescent Fixtures

Linear Fluorescent Fixtures

When selecting a fluorescent fixture for a kitchen, bathroom, utility or other area, consider purchasing a linear (long straight tube) fluorescent. There are a number of styles and lengths available, with electronic ballasts for installation on ceilings, under cabinets, over shelves and in long-armed desk lamps. Many of the lamps sold today give good colour rendition. When installed, these fixtures should be metallic, grounded and shielded to prevent electromagnetic interference with other household equipment.

Circular and U-Shaped Fluorescents

Circular and U-Shaped Fluorescents

The efficiency of circular and U-shaped fluorescent lamps with electronic ballasts can be similar to that of CFLs when used in table or floor lamps or in overhead fixtures in small rooms. "2-D" lamps, which consist of two D-shaped tubes joined together, are also good choices for these fixtures. Ceiling fixtures equipped with circular lamps are available for household use. With electronic ballasts, they provide an efficient alternative to linear fluorescents for smaller rooms.


The ENERGY STAR name and symbol are administered and promoted in Canada by Natural Resources Canada and are registered in Canada by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.