Feeling Blue? Turn On Your CFL!

Many of us start to feel a little blue this time of year – a bit down in the dumps, sluggish, tired, even a little sad. Chronic gray skies, bitter cold and a record 61 inches of wind-blown snow over four months will do that! We also have a human genetic tendency to want to sleep more, stay in more, that whole “hibernating” feeling. 

The medical term for varying degrees of the winter blues is Seasonal Affect Disorder, also known as Seasonal Depression, or SAD. 

!AD is a medical diagnosis – I don’t pretend to be a psychologist, no matter what my wife says! My degree is in electrical wiring, not brain wiring. But I’ve read and researched enough to know that one of the ways a person can help reduce the symptoms of  Seasonal Affect Disorder, is right in our Adventure Lighting warehouse. 

S-A-D? Meet C-F-L! 

So how do compact fluorescents help Season Affect Disorder? 

The breakthrough in light therapy came in 1980, when the National Institute of Mental Health showed evidence that intense light can have an impact on the release of melatonin in the brain, which affects our mood. There is much research since, supporting the use of bright white light, blue light and low intensity green light, for symptoms of SAD

In the middle of it all is the beautiful, versatile, and therapeutic compact fluorescent. 

Many so-called light therapy “boxes” are made of a set of fluorescent bulbs put inside a box with a diffusing screen. The box is then placed on a table where the person with SAD can then place their face within proximity of the light array. The treatment can last from a few minutes to several hours. The person doesn’t look directly into the light but instead goes about their business, reading, writing – as the light shines on the objects the person is looking at, the light box is doing its thing. 

The early light boxes needed “full-spectrum” bulbs producing light similar to the outdoors – regular fluorescents didn’t cut it. But with advancements in light technology, positive effects can be felt using cool-white, tri-phosphor and bi-axial lamps – all of which we stock in our Adventure Lighting warehouse.  

Light boxes specifically designed for SAD are manufactured and sold all over the internet. Considering they typically start at $350, the question then becomes, can you make your own light box? 

Yes you can! 

There are several ways to accomplish this. The simplest is to purchase a standard 4 lamp 2′ x 4′ Troffer (a Troffer is a recessed fluorescent) which is a standard office fixture stocked at Adventure Lighting. 

The light threshold for an effective light box is 10,000 lumens. To get there, you’ll have to decide what types of lights you want to use. We’d recommend a 4-light, F32T8 with an electronic ballast. It’s much more energy-efficient, and will produce 9,600 lumens per fixture. 

If you’re handy, you can also construct an actual light “box” using wood, standard CFL’s and multiple light sockets. An 18w CFL produces 1100 lumens, so you’ll need 10 to get to 10,000. 

If you think you have SAD, please see your doctor. Again, I’m not a trained therapist.

But if you’d like help in building your own light box, then email us, call us or stop in and see us. We may not know the brain, but we do know lights – and we’d love to share a few “bright” ideas that can help you have a brighter winter, starting with the incredible, versatile, energy-efficient, therapeutic, miraculous, CFL!



Jack Huff, along with his son Brian and wife Sue, owns and manages Adventure Lighting in Des Moines, Iowa. For more information, go to www.adventurelighting.com 

5 responses to “Feeling Blue? Turn On Your CFL!”

  1. Interesting stuff, I’ve been to offices where workers complained of headaches… We’ve replaced standard 4 foot tubes with Daylight color tubes and headaches have gone away. Amazing stuff.

  2. Aaron Midgett says:

    I had trouble getting the right CFLs for me, until I found this article. It has some helpful info on how to get CFLs that look great at the same time as saving energy. The info on dimmable bulbs was especially useful http://thegreenertruth.com/2010/03/the-problem-with-light-bulbs-a-compact-fluorescent-solution/

  3. Natural white light has only positive effects. Well, if you compare some old bulb with newer, full-spectrum or tri-phosphor bulb you actually compare yellow with white.

  4. Charles P. Cohen says:

    The light threshold for an effective light box is 10,000 lumens. To get there, you’ll have to decide what types of lights you want to use. We’d recommend a 4-light, F32T8 with an electronic ballast. It’s much more energy-efficient, and will produce 9,600 lumens per fixture.

    9600 lumens at what distance ?

    I'm trying to figure out the relationship between "lux" (which some manufacturers specify) and "lumens". I believe that:

    . . . "lux" is a measure of the total light output of the bulb (essentially, "watts of light"), and "

    . . . lumens" is a measurement of the intensity at a specific distance from the bulb (or fixture) (essentially, "watts per square cm" of light).

    If a 4-bulb F32T8 fixture (128 watts input) produces 9600 lumens, shouldn't I be able to get the same intensity (at whatever distance) with 128 watts of CFL lighting — say, five 26-watt CFL's ?

    Thanks —


    • Thanks for your question- There’s a lot to respond to here, I’ll try to be concise: (though I’ll likely ramble)

      A “standard” 741 T8 4′ Lamp is measured at 2,660 “design lumens”. (definition below) To find the actual delivered lumens of the lamp, you have to take the Lamp Lumens * The Ballast factor of the ballast you’re using. “Standard” is .88bf. So, the actual lumen output of the lamp system is (lamp design lumens * the BF * the number of lamps), which in this case would be 9363.2 lumens. The 4 Lamp T8 ballast uses 112 input watts. A standard 26w spiral lamp is rated for 1,750 lumens per lamp. So an output of 8,750 lumens for 5 lamps. You’re pretty darn close to the lamp light output (613.2 lumens less), but you’d be using 130 watts instead of 112 watts.

      The important thing to note is that not all fluorescents are created equally. The 4′ fixture using T8’s is getting 83.6 lumens per watt while the 26w spirals are getting 67.3 lumens per watt. In the Lighting Business we use the term “Luminous Efficacy“. And not all lamps are created equal.

      Right now LED lamps are approaching the 100 lumens per watt level. Making them more efficient at delivering light than fluorescents. But cheap LED’s will be in the 50 lumens per watt range.
      As a point of reference:
      High Pressure Sodium lamps, (the orange ones used on roadway lights) average around 100 lumens per watt
      Metal Halide lamps (similar white light) average 52 lumens per watt.
      This is why we use the Orange High pressure Sodium lamps outside as opposed to Metal Halides. They can deliver more lumens for the same amount of energy… but they’re ugly.

      Design Lumens: Are the approximate lamp lumen output @ 40% of the lamp’s rated average life. This output is based upon measurements obtained during lamp operation on a reference ballast under standard laboratory conditions.

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