A Reader Asks: Alternative to tube fluorescent?

Hi Kelly,

Here’s a question for your blog, if you have time and/or inclination:
A couple of days ago, my 57 yr old, florescent, over-the-kitchen-sink fixture decided to let loose a bulb. It fell 9.5 ft to the kitchen floor and literally exploded, shooting glass shards in every direction. It took me two very long days to clean the glass out of the kitchen. My husband is under the impression that it would be acceptable to keep the fixture and hope that this doesn’t happen again. I’d really like to find a compelling reason to change it out–in addition to the one that seems very obvious to me!

Do you know of fixture that would appeal to his love of new technology, that wouldn’t get too hot, and would put out a ton of light for the work surface below it? The current one is about 56 inches long and is hidden behind a fascia (I think that’s what you call it,) that matches the cabinets. So looks aren’t an issue, but not exploding would be nice! Thanks for your advice!

Best regards, Zoe


Hi Zoe!

I always have the inclination; it’s the time that’s the tough part!

First of all, I’m sorry that happened to you. Over the years, I’ve heard stories of the acrylic panels and the fluorescent tubes falling – it always seem to be the longer ones that fall, not on a general basis, but enough to be very annoying. (Very unofficial and highly suspect research findings.)

With your husband’s love of new technology, LED (light-emitting diodes) might be in your future. Because, let’s face it, with a 9-1/2 foot ceiling, you need some serious lighting.

Option #1 — Staying with the existing fixture

If he doesn’t want to replace the fixture (although I’d suggest it as your ballast might not be electronic), you might consider replacing the bulbs with LED tubes, like these EverLED-TR tubes:

The color looks odd here, I know, but the color rendering is fantastic. (No more green or gray skin tones.) (via LED Dynamics – 2 of the 5 color choices: daylight (on left) with warm spectrum (on right))

Ignore the fact that they look at bit odd because not only will they give great light, but the tubes have no glass (and no mercury). While not inexpensive, (somewhere around $100-150.00) for a 4-foot tube, they:

  • last longer than fluorescent
  • are designed to fit most general fluorescent ballasts (please check first.)
  • will use much less energy
  • will have better color and light levels
  • don’t contain glass.

I’m hoping that your actual bulb is 48” which is a standard size, and not the 56” you mentioned, otherwise we’re heading straight to Option #2.


Translating the efficiency of LEDs

Fluorescents are 4 times as efficient as incandescent and LEDs are roughly 2 times as efficient as fluorescents. So to calculate the equivalent out for LEDs (they’re between 5-8 watts) from incandescent, multiply the watts by 8. (Sure, I could have gone straight to the 8 times, but where’s the fun in that? Also, some sites say 10 times, but I’m not convinced.)

So a 5-watt LED is equivalent to a 40-watt incandescent bulb. Each of the EverLED tubes above is 22 watts, or the equivalent of 170 watts. (Roughly. All LEDs vary slightly between date and time of manufacture. If you wanted to err on the side of caution, round down on the wattage instead of up.)

Their color is rated on the Kelvin scale, a method of measuring color that both LEDs and fluorescents use. The daylight color in the photo above is approx. 6500K or degrees Kelvin; the warm spectrum is 2900K. I tend to recommend around 2900 – 3500K for kitchen lighting – the 5000K that company above says they have in stock I find too blue and bright for most of our warm-toned kitchens. Personal preference – your mileage may vary.


Option #2 — Tossing out the existing fixture for something new

If you do remove the ballast, and choose something more decorative, you could consider some LED pendants, like the ones here from Alfa Lighting (these are all low-voltage and would require a transformer to be located in an upper wall cabinet or somewhere close.)

P158 - Tranquility       P205-Dune     P68-Teardrop

Alfa Lighting’s 16-page brochure of LED pendants (and lovely shades) is here.

I don’t know your wall reflectance levels or if you have any windows or skylights, but as a very brief rule of thumb, it’d be nice to have between 10-15 watts of LED over your sink, which might mean 2 or 3 pendants, possibly on a track. And, unlike fluorescents, LEDs are dimmable. I wouldn’t suggest them as easily with an 8-foot ceiling, but with your higher ceilings, I'm suggesting they'll not only provide a touch of whimsy, but they’ll bring the light itself much closer to your sink.


 Another note about LEDs 

The light is directional – that is to say that it doesn’t flood the room or spread like fluorescent. That means the light is best under the fixture but don’t really add to the overall brightness of the room. That’s why I’m still hesitating using LEDs for an entire kitchen.

I attended an LED seminar about 5 years ago where the lighting company was earnestly explaining if they held a light level under the 5 watt island pendant light, the output was as great as fluorescent and incandescent. True, it was. They weren’t too pleased with me when I asked them to move the level 3 feet to the left or right and the levels dropped off significantly.

So in your case, Zoe, this is great task lighting right where you need it.

The phasing out of incandescent light bulbs

At this point in time, there’s no point in purchasing a high-wattage incandescent fixture – the U.S. is scheduled to phase out the 100-watt light bulb in January 2012 with all incandescent light bulbs exiting the way of the dinosaur by January 2014.

Which allows me to ask for a brief moment of silence for the real tragedy–

Oh, Easy-Bake oven, how many crunchy over-baked chocolate cakes with sugar-coma icing did we make? Not nearly enough, my old fire-hazard friend, not nearly enough.

(via BoingBoing)

No 100-watt lightbulb, no Easy-Bake oven!!!  At least not the kind I had, which was the one above. I miss those cheap, fry-your-fingers pans. *sniff*

In any case, I’m sure other readers might like to chime in with some suggestions for you as well;  I just wanted to give you some hint of the future.

Hope this helps!


 (I “met” Zoe Voigt on Twitter.  She’s a freelance writer who specializes in architecture, design, and tile, and has a lovely blog called Tile Style (http://letstalktile.blogspot.com))


You do the math — LED vs CFL vs Incandescent (Woodhugger Engineering Blog)

How do LED lightbulbs compare to CFL and incandescent? (Jason Morrison)

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