Lighting  accounts for more than 11 percent of residential greenhouse gas emissions today. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) use a quarter to a third less energy than incandescents, and thanks to technical improvements, the better ones now offer a warm, natural glow rather than the creepy office sheen of yore. We tried some of these twisty bulbs to find out which has the best color and brightest light for around the house.

MaxLite SpiraMax

Warm White, 15 watts ($6.95)

The quickest to warm to a full shine (CFLs can take over a minute to reach full brightness), the SpiraMax is handy for a high-traffic room like the kitchen. Its subtle yellow-white color is inoffensive, though it’s a bit too dim for reading.


Soft White Spiral, 15 watts ($5)

This CFL is one of the most widely available, gracing the shelves of Target, drug stores and most places you buy bulbs. It’s a good general-purpose bulb, best for the living room or near the TV, where its bluish tint is less easily noticed.


Soft White, 18 watts ($8)

This bulb’s bright, bluish light strained my eyes after just a few minutes, but I found it to be effective at revealing facial imperfections, making it good for a bathroom. Just make sure you limit your time in front of the mirror.

Round The House

Soft White, 13 watts ($8 for two)

This low-wattage bulb casts a soft yellow glow, rather than the promised white. Probably not the best choice for a central light, but it’s a great addition to a dimly-lit room.

Lights of America

Mini Twister, 20 watts ($10 for two)

This could be the best CFL reading light out there, a great find considering that fluorescents can often cause eyestrain. The bright yellow light makes the text pop from the page, though this bulb wouldn’t be my choice for a romantic dinner — its glow is a little unflattering.

Story by Andrew Irwin. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2007. This story was added to in June 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2007.

Testing compact fluorescent bulbs
CFLs use a quarter to a third less energy than incandescents, and the better ones now offer a warm, natural glow.