Fluorescent lights no longer provide just a dull flicker. Yes they are the environmental alternative to incandescent light bulbs, but they can also be funky and are a favourite of modern designers. So why are they a good environmental choice, and what's so cool about them?
Any electrician will tell you that fluorescent lights tend to last four to ten times as long as incandescent (filament) light bulbs and use approximately 20% of the energy. The trouble with incandescent light bulbs is that 95% of the energy they use is lost through heat and only 5% is actually used to light up a room.
While fluorescent bulbs are more expensive to buy initially, they will save you money in the long run, usually paying for themselves in under a year. And they fit in most existing light fittings, so you won't even need an electrician to change your fixtures.
Another direct environmental benefit is that because the light bulbs last so much longer they create less waste for landfill as fewer are being thrown away each year. And once you're fitting them and doing your bit, you may even feel so green and environmentally aware that you take your responsibilities further and turn lights off when they're not being used.
When you do need to throw away fluorescent light bulbs then try and do so responsibly. Unlike filament light bulbs, they contain a small amount of mercury which is environmentally damaging if they are binned, so ask your local council about recycling facilities for light bulbs and do your bit to keep them out of landfill.
Now for the fun bit! Fluorescent lights are great if you want to create a colour wash on the wall or against curtains. They can be recessed so that the light seems to come magically from a hidden source and if the light shines against a reflective surface, you can create a really dramatic effect. You can also talk to your electrician about installing more than one fluorescent tube so that you have a choice of colours at your fingertips.
Fluorescent lights of course come in white but also four basic colours - red, yellow, green and blue. If none of these suit your scheme, you could put a white light behind a coloured filter of your choice or even get coloured theatrical lighting gel which can be applied to the bulb to achieve the effect you're after. There are even companies that sell bulbs already coated, offering a range of colours if you can't face doing it yourself.
If you're putting together a lighting design bear in mind that fluorescent white light tends to look cool rather than warm. Fluorescent bulbs can be incorporated into a dimmer system when of course they become less bright, but they won't produce a warm glow like a filament bulb. As well as being put onto dimmers your electrician could go one step further and incorporate them into a system of pre-set scenes to create several mood choices for your room.
The fact is that in 2007 the UK Government announced that filament light bulbs are to be banned by 2011, which should help save around 5 million tonnes of CO2 by UK domestic users alone. So it makes sense to get ready now for this new era in lighting. Light bulbs in the UK are now graded A-G for environmental efficiency, so it's easy to pick ones that do less damage and that will save you money in the mid and long term. And it doesn't mean living in gloom - fluorescent lights have come a long way since their flickering beginnings.