Fluorescent Grow Lights
Well before LED lighting came to favor the king of efficient lighting was fluorescent. The history of the idea of fluorescent lighting predates Thomas Edison’s incandescent bulb and dates as far back as the early nineteenth century.
By 1895 practically every inventor was experimenting with the concept including Edison himself along with his arch-rival Nichol Tesla. Neither one of the great scientists were successful in their efforts and it is rumored that Edison simply became bored with the concept and moved on to other projects.
It wasn’t until 1903 that the first practical, working fluorescent light bulb was created. After the technology was perfected fluorescent lighting exploded onto the market by the early thirties.
Businesses especially loved fluorescent because of its bright and clear illumination and its energy efficiency. America also went through streak where fluorescent was also used for residential lighting but that soon fell out of favor because homeowners preferred the soft illumination produced by the incandescent bulb.
It wasn’t long before fluorescent lighting grew in popularity in greenhouses and indoor gardens as the grow light of choice. For the grower there are several advantages of fluorescent that the incandescent doesn’t offer.
Fluorescent has a more even light distribution, longer life and higher usable light that the incandescent bulb. On top of it, it doesn’t produce any noticeable heat and is always cool to the touch.
How fluorescent lighting works
Where an incandescent bulb simply contains a wire filament within a glass vacuum bulb, fluorescent bulbs contain a gas that is vacuum sealed along with a filament. That gas is a mercury-vapor discharge.
The fluorescent lamp uses a ballast to reduce and regulate an electrical charge which when transferred to the bulb excites the gas and produces a glow. Because the electricity is exciting the gas and not just a filament there is a consistent glow produced throughout the entire bulb and not only where the filament is present.
This even distribution of light presents a more natural and bright lighting that is evenly distributed.
The role of a ballast
The most essential component of fluorescent lighting is the ballast. This is more or less a reducer and regulator of the supplied current which is then sent to the bulb to produce the light. Without a ballast a fluorescent light would receive far too much electricity, overheat and immediately explode.
Suffice to say, the ballast is a pretty important component. Occasionally, a ballast can burn out at which point all electricity will be cut off from the bulb. This simply means that unlike the incandescent which is either good or bad, the fluorescent does require some regular maintenance to function properly.
Fluorescent as grow lighting
Fluorescent quickly grew in popularity as grow lights for a number of reasons. First, the longer bulb and even distribution of light covered an indoor garden more evenly and more completely. This meant that there wasn’t the constant shuffling of plants in order to make certain they all receive adequate lighting.
The fluorescent lights are also much easier and quicker to install. Instead of a dozen incandescent bulbs strung in a row, it is much quicker to hang only three large fluorescent fixtures.
Fluorescent lighting also uses much less energy than the incandescent counterpart. The reason for this is twofold. Mainly, because a fluorescent is simply heating a gas instead of heating a wire filament to the point where it glows and because a filament produces a lot of heat as it glows, there is an energy savings there, as well.
There is also the advantage of a higher UV rating essential to photosynthesis and a brighter, more natural light produced by the fluorescent.
Introduction of the compact fluorescent
By the end of the 20th century the technology of fluorescent took another leap forward through the development of the compact fluorescent light or CFL. The CFL is a more compact version of the fluorescent that works the same way.
The lower wattage bulb is designed to fit into the standardized incandescent bulb socket which makes it much more suitable for residential lighting and for those growers who already had an existing incandescent setup.
In the case of the CFL the ballast is built as part of the entire bulb and not as a separate unit. This just means that if the ballast fails, the bulb fails.
The cost was initially a drawback with the CFL but that has changed over the year as the lighting grew in popularity and manufacturing.