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Cold Cathode Compact Fluorescents, The Best Outdoor Lighting Solution

Updated on June 3, 2011
An artist's rendition of a cold cathode compact fluorescent light bulb mountain man, with beard.
An artist's rendition of a cold cathode compact fluorescent light bulb mountain man, with beard.

Cold cathode compact fluorescent light bulbs

Listen with your eyes to the words writ here, for I shall tell you a tale of light bulbs that would aspire to be mountain men! The plight of compact fluorescent light bulbs in cold weather and rough service applications has long been known to all those familiar with energy efficient lighting. What these people, and everyone else may not know is that the downfalls of CFLs (inability to start in cold weather, susceptibility to being rendered useless by shock or vibration) have been overcome with cold cathode compact fluorescent technology!

Join me, splendid reader, on an adventure through the technical and downright magical aspects of cold cathode compact fluorescent light bulbs. You will see that more than any other light bulb, cold cathode CFLs have the qualities of mountain men.

A standard hot cathode compact fluorescent light bulb.
A standard hot cathode compact fluorescent light bulb.

A basic introduction to cathodes in CFLs

A baseline of knowledge will make this information about compact fluorescent light bulbs and their improved cold cathode versions easier to understand. Standard compact fluorescent light bulbs are actually hot cathode, but before cold cathode there was no need for distinction so the "hot cathode" portion was left out of the name.

Hot cathode refers to an internal component of CFLs. The glass tube of compact fluorescent light bulbs is usually coiled and has two points of origin. These two points of origin each have a cathode which is wired to an electrical circuit regulated by the mini ballast included with the light bulb.

The cathode is made of a tiny coiled tungsten filament. I did not know it until recently but compact fluorescent light bulbs at their core utilize the same tungsten filaments as incandescent light bulbs, albeit at vastly reduced sizes. The tiny size and fragility of the filament is what causes standard compact fluorescent light bulbs to be susceptible to death by shock and vibration.

It seems to me that this is a weak point that could have been engineered out in early iterations of CFLs, but instead it took decades of research and development to create the cold cathode. The next section will discuss the workings of cold cathodes, and I expect we will be set to wondering why this wasn't the first and perhaps only version of compact fluorescents.

A cold cathode compact fluorescent light bulb.  Notice the shield of power.
A cold cathode compact fluorescent light bulb. Notice the shield of power.

The ruggedness of cold cathode CFLs

One last thing about hot cathodes; they're called "hot" because the tungsten filament is heated during startup to over 900 degrees F. This causes the filament to ignite and consequently excite the mercury vapor in the glass tube, providing illumination.

"Cold" cathode is a bit of a misnomer. The cathode includes no tungsten, but is instead itself heated to around 200 degrees F during operation, while the higher voltage of the cold cathode CFL is sufficient to excite the mercury vapor and provide illumination.

Knowing now that standard "hot cathode" CFLs include a filament that heats to 900 degrees F, and "cold cathode" CFLs include a cathode that heats to 200 degrees F, I would venture to say a better name for cold cathode CFLs would be "Not-as-Hot Cathode Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs". I suppose that's not as market-friendly as simple cold cathode.

The rugged mountain man quality of cold cathode compact fluorescent light bulbs stems from the lack of a tiny fragile tungsten filament in the cathode. Instead, it is a solid metal thimble, capable of wrestling bears and firing a musket round true directly into the heart of a grazing deer, thus providing dinner for the cold cathode mountain man light bulb in his cold cathode cabin on top of a mountain.

More practical benefits of the solid metal thimble's strength include being able to laugh off shocks and vibrations that would fracture a lesser standard compact fluorescent light bulb's tiny tungsten filament. Cold cathode CFLs can also withstand rapid power cycling (on-off, on-off, on-off). Light bulbs like hot cathode CFLs would quickly experience filament deterioration from such treatment.

Cold cathode compact fluorescent light bulbs, much like mountain men, can also operate in cold weather. The problem of slow- or not-at-all starting CFLs does not exist for cold cathode CFLs, which can start and operate in temperatures as low as -10 degrees F! They're great for outside applications, even in winter.

She approves of standard compact fluorescent light bulbs.  How much more, I wonder, would she approve of cold cathode mountain man CFLs?
She approves of standard compact fluorescent light bulbs. How much more, I wonder, would she approve of cold cathode mountain man CFLs?

Cold cathode CFLs. Mountain men. Champions.

The strength and versatility of cold cathode compact fluorescent light bulbs is reminiscent of the legendary mountain man when compared to the world of light bulbs. They're the best compact fluorescent option for outside lighting, rough service lighting, and cold weather lighting. I know I'd feel safer with a mountain man lighting the outside of my home or business.


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    • blark profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      Haha, thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    • john000 profile image

      John R Wilsdon 

      4 years ago from Superior, Arizona

      LOL!! My CFLs are saving me a lot of money, but I got extra value by reading your hub! Why, shiver me timbers and excite my mercury vapors. It's even better when someone can think of humor over a serious subject. Well done!


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