There is no question that we should be using compact fluorescent bulbs instead of regular incandescents. The energy saving benefits are clear. What isn't as clear, and probably why some people still stick to using incandescent bulbs, is how do you go about picking a compact fluorescent that isn't going to make your house loook like it is the inside of a space ship with that weird blue glow. I have been down that path myself and after installing a set of 'daylight' bulbs throughout the house I found myself returning them the very next day. Funny thing is, the exact same set of bulbs were in the return bin when I returned mine so it seems that the issue is a common one. So what do you need to know?
Image via Schodts Flickr
Basically, it comes down to two things, color temperature and color rendering index.
When it comes to color temperature, an incandescent lamp's color is usually between 2700-3000 degrees Kelvin, or 2700K to 3000K for short. This is the range you want to shoot for when you buy a fluorescent lamp. The higher the number, the cooler (towards blue) the light which explains my alien space ship situation. This information should be available on the box.
When we talk about color rendering index, this is the number that describes how accurately colors are perceived. 100 is the highest score. The higher the number, the higher the quality of light. Crappy high pressure sodium lamps (the orange lights you see in parking lots) can have a CRI as low as 25, what you want would have a CRI of 80 or above. Again, these numbers might be printed right on the box, but if they're not, GE, Philips, or Sylvania should have the lamp catalogs to figure out the model number for the compact fluorescent you want.
Or, if you don't want to be bothered with determining color temperatures or color rendering indexes, it seems you can't go wrong with the vision soft white bulb.