The Scientific Activist

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), or “energy saving light bulbs”, are much more energy efficient than conventional light bulbs, and they have a significantly longer lifetime. On top of that, replacing your conventional bulbs with CFLs won’t just save energy, but will also save you money. Most importantly, this is one small action that we can all contribute to the fight against global warming.

However, yesterday’s New York Times included an article by Leora Broydo Vestel entitled “Do New Bulbs Save Energy if They Don’t Work”, which hypes up concerns about compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) not working properly:

But a lot of people these days are finding the new compact fluorescent bulbs anything but simple. Consumers who are trying them say they sometimes fail to work, or wear out early. At best, people discover that using the bulbs requires learning a long list of dos and don’ts.

Take the case of Karen Zuercher and her husband, in San Francisco. Inspired by watching the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” they decided to swap out nearly every incandescent bulb in their home for energy-saving compact fluorescents. Instead of having a satisfying green moment, however, they wound up coping with a mess.

“Here’s my sad collection of bulbs that didn’t work,” Ms. Zuercher said the other day as she pulled a cardboard box containing defunct bulbs from her laundry shelf.

One of the 16 Feit Electric bulbs the Zuerchers bought at Costco did not work at all, they said, and three others died within hours. The bulbs were supposed to burn for 10,000 hours, meaning they should have lasted for years in normal use. “It’s irritating,” Ms. Zuercher said.

Irritation seems to be rising as more consumers try compact fluorescent bulbs, which now occupy 11 percent of the nation’s eligible sockets, with 330 million bulbs sold every year. Consumers are posting vociferous complaints on the Internet after trying the bulbs and finding them lacking.

So, CFLs are totally unreliable, right?

Wrong. The article gives the reader no idea of what the actual failure rate of the light bulbs are and instead relies wholly on anecdotal evidence to make an alarmist point. Here’s a counter-example: over the last couple of years, I have replaced every conventional light bulb in my house that has burned out with a CFL. None of the CFLs I purchased were defective. And, I have yet to replace a single one. Maybe I should write an article for The New York Times about how amazing CFLs are since, anecdotally at least, they have an infinite lifetime and a 0% failure rate. This would be no more inaccurate than yesterday’s article.

In fact, the following paragraph contains the only quantitative data presented in the article:

In the 2007-8 tests, five of 29 models failed to meet specifications for such categories as lifespan, luminosity and on-off cycling and were removed from Energy Star’s list of qualified products. Because of performance concerns, the government is expanding the watchdog program, vowing to test samples of 20 percent of the thousands of certified bulb models each year.

Note that this test did not find that 5 of 29 individual CFLs fail, but that 5 of 29 models of CFLs didn’t live up to certain measures (which aren’t not specified in great detail the article). That CFL standards are probably too low is an important point–and one that the article, to its credit, does a good job of making–but this does not lend any weight to the alarmist thesis of this article, which I would sum up as: anytime you buy a CFL, it’ll be a crapshoot as to whether that bulb actually works.

Do I know what the failure rate of CFLs is? No, unfortunately I don’t, although I would like to. And, although my own anecdotal evidence runs counter to that presented in the article, without some valid numbers I can’t draw a conclusion firm enough to satisfy my own interest, and certainly not one upon which I would base an entire article in a major media outlet–especially if it could hamper efforts to fight global warming.

That would just be irresponsible.


Update: It looks like I wasn’t the only one who had this impression of the Times article.

Comments

  1. #1 Harlan
    March 28, 2009

    I don’t know what the actual failure rates are either, but I’ve had two bulbs go bad immediately, and two others burn out after a couple of years. The one that had gone bad I had ordered from an online company (1000bulbs.com), and they credited me the cost of the bulb. And the others definitely saved me money over their life. So I agree that the article wasn’t very well researched, but I do think the problems they describe are real. Particularly in the cheap K-Mart bulbs, which I don’t usually buy. (I prefer to have better choice about things like CRI and color temperature, which make a huge difference in how pleasant the light is!)

  2. #2 Dr. Kate
    March 28, 2009

    I think it probably has to do with where they bought the bulbs, too. I don’t know what brand they got, but the article says they bought them at costco, so it’s possible they bought the cheapest ones they could find. Speaking from my own experience, discount CFLs, like discount sushi, are generally a Very Bad Idea. We’ve bought a couple of bulbs at discount and dollar stores, amazed at how much cheaper they were. And then, surprise, surprise, they burned out after a couple of days. On the other hand, not a single one of the slightly more expensive bulbs we’ve purchased at home improvement stores (name-brand) have failed after several years of consistent use. So if you’re buying the cheap costco bulbs to save money, yeah, it’s probably not worth it. The extra $1 a bulb for GE or Sylvania is definitely worth it, in my book.

  3. #3 Joe Shelby
    March 28, 2009

    I’ve had *one* fail within days rather than lasting years, out of some 60 purchased an in use over the last 7 years since moving in to my current house. Every bulb was from CostCo.

    (My mother, on the other hand, finds they last forever except in the garage, where they’re dead within months. I think that’s weather-related stress and maybe we need to look for outdoor-certified bulbs at a hardware store for that situation.)

    If these people have such a high rate of failure, I would actually stop to look at their own electrical systems. If their house is pushing too much or inconsistent voltage, that might cause a problem, something not seen on computers or tvs ’cause people usually protect those things with surge protecting power strips.

  4. #4 Mike
    March 28, 2009

    I generally find CFLs either fail right away (within a week) or never. The exception are dimmable CFLs which seem to last much less than other CFLs when dimmed, but this may be a function of specific dimmers than the bulbs themselves.

    If they fail right away, they’re under warranty and places like Home Depot, Costco, or IKEA should replace them no questions asked.

    I’ve had some CFLs that have been in use for over 10 years and still work.

    We recently renovated and used CREE LR6 LED can lights. These will supposedly last 50,000 hours. We’ll see.

  5. #5 The Mother
    March 28, 2009

    Unfortunately, my experience jives with the article. We’ve gone back to incandescent, mostly because of the hassle factor.

    It’s not irresponsible journalism to voice an opinion, or tell anecdotal stories of the trouble people are having with these bulbs.

    Environmentalism has become a sacred cow. “Don’t touch my green light bulbs.”

    Sorry. They don’t always work, and people like me who would have gone green, now aren’t.

    That sounds like news to me.

  6. #6 Art
    March 28, 2009

    Good news and bad.

    Bad news is that some of the CFLs produced by discount manufacturers were pretty poorly made. CFLs went from generally high-quality, small-volume, commercial specialty items to high-volume consumer commodity the rapid expansion, most of it by inexperienced producers in China, was not entirely smooth. A lot of mis-manufactured units got sold.

    Good news is that the differences in cost of producing good and poor quality CFLs, discounting testing and burn-in, are pretty much the same. So the tendency is that quality has improved over time. Used to be discount CFLs were a shaky proposition. Now average quality of even the discount six to a pack units are pretty good.

    Bad news is that, as with most electronic products, some small percentage of units arrive DOA and another small percentage will fair during initial burn-in, the first few hours of use. This is true of CFLs, CD players, computer motherboards and flat screens. More expensive units usually get more testing and some go through burn-in that largely eliminates early failure.

    The good news is that if an item clears the first few hours the odds are pretty good it will have a decent lifespan. Also if a CFL, or other electronic unit, fails in the first day or so of use take it back for a replacement. Dead units and failure during burn-in are part of the cost of doing business and most take them back as a matter of course. So keep those receipts.

    Buying the electronics with your credit card will often give you added protections. If a retailer balks at a return call the credit card company and explain the situation. The few times this has happened the CC company credited my card for the full amount.

  7. #7 llewelly
    March 28, 2009

    Since we’re all contributing anecdotes, I know about five people who switched to CFLs, had a lot of CFLs go bad in a short time, discovered serious wiring problems in their homes, had the wiring problems fixed, and presto, no more problems with CFLs. In addition, they found they weren’t returning DVD players, xboxes, and other gizmos as often as before. People who know how CFLs work in detail are not surprised by this. Those of you having trouble with CFLs – I recommend you get the wiring in your home checked out. (Oh, wait, you have an apartment? Well, apartment owners always get ripped off in this culture, it’s only homeowners that deserve rights.)

    Bad wiring kills incandescents too, but they’re cheap, nobody expects them to ‘save money over the long haul’, nobody expects them to last 3, 5, or 7 years, and nobody is being bombarded with claims that incandescents are a warmist plot to take over the world and barbecue their children.

    In a few years – maybe even by the end of this year – this probably won’t matter anymore. LED lights are already much more efficient than CFLs, the retail prices are similar, they have the potential to last much longer, and they have the potential for large manufacturing cost reductions in the near future.

  8. #8 Eric Lund
    March 28, 2009

    I have been gradually replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs at my house, where I have lived for a bit over ten years. I had one infant mortality case, returned to the manufacturer for a refund. Two others–among the ones I use the most–gave out after 7-8 years of use. The rest are still going strong.

    One potential benefit of CFLs over incandescent bulbs is that in some fixtures you can get a brighter bulb if you use a CFL. I have several lamps which have warnings not to install >60 watt bulbs due to the fire hazard. The reason for that limit is that most of the power consumed by incandescent bulbs is dissipated directly as heat. A 20 watt CFL does not have that problem, and you typically get about the same brightness as a 75 watt incandescent bulb.

  9. #9 JHD
    March 28, 2009

    These folks supposedly bought a defective product at Costco and did not take them back? Costco? It is beyond easy to return items at Costco; “I don’t like it” is good enough reason, never mind “it does not work.” And Costco pretty much does not care when you bring something back; they’d surely take a bulb you’d had on the shelf for a long time. One does not even need a receipt, just your membership card.

    Broken bulbs indeed.

  10. #10 Anonymous
    March 29, 2009

    I read that article in the NY times, and it made me absolutely fluorescent with rage.

  11. #11 Glen
    March 29, 2009

    We removed all of the CFL’s from our home due to burn out, where you could smell them burning. Then we checked the base of all the CFL’s in our house and they had browned up at the base. These were all GE/Sylvania from Home Depot or Lowes. CFL’s are not safe. These comments about ‘read the operating instructions’ are BS. I put a CFL light bulb in a bedroom lamp, and it burns up. Frankly, I see a conspiracy.

  12. #12 MikeMa
    March 29, 2009

    My worst experience with CFLs has been color and fit. The fit part was an issue when they first came out. They were too big to fit in fixtures where an incandescent bulb worked. That problem is solved with all the new smaller profile CFLs. The color problem with the harsher bluish light may be getting some attention but in many situations can be a real difficulty. I put two CFLs in an overhead fixture only to have my wife complain that the harsh color gave her a headache. I compromised by putting in one of each. No problems so far but we’ll see.

  13. #13 Jason Dick
    March 29, 2009

    We removed all of the CFL’s from our home due to burn out, where you could smell them burning. Then we checked the base of all the CFL’s in our house and they had browned up at the base. These were all GE/Sylvania from Home Depot or Lowes. CFL’s are not safe. These comments about ‘read the operating instructions’ are BS. I put a CFL light bulb in a bedroom lamp, and it burns up. Frankly, I see a conspiracy.

    It’s almost certainly the wiring in your home. There is really no reason why so many should fail at once, so the possibility that you just got a bunch of bad bulbs is next to nil (especially if they were purchased at different times).

    So yeah, get an electrician over, and get that wiring checked, because you’re probably having other problems due to that wiring that are costing you more money in the long run.

  14. #14 Randolph
    March 29, 2009

    As a lighting design student I can tell you that this is also my experience. And they cited one of the real experts in the field: Michael Siminovitch. No, there aren’t studies yet, and the plural of anecdote is not data. But lacking data, this is what we get. The quality control for most unbranded CFLs is not there, and it will be years before the FTC returns to its functions of protecting consumers. Meantime, I recommend the TPCI brand, which has in my experience proven moderately reliable. Caveat emptor.

  15. #15 THOMAS BIAGIONI
    March 29, 2009

    People forget those really cheap ones from Costco cost about 1.50 each v.s 50 cents for a traditional bulb. I have used then and others and have has great luck over 90 percent have lasted at least 2.5 years. Even a few duds still make the compact ones a cheaper long term deal.
    There are a lot of really cheap lamps around with shoddy lamp sockets these could be part of the problem. Also at any warehouse some packages are dropped or manhandled by customers

  16. #16 Bernard J. Sussman
    March 29, 2009

    QUESTION: Since the CFL bulbs generate less heat, is it possible to step up the apparent wattage in lamps that have limited wattage for incandescent bulbs.

    For example, I have a lamp with a warning label not use bulbs bigger than 75 watts, presumably because of heat build-up within the fixture. But that limit was in expectation of using incandescent bulbs. Since CFL bulbs hardly generate heat, can I put a CFL with the equivalent of 100 wattage in that lamp??

  17. #17 llewelly
    March 29, 2009

    For example, I have a lamp with a warning label not use bulbs bigger than 75 watts, presumably because of heat build-up within the fixture. But that limit was in expectation of using incandescent bulbs. Since CFL bulbs hardly generate heat, can I put a CFL with the equivalent of 100 wattage in that lamp??

    I’ve been doing that for years, and have not noticed any particular problems. However – I have many times moved into apartments and rental homes, and, upon replacing incandescents with CFLs, discovered many 100 watt incandescents in sockets rated for 65W or 75W, placed there by either the landlord, or the previous owner. (In one case, the landlord confimred that he had put 100W incandescents in all sockets, even though they were all 65W or 75W. When I showed him the item in the lease that stipulated that the renter not do this for fire safety reasons, he laughed and said he was the landlord.)

    Logically I can’t think of any reason why a 14W CFL, which puts out as much light as a 100W incandescent could be any danger in a socket rated for 65W, which, after all, is more than four times the power of the CFL. But I know of no data, and as for having done it for 7 years without trouble, I suspect it would not be terribly unlikely to place 100W incandescents in 65W sockets for 7 years and not encounter any obvious problems.

  18. #18 D Sakarya
    March 29, 2009

    “Do New Bulbs Save Energy if They Don’t Work”
    The answer is yes. If they don’t work, they’re not using energy. Whether CFL have a reliability issue is irrelevant to whether they are “Green”. They are indeed “Green” simply because of their lumen/watt rating.

  19. #19 bill
    March 29, 2009

    My brand name CFL’s have failed at a slightly greater rate then the incandescents they replaced. And no, it’s not the wiring. The “brand name” units were low performance/reliability.

    Over a 7 year period, the cost of replacement is higher than the cost of the electricity saved.

    I can’t wait for LED/OLED lighting.

  20. #20 Old Bogus
    March 29, 2009

    The biggest problem,IMO, is that people don’t take ‘em back to the retailer or to the manufacturer but would rather bitch.

  21. #21 J.D.
    March 30, 2009

    well I use tons of these bulbs. mostly purchased at Costco. A couple of failures. Mostly a big success and I am totally used to them and have found bulbs with a pleasant color temperature. However the disposal issue is the part that might be alarming; the presence of mercury is a big negative, and as much I would like to think that all the people who took the time to comment here follow my practice of taking my CFB’s to my certified recycler and hazardous waste site for disposal, I doubt that they do. Therefore bunches of mercury are entering the environment via landfill, and will find their way into the water, and thus inevitably back into our bodies via seafood, water and other sources. I personally look forward to the LED revolution which promises far longer life for bulbs; a pleasant visual spectrum; and less damage to the environment. Could we please have more discussion about the environmental consequences of fluorescent bulb disposal?

  22. #22 Linnea
    March 30, 2009

    Related to the wiring problems, sometimes CFLs fail due to the lighting fixture they’re used in. This has happened in my home a number of times (we have some old lamps). If the bulb fails prematurely, try using it in another fixture — don’t assume the bulb is bad.

  23. #23 Rev Matt
    March 30, 2009

    I’ve had two CFLs die on me instantly. I put one in the kitchen, one in the dining room (I’m replacing bulbs as the old style ones burn out). Both were placed in fixtures on dimmers. It says right on the packaing “do not use with dimmers”. So, yea, maybe not reading the packaging and understanding the operating parameters of a new(ish) technology contributes greatly to the failure rates.

    As Linnea notes, don’t assume the bulb is the problem. Read the instructions. The article is about the quality of reporting I expect from the media these days though.

  24. #24 Dr Mitchel W Eisenstein, LMSW, DC
    March 30, 2009

    The sad truth is that the compact flourescent bulb companies know full well that their bulbs often do not last the full length of time they are guaranteed for. Not a single compact flourescent bulb i have used over the last ten years ever lasted more than two or three years. Now these companies have to know this. In fact initially the claim was that they lasted 7 years. now it has come down to 5 years. soon it will drop to 3 years. there should be a class action lawsuit against the companies that produce these bulbs, which claim something they know full well that wont be delivered. Now I am not saying that i am against compact flourescent bulbs. the do save energy and money, and they probably reduce the possibility of fire due to their cooler temperatures. And they do come in various color temperatures nowadays. but they do not perform as advertised and the producers need to be held accountable. if there is one thing we have learned in this financial climate, is that if you give a company enough freedom they will steal as much money as they are allowed to. up until recentely these bulbs cost 5-10 dollars per bulb. multiply that by the millions of premature failures to to poor quality control and you have a recipe for tens of millions of dollars of losses. the extra money spent of premature replacement of these bulbs has an extra energy cost as people have to expend energy to make that replacement money. also, these bulbs are not working as advertised in the area of dimmability, or functionality on photoelectric and motion sensor circuits. lets push these compact flourescent companies into being responsible for their product. also, LED technology is even more energy conservative than compact flourescent. but the light emitted is not as friendly to normal visual spectrums as they need to be in order for that technology to be more widely spread.

  25. #25 Russ Finley
    March 30, 2009

    You can add my experience to your database. I was replacing a light bulb somewhere in my house about every other week until CFLs came along. I have had a few fail early but overall they have been a Godsend. I have also found that there are quite a few light colors available now to choose from. My home now has one last incandescent which is a decorative bulb that seems to last about a decade between failures. The NYT article was sensationalist pap that worked to draw a lot of readership and comment.
    http://www.biodiversivist.com

  26. #26 EeeTee
    March 30, 2009

    The current cheap CFLs are a crap-shoot. I bought two Philips 100 Watt-equivalent dimmable CFLs around ten years ago for ~$15 each. I use them daily and they still work like new. But, a six-pack of GE CFLs (100 Watt-equiv.) I started using two years ago are a different story. One died within two months, two are now around 50% dimmer than new, with the remaining three OK. Not impressive. Worse, I bought a four-pack of Feit dimmable (100 Watt-equiv.) CFLs in December. All four would not light brighter than a candle (I’m NOT exaggerating!) even on a non-dimming circuit. Went back for a refund the next day. I can’t wait for decent LED replacements for these crummy cheap CFLs!

  27. #27 Randolph
    March 30, 2009

    Bernard J. Sussman, “Since the CFL bulbs generate less heat, is it possible to step up the apparent wattage in lamps that have limited wattage for incandescent bulbs.”

    Provided the lamps fit, yes–the higher wattage ones may be too big, or the wrong shape to fit in a fixture. Do keep in mind that there are restrictions on positioning some CFLs–some lamps will not produce full brightness and will fail early if mounted in a position the lamp is not designed for. Some work with dimmers and some do not.

    As EeeTee says, Philips also has good quality control. My experience with GE is that their current incandescent lamps also fail quickly; not a good brand any more.

    Other CFL tricks:
    - Generally, the “bluer” (5000 K) lamps work very well as supplements to daylight–in fixtures over kitchen windows, for instance.
    - All fluorescent lamps become dimmer over time. When choosing lamps, look for their rated brightness after a year, rather than when new.
    - Lamp brightness is measured in lumens. A typical 100w incandescent produces 1700 lumens.
    - Current CFLs replace incandescent lamps of roughly four times their power rating.

  28. #28 Howard Brown
    March 31, 2009

    I’ve replaced about 1 dozen incandescents with CFLs in my house. Three died prematurely. One of those was purchased at Home Depot, and it was only after an argument with the manager that it was replaced for me without having to contact the manufacturer. The other two were replaced after phone calls to their respective manufacturers, one took a few weeks, the other a few months.
    My work involves extolling the advantages of CFLs to religious groups. More anecdotal information: practically every presentation we make involves fending off complaints from people in the group about various problems they’ve had with CFLs.
    Hopefully the move to LEDs will ameliorate the situation, but the consumer advocate in me is somewhat uncomfortable with caveat emptor. A reliable rating system for green lighting products is badly needed.

  29. #29 Peter
    March 31, 2009

    The citizenry of the US must be the most prone of any in the democratic countries to conspiracy theories. Problem is, actual conspiracies are few and far between, however, greed (that is the basis of Capitalism, isn’t it?) is ever present and so virtually everyone knows that caveat emptor applies to virtually every purchase.
    CFLs? Two in porch fixtures have been in use, dusk till about midnight, every day, one for 7 years the other for 9. Other than the annual temperature range here, 20 to 90 degrees F., those operating conditions should be pretty much ideal for a CFL. Indoors, never had a dud, never had a short-lifetime event, but then, I only have 8 in use as yet and those are only 2 to 4 years old. I will certainly be annoyed if the next CFL I screw in doesn’t work or fails in a few months, but, with a little bit of luck, I’ve actually saved the receipt so I can go back to the store and complain till I eventually get a replacement. From others’ experiences there could well be a need for manufacturers to tighten quality control and history suggests that that will come about, however, since my impression is that CFLs are selling quite well, perhaps those with complaints represent a disproportionate share of actual users.
    House wiring? Could be, but seems very unlikely, though since no fluorescent likes frequent on-off cycles, noisy power lines could have an effect. Would be interesting to try to determine why some people have repeated trouble with CFL longevity and others don’t. Nonetheless, it seems that at about 1/4 the power of an incandescent, the CFL is the light-source of choice, at least till the far more efficient LEDs have better brightness, color and especially price.

  30. #30 Buddy Toledo
    April 2, 2009

    One problem I have is that all my CFLs have a second or two delay before they switch on. Is this normal and it just doesn’t bother anybody else? Is it a problem with my wiring? It seems trivial, but I want my lights on when I turn my lights on.

  31. #31 Mike 0rtloff
    April 2, 2009

    This article made me sit up & take note. As many have said already, if you have problems with CFL durability all over your dwelling, it most likely is electrical. Don’t forget the sockets, connectors, etc. I moved from one apartment where I =knew= the outlets & fixtures dated to the early ’60s (as in, the telephone connectors all had Ma Bell logos on ‘em) to another with recently replaced fixtures and my CFLs (along with fans, microwave oven etc) all suddenly lasted indefinitely. It wasn’t simply a manufacturing glitch on the part of the CFLs, I have a boxful I bought on sale like 5 years ago, usually replace ‘em when I drop, hit with a ladder or over-torque ‘em.

    Work great in lamps and over my stove in the spot where incandescents normally hold sway. None in the ‘fridge yet tho, my experiments noted they don’t handle cold-cycling very well.

    But I paid like 80 cents each 5 years ago, so I’m not complaining :)

    I only saved about 3.5 KWH daily switching my new apartment to CFLs & going to LCD televisions & monitors – but hey, 60 cents is 60 cents :)

  32. #32 Mike Cannon
    April 4, 2009

    I work for a large hotel (4000+ rooms)in Las Vegas doing roomcalls, many of which require replacing old incandesent lightbulbs with new CFL’s. So far I have seen exactly one CFL live up to the hype. It is a longevity test a collegue is running. It is installed in a normal glass-upwards position and is never turned off. However, the CFL’s in the can fixtures, and those mounted glass-downwards burn out frightfully fast, usually a matter of weeks. I can only surmise that ANY heat that gets to the electronics kills CFL’s and that on-off cycling also reduces their lifespan. Another CFL killer may be holding them by the twisted glass bulb while screwing them in as that seems to put stress on the bulbs weakest part. In conclusion, insert them by rotating the base, in an upright position, with copious cooling airflow, never turn them off and yes, they will live up to the hype. I think I’ll wait for LED bulbs to perfect the heat problem and then I’ll change.

  33. #33 Deanna
    May 4, 2009

    I’ve been using Compact fluorescent bulbs for some time. Save money by buying GE CFL’s online in bulk. Even though they save energy it is wise to turn off lights when you are not using them, or leave a room. In addition, it extends the life of the bulb.

  34. #34 Theresa
    May 22, 2009

    I too have replaced almost all the bulbs in my apartment with CFL’s. This week I had the one in the kitchen go bad on me. It is (or was) up-side-down in a ceiling fan fixture without any glass cover (the original glass cover wasn’t big enough to cover the CFL) and had been in there for about 7 months. I was puttering away in the kitchen when I smelled something I couldn’t place immediately, but after a few minutes, it smelled like plastic burning. Eventually I realized that it was the light. The base was turning brown and part of the light seemed to be melting. I have since put an incandescent bulb in that socket. I’m just glad that I was home when this happened and now feel uneasy about leaving the lights on if I am not at home.

    If this is from old wiring (and I’m pretty sure the wiring in my apartment is old), what is going on here? Why does old wiring do this, and, from other posts, also zap out other electric gizmos? I’m seriously thinking about going back completely to incandescents in the bulbs I might leave on when I’m not at home; at least they won’t melt. Feedback and suggestions would be appreciated, although I don’t think my landlord would rewire the apartment for me.

  35. #35 Randolph
    May 28, 2009

    [old business]

    OK, how ’bout some real data? Look here:
    http://www.diamond-congress.hu/cie2009/03menu/binx/12_Simonetta_Fumagalli.pdf

    It’s a poster presentation, being given today. I will try to follow up with the authors after the conference, and see if they’re willing to send a copy of the poster.

  36. #36 Planet Bulb
    December 11, 2009

    We sell compact fluorescent bulbs and there does not appear to be any higher rate of defect than any other product. The biggest issue is shipping extremely fragile glass bulbs all over the world.

    Fluorescent technology is different than burning a filament. CFL’s should be left on for longer periods of time to extend the bulb life. This can be counter-intuitive but that is the way they work. Dimming CFL bulbs is a whole different story but you need to have the right fixture/ballast/electricity/dimmer for successful CFL dimming. Unless you are the do-it-yourself type and like figuring things out, you’re best bet is to put CFL’s in fixtures that will remain on for long periods of time.

    Please support our business if you need CFL’s or recycling: http://www.planetbulb.com/

  37. #37 John D
    December 31, 2009

    LEDs: So as an experiment because I am an engineer and expect LEDs to last up to the hype have come to the conclusion after several years of watching CFLs –

    1) In the general case, it is not household wiring, although it is possible that this is your particular failure mode.
    2) CFLs from variety of MFG companies (FEIT, Costco, GE, etc..) all failed in the upside down position within months.
    3) LEDs from Costo (Manufacture- Lights of America) rated at 20,000 hours, purchased for $15 resulted in 4 months of reliable, bright light, until failures occured in different manufacturing LOT codes. Interestingly, I received a odd letter from Costco around the same time advising they observed a high failure rate with the LEDs I had purchased “in their testing” and to return them to the store for a refund.

    My Points –
    1) You get what you paid for it.
    2) Companies have no interest (competitively or otherwise) in providing a reliable light bulb that provides 10 years of life.
    3) Get Industrial grade light bulbs and pay the extra $$$. They are intended and designed for the application of being installed rarely. Otherwise, stop complaining.
    4) You are being experimented on – do you get it!?

  38. #38 Philip
    February 6, 2010

    My experience with CFs has been mixed. I’ve had ZERO problems with regular CFs, of which I probably have 30 installed. I also tried installing the dimming CFs (about 20). I’d say that ALL FAIL. They either don’t work to begin with or fail to turn on 95% of the time. I’ve returned them all and am using a mix for now.

  39. #39 John W
    February 19, 2010

    I started using CF’s more than a decade ago. I have only used CF for lights which stay on for longer periods of time, i.e. home office both ceiling and desk lamp; living room reading light; kitchen; and utility room.

    My experience is mixed at best. Freshly installed lights reach maximum brightness quickly. Older lights take time to reach maximum brightness. Due to persistent household complaints regarding the slow warm up time, any light that needs instant brightness now has a regular incandescent bulb installed.

    Regarding lifespan, years ago after an early burnout I started putting install date on all the replaced light bulbs. To date, only one bulb has lasted longer than 2 1/2 years, most last 1-2 years, 20% less than a month (yes, I did get the manufacture to replace them but again it is a prolonged pain in the behind). This is out of an estimated dozen plus bulbs purchased from various places. I have noticed to fixtures with air circulation and an upright orientation do last longer (as noted above). Did not track brands, but with power rates in the PNW, in my judgement, the economics of moderate to expensive bulbs do not pencil as compared to increased cost of usage of regular bulbs, or at best it is a toss-up. When I have replaced regular bulbs with regular bulbs, I have noticed the need to frequently replace a regular bulb until one gets one that will last (years). This is even true with so called long life bulbs.

    I can see that overall the usage on a power grid scale will prolong the life of the present infrastructure, but as to their true overall social cost from manufacture to disposal vs an incandescent I wonder.

    So, my conclusion is the usage of CF’s is a wash at best.

  40. People forget those really cheap ones from Costco cost about 1.50 each v.s 50 cents for a traditional bulb. I have used then and others and have has great luck over 90 percent have lasted at least 2.5 years. Even a few duds still make the compact ones a cheaper long term deal.
    There are a lot of really cheap lamps around with shoddy lamp sockets these could be part of the problem. Also at any warehouse some packages are dropped or manhandled by customers

  41. #41 Eric
    March 8, 2010

    Cfls are a joke.
    First of let me clear things up for some wh keep saying its wiring issues, its not.
    We have a rooming house that is inspected every year by law and a brand new house that just been totally renovated.

    The cfl’s burn out at the base of the bulb ever single time and do so long before normal bulbs do.

    We have tried many different makers and the results are always the same.

    The city inspector has reported to us the same thing from ever house he has been to.

    So either he doesn’t know what he doing ,the electricians don’t and and we magically got ever bad bulb in the country or these bulbs have a design flaw.

    Oh we have one normal bulb on the front porch that we didn’t replace that been going for 6 years now.

  42. #42 Luciana
    December 8, 2010

    Actually, I hate fluorescent lighting myself. It is a shame to box up kids in schoolrooms cut off from natural light in the name of energy efficiency. Likewise, workplaces with intense fluorescent lighting are unpleasant environments to cooped up with 8 hours a day.

  43. #43 Lucy
    December 8, 2010

    I put CFL’s in my first floor hallway the other day where there’s very little natural light. It made it look and feel like a prison! Perfect substitutes? Not yet, I guess. I switched them out.Modern Lighting

  44. #44 swapna
    January 5, 2011

    I can share my thoughts in this lighting topic interesting peoples.”Over the next five years the advantages of CFL [compact fluorescent lights] over light-emitting diod [LED] technology will become recognized, especially with respect to the quality of light, dimmability, controllability, lamp life and environmental cost of ownership,” said a recent report by market research firm Strategies Unlimited.I’ve had some CFLs that have been in use for over 10 years and still work.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.. they are really interesting and
    useful as well.. I would like to read more from you.

  45. #45 Mission Style Lighting
    January 6, 2011

    I have been using CFL’s since they first came out but am about to change my ways. It takes energy to produce the CFL’s, energy to get them to the shelf and more to move them to my home where they quickly burn out. They cost more than the standard incandescent but don’t last half as long and many provide less than adequate lighting. I’m ready to try the LED’s which should drop in price as volume increases.

  46. #46 capsiplex
    January 29, 2011

    The cfl’s burn out at the base of the bulb ever single time and do so long before normal bulbs do.

  47. #47 Omegle
    February 4, 2011

    When I showed him the item in the lease that stipulated that the renter not do this for fire safety reasons, he laughed and said he was the landlord.

  48. #48 adsense hack
    February 5, 2011

    Actually, I hate fluorescent lighting myself. It is a shame to box up kids in schoolrooms cut off from natural light in the name of energy efficiency. Likewise, workplaces with intense fluorescent lighting are unpleasant environments to cooped up with 8 hours a day.

  49. #49 stella
    February 24, 2011

    Depending on your budget and desire to make sweeping changes, you can start by deciding to replace one incandescent bulb with a CFL. Hopefully you will do more. Typically, you would select bulbs which burn the most hours in your home. These are often hallway lights, kitchen lights and porch lights. It’s also common to begin with bulbs which are difficult to change. Switching to a CFL means you won’t have to change that bulb again for 5 years or more

  50. #50 tütüne son
    April 2, 2011

    I put CFL’s in my first floor hallway the other day where there’s very little natural light. It made it look and feel like a prison! Perfect substitutes? Not yet, I guess. I switched them out

  51. #51 Geoff
    April 26, 2011

    I built a new house a couple of years ago here in the United Kingdom and under advisement from my local electrical contractor I installed 200 CFL’s in down lighters throughout the house. Even though the average life of the CFL’s was quoted as some 9000 hours I was advised to buy an extra 20 ‘just in case’ Well 20 ‘just in case’ CFL’s are no where near enough! We have lived in the house for just over 16 months and we have already replace 30 CFL’s and we have at least another 8 that need replacing.

    I have had several instances of CFL’s failing and when I have replaced them they have often failed within hours of replacement. There is simply no logic to the failure, some rooms have rarely been used and yet when we turn on the lights the CFL’s fail. It’s not the wiring, it’s not the supply.

    I contacted the local area rep for ‘Aurora’ and he didn’t want to know, said that they were out of warranty, however the technical department at Head Office was more understanding and have given me an extra 20 as a gesture of good will.

    Bottom line is CFL’s are expensive and they don’t work too well. By the way there are only two of us living in this rather large house and the lights are not ‘cycled’ excessively.

  52. #52 Mindy
    July 28, 2011

    In my experience it’s hit or miss. While the majority of them do save you in the long run; they don’t completely live up to the hype. Also, I know other people on here have experience this as well- there is a delay from when you switch on your light to when it actually starts illuminating.

  53. #53 NMRK1
    September 1, 2011

    CFLs–apparently Congress is now reevaluating the Obama mandate re CFLs.

    Personally–I have asked a lot of people how they dispose of the bulbs. About 80% of them throw them in the garbage–the landfill. So, we have a problem with mercury contamination of fish.

    The mercury in a broken bulb is dangerous. Driving 40 miles to a “hazardous waste disposal facility”–2 gallons of gas emissions.

    I hate them and am stocking up on incandescents and candles.

  54. #54 complex 41
    November 30, 2011

    In my experience it’s hit or miss. While the majority of them do save you in the long run; they don’t completely live up to the hype. Also, I know other people on here have experience this as well- there is a delay from when you switch on your light to when it actually starts illuminating.

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