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.