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Compact fluorescent lifetimes

July 6, 2009

I CHOOSE to use CFLs.  I have strong objections to the federal government DICTATING that these lights be used.  My guess is the CFLs would totally sweep the light bulb market on their own if the lifetime issue, and other nuisance issues were resolved.  But when we are forced to buy CLFs there will little motivation for the CFL manufacturers to resolve these problems.

I started buying compact fluorescent light bulbs in the 1990s, and filled almost every possible light fixture in my house with CFLs.  I had been lecturing my children about the difficult times to come in their adulthood due to lack of energy.  I figured I was making a significant difference by reducing my electricity usage by tens or even hundreds of kilowatt-hours per month.

My goal was to save energy, but I expected that I would also save money.  Although CFLs have a high up front cost, they should pay for themselves in the long run by reducing the electric bill.  I made frequent visits to the hardware store, and always stopped on the lighting aisle to see what new configurations of CFLs were available.

I ignored some nuisances about CFLs in order to serve the greater good.  I noticed, for example, that a 15 Watt CFL that was supposed to replace 65 Watt incandescent was simply not as bright as the 65 Watter.   I noticed that they took a long time to warm up and reach their maximum brightness, and that this warm-up period seemed to get longer as the bulbs aged.  I told myself that I needed to adjust my lighting expectations and habits.  Within less than a year of my first CFL purchase some of the expensive bulbs started dying off.

When I sold that house in 2001, I left a fortune in CFLs in the light fixtures.  I thought I would leave behind a more energy efficient house to help the new owners get a head start on energy efficient living.  Then I spent another fortune equipping my new house with CFLs.  I have managed to keep my electricity usage to about 400 kilowatt-hours per month for a house that shelters 4 people year round (5 in the summer and during college breaks) by consistently replacing failing CFLs.  Otherwise our electricity usage would be about 550 kilowatt-hours per month.

However, I am getting annoyed with dying CFLs.  So about a year ago I started writing the installation dates on the base of each bulb whenever I replaced an old one.  I wanted data, not just memory, to tell me how long the bulbs last. 

Today I replaced my first dated CFL.  It was  installed in a recessed ceiling fixture in my basement on August 12th, 2008,  less than 11 months ago.  It failed in mid-June.  The first picture below shows my hand-written installation date on the base of the bulb.  The second picture shows the “retail product number” (BPCE15R30H/4) which I used to determine the manufacturer.  Oddly, although a brand name (Conserv-Energy) was on the bulb, the manufacturer (Feit) name was not.  I used the retail product number and looked it up at the EnergyStar websiteIMG_2445IMG_2451

According to the EnergyStar website the lifetime of this CFL was rated at 8000 hours.  It is a 15 Watt bulb designed to replace a 65 Watt incandescent.  We used it for, at most, 8 hours a day for about 10 months, or about 2000 hours.  This CFL saved on the order of 100 kilowatt-hours.  I pay about 10 cents per kilowatt hour when all the taxes and fees are added up.  So, the CFL saved about $10 on my electric bill over its 10 month lifetime, which was  enough to pay for itself with a few dollars to spare.  But it came nowhere near the manufacturer’s claim of saving $48 over its lifetime.

By the way, what fraction of United States energy consumption would be saved if 2/3 of all residential lighting were converted to CFLs?  See question 8 in this quiz to find out.

I will continue to monitor  the failure rate of the many CFL’s in my house.  Based on the first data point, this CFL was a useful investment if you can tolerate the nuisance factors mentioned above.

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44 comments

  1. Your analysis is interesting to follow, but should also include more than just the lifetime of the bulb. For those that live in colder weather (north of the US and Canada), the heat generated by the bulbs is not just lost, but is used to lower the output from the heating system. The savings are thus lowered. Maybe harder to evaluate, the higher recycling cost of the new bulbs cannot be simply ignored.


    • David,

      All of your points are well taken and need to considered.

      Tom
      ClimateSanity


  2. CFL Light bulbs can burn out quickly for a variety of reasons. The first thing to do if a bulb seems to burn out quickly is check the fixture it’s in. Light fixtures can wear out over time and develop wiring problems that cause the bulbs to fail early. If bulbs are repeatedly burning out quickly in the same light fixture, it’s probably the fixture. Be sure you’re following the fixture manufacturer’s specifications for light bulb wattage, voltage, and bulb shape. CFL bulbs can last up to 10,000 hours IF used properly.


    • Dear Ann,

      Thanks for the commments and advice. My experience has been that all types of CFLs in all types of fixtures in my home have had short lifetimes. This includes devices designed for recessed lighting, table or floor lamps, and especially the large globe type designed for bathroom use. I have bought lamps for outdoor use and have had disappointing results

      I did take pictures of the light fixture from which I removed the lamp written about in this blog post. It is a modern fixture in a modern house with no visible signs of a problem.

      Best Regards,
      Tom
      ClimateSanity


    • CFLs with a UL Mark have been thoroughly tested to safety standards by Underwriters Laboratories, a third-party product safety testing organizations. Consumers should look for the UL Mark. It means UL engineers have tested representative samples of the product for safety hazards
      CFLs burn out differently than incandescent bulbs – the light usually dims over time and may produce a more dramatic pop, emit a burning odor, and maybe even release some smoke. CFLs with the UL Mark have been tested to meet specific requirements for electrical safety, fire and shock hazards. Any popping sounds or smoke that a consumer might see when a CFL burns out means that the bulb’s end-of-life mechanism worked as it should have.
      Early CFLs did not have dimming capabilities. The technology has evolved, however, to suit a number a lighting needs. If a light fixture is connected to a dimmer or three-way socket fixture, look for CFLs that specify use with dimmers or three-way fixtures.
      CFLs perform best in open fixtures that allow airflow, such as table and floor lamps, wall sconces, pendants, and outdoor fixtures. The best fixtures to use with CFLs are usually found in family and living rooms, the kitchen, dining room, bedrooms and outdoors.
      FYI
      • Bulbs burn out when the ballast overheats and an electronic component, the Voltage Dependent Resister (VDR), opens up like a fuse in your home’s fuse box, shutting off the circuit and generating heat and possibly a small amount of smoke.
      • This might sound dangerous, but the VDR is a cut-off switch that prevents any hazards. The melted plastic you’re seeing where the glass coil connects to the ballast is simply a sign that the heat is escaping as intended in the design of the bulb.”
      • So, the burny smell coming from your CFL bulb when it dies is normal, as is the melting/overheating. Your house will not explode if you use these lights.
      • The ballast of the lights should be made of a UL approved plastic (Underwriters Laboratories), ensuring that the base can tolerate the amount of heat emitted when the bulb’s life span is over (you can check your bulbs; it should have the letters “UL” on it). Ontario’s Electrical Safety Authority will be releasing a warning later this week, notifying the public of the normal, yet understandably alarming, CFL bulb expiration process.


    • CFLs with a UL Mark have been thoroughly tested to safety standards by Underwriters Laboratories, a third-party product safety testing organizations. Consumers should look for the UL Mark. It means UL engineers have tested representative samples of the product for safety hazards
      CFLs burn out differently than incandescent bulbs – the light usually dims over time and may produce a more dramatic pop, emit a burning odor, and maybe even release some smoke. CFLs with the UL Mark have been tested to meet specific requirements for electrical safety, fire and shock hazards. Any popping sounds or smoke that a consumer might see when a CFL burns out means that the bulb’s end-of-life mechanism worked as it should have.
      Early CFLs did not have dimming capabilities. The technology has evolved, however, to suit a number a lighting needs. If a light fixture is connected to a dimmer or three-way socket fixture, look for CFLs that specify use with dimmers or three-way fixtures.
      CFLs perform best in open fixtures that allow airflow, such as table and floor lamps, wall sconces, pendants, and outdoor fixtures. The best fixtures to use with CFLs are usually found in family and living rooms, the kitchen, dining room, bedrooms and outdoors.
      FYI
      • Bulbs burn out when the ballast overheats and an electronic component, the Voltage Dependent Resister (VDR), opens up like a fuse in your home’s fuse box, shutting off the circuit and generating heat and possibly a small amount of smoke.
      • This might sound dangerous, but the VDR is a cut-off switch that prevents any hazards. The melted plastic you’re seeing where the glass coil connects to the ballast is simply a sign that the heat is escaping as intended in the design of the bulb.”
      • So, the burny smell coming from your CFL bulb when it dies is normal, as is the melting/overheating. Your house will not explode if you use these lights.
      • The ballast of the lights should be made of a UL approved plastic (Underwriters Laboratories), ensuring that the base can tolerate the amount of heat emitted when the bulb’s life span is over (you can check your bulbs; it should have the letters “UL” on it). Electrical Safety Authority will be releasing a warning later this week, notifying the public of the normal, yet understandably alarming, CFL bulb expiration process. You can call for a refund.

      Market surveillance product incident report form
      US
      2600 N.W. Lake Rd.
      Camas, WA 98607-8542
      Telephone: 1.877.UL.HELPS (1.877.854.3577) | Fax: 1.360.817.6278
      E-mail: cec.us@us.ul.com

      http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/offerings/perspectives/consumer/fieldreport/


  3. If your ENERGY STAR qualified CFL product burns out before it should, look at the CFL base to find the manufacturer’s name. Visit the manufacturer’s web site to find the customer service contact information to inquire about a refund or replacement. We can also help you track down the manufacturer’s contact information. Manufacturers producing ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs are required to offer at least a 2-year limited warranty (covering manufacturer defects) for residential applications. In the future, save your receipts to document the date of purchase.

    In addition, the ENERGY STAR program monitors all CFL early failures. Please bring product failures to our attention by e-mailing us at cfl@energystar.gov, be sure to include the manufacturer’s name and product model number.


  4. What do you do with the mercury in the carcasses?

    Did you notice the Caution on the base against using them in the fixtures that dominate this house?

    And lastly, have you compared the total energy budget for an ordinary tungsten lamp with the total budgrt (including batteries for the flashlight you have to carry around now) for a CFL? What were yhour findings?

    When they can make LEDs for the price of tungsten, I’ll try again.


    • Scavengers play an important role in the flow of energy, matter and pollutants through food webs. For methyl-mercury (MeHg), which biomagnifies along food chains, the movement of this metal from fish carcasses to aquatic scavengers has never been demonstrated. We measured the transfer of MeHg from fish carcasses to scavenging leeches in two lakes and in the laboratory. The results of a field experiment indicated that leeches were attracted to fish carcasses and that their Hg concentrations increased by as much as a factor of 5 during the time that Hg-rich fish were available for consumption. Under controlled conditions, we exposed leeches to (202)Hg-labelled fish that had been marked in situ following a whole lake (202)Hg addition. Leeches rapidly accumulated Hg from carcasses, and within two weeks assumed the isotopic signature of the carcasses. Necrophagous invertebrates could therefore return Hg from fish carcasses to other trophic levels in lakes.
      Mercury enters the atmosphere in natural ways as Earth’s crust degasses, and from the burning of fossil fuels, especially coal. The toxic element often swirls in the air for about a year until it falls out with the help of rain, snow, or dust particles. Mercury can find its way to the Arctic from across the globe;
      An ordinary light bulb filament “burns out” not because of oxygen but because of the gradual evaporation of the tungsten metal [This can be seen as the dark stain that accumulates on the inside surface of a typical light bulb].
      Halogen bulbs work and produce more light per watt because the filament can be operated at a higher temperature.
      Why? Because the small glass ampule around the filament is also maintained at a high temperature. As the tungsten filament vaporizes onto the glass, it is simultaneously vaporized off of the glass ampule and is redeposited on the filament. Clever!
      Manufacturers have expanded the application of LEDs by “clustering” the small bulbs. The first clustered bulbs bulbs were used for battery powered items such as flashlights and headlamps. Today, LED bulbs are made using as many as 180 bulbs per cluster, and encased in diffuser lenses which spread the light in wider beams. Now available with standard bases which fit common household light fixtures, LEDs are the next generation in home lighting.


  5. Ann:

    Do you have personal experience with a CFL lasting 10,000 hours under normal usage conditions, or are you just re-stating the manufacturers’ number? As someone who has CFL’s throughout the house, I can tell you that they typically do not last anywhere near 10,000 hours. I have not tried Tom’s approach of writing down the install date more than once or twice, but I will start doing that on a more regular basis.

    Of course you’re not suggesting that a large portion of consumers in the world will need to upgrade their fixtures in order to get the CFL’s to work as advertised? That would be quite an expensive (and environmentally-unfriendly) solution! :)

    I will likely continue to use CFL’s in most fixtures because they have reached the point of being economical (especially when the local electric company gives us fat rebates at the cash register to buy them, thus returning some of my previously-spent, hard-earned cash). However, I do not naively accept the manufacturers’ questionable statements about either lifetime or light equivalence. Further, it is not clear to me that CFL’s are positive for the environment, either in terms of initial manufacturing, post-use disposal, or reducing the (non-existent) threat of CAGW.

    BTW, just installed two new ceiling fans over the July 4th weekend, which came with 3 13-watt CFL bulbs each. The startup time for the bulbs is much better than previous generations, so hopefully a good sign of things to come.


    • A consumer should do the best job they can to educate themselves on what kinds of light sources are available for the home. And certainly we’re asking consumers to do a lot more than they used to do. If you would go into any hardware store and buy an incandescent lamp they’re all virtually exactly the same. That’s the strength of that technology. They all look the same, they all work the same and they all have great color. The only problem with them is they’re very inefficient.

      Moving to compact fluorescent technology is going to require a consumer to become more educated. I think they need to be guided by the kinds of product information that’s available now. Now, the information that’s available now is still not adequate, but it’s better than it was. I look at things like Energy Star. Energy Star is a sorting process where you can see that there’s some minimum standard that these lamps will achieve.

      Imagine if people all over the world mobilized to replace one billion standard incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs. What would that mean? It would mean that those people would save money each month on their electricity bill. It would make a difference to the environment – preventing greenhouse gases equivalent to the annual emissions of millions of cars. And it would reduce our energy dependency on other countries and on fossil fuels


      • Thanks, Ann. I’m all in favor of consumers knowing what they are doing, so we’re in agreement there. My questions are more fundamental to the point of this thread:

        1. “Do you have personal experience with a CFL lasting 10,000 hours under normal usage conditions, or are you just re-stating the manufacturers’ number?”

        2. Are you suggesting that consumers should upgrade their existing fixtures in order to get the rated efficiency of the CFL’s? Or would we just expect this to happen in the ordinary course over time as fixtures are replaced — meaning over the course of many years, potentially decades?

        Thanks,


    • I am not certain the lower cost CFL’s of the last fifteen years are really more cost effective than earlier models. I bought a Panasonic CFL in 1990 for about $22. We used the lamp daily for eighteen years and it probably had a 20,000 hour life. Compared to the recent purchases costing from four to seven dollars that last one to three years, the old Panasonic was a real bargain.

      My guess is that manufacturers have determined that maximized profitability occurs as a particular consumer cost and lifetime on a curve that is optimized for the manufacturer. The manufacturer, such as GE, knows they have the clout to weather any kind of buffeting or even legal case from whatever agency regulates them, such as EnergyStar.

      In my hometown, there are two places where CFL’s are normally purchased: Lowe’s and WalMart. Guess what? Both retailers carry almost exclusively GE products.

      This is a huge market and it will be cracked by a new producer who can break the rip-off of GE and others who, in my opinion, intentionally manipulate both quality and price in this market.

      Why do I say rip-off? I just recently submitted two lamps that stopped working after a very short period to GE. I followed exactly the return procedure as specified in the warranty on the packaging. Those lamps just fell into a black hole up there in Nela Park in Cleveland.

      These corporations are so powerful, they have no compunction to honor their warranties. I expect GE has raised their profitability in their lighting division since the introduction of CFL’s, because they found the price quality curve that optimized profitability, that is far from the one that provides the most consumer value. When energy intensity is applied to resource material processing, manufacturing, transportation, retail merchandise processing that is, in total for multiplied factors of poor quality lamps, subtracted from the energy saved by the end consumer, then what social and environmental savings and benefit have we really accomplished?

      Given the complexity and convoluted nature of the above scenario, it is not hard to understand how a huge corporation can game it on all of us.

      Given the way corporate money continues to increase influence in government (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) GE’s ruse is just another way that social and environmental remediation is so problematic.

      We are all trying to do the right thing to better the chances the planet will be habitable a hundred years from now, by buying CFL’s and using them. But who is running the game to get to where we need to be to reduce CO2 emissions–GE (and their likes) or the people? “We the people,” “inalienable rights,” and all of that stuff the guys from the Enlightenment Age wrote on paper always has a struggle.

      And whose to say, in a hundred years, GE will be there with ocean seeding technology to increase CO2 absorption and trans-oceanic cloud producing machinery to sell us to mitigate an over-heated planet. We will be taxed to the hilt to pay for it and lettuce will be $10 a bunch.


  6. Our goal is to educate people about the cost-saving and environmental benefits of compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs so that individually they save money and collectively they bring about an environmentally-beneficial outcome.

    Save Money – Compact fluorescent light bulbs typically consume 65% – 75% less electricity than regular light bulbs. And they last up to 10 times longer than regular bulbs. The bottom line is that you’ll save money by replacing standard light bulbs with CFL bulbs.

    Help the Environment – Most electricity in the U.S. is produced by coal-fired power plants. The problem is that for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated by a coal-fired plant, the EPA estimates that 1.43 lbs of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. By switching to energy-saving CFL light bulbs, you lessen greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
    No matter what your age, political leanings or worldview might be, we hope that you’ll agree with us that it makes economic and environmental sense to take action.

    If, like most, you care about saving money or are concerned about global warming, please consider implementing the following action plan.


  7. I agree with Ann! :)
    A conventional light bulb has piece of resistive wire inside a glass bulb. When an electric current is applied to the wire, it gets hot and begins to glow. As the temperature of the wire increases the brighter the light gets. A typical light bulb will emit 2.5% of its energy as visible light, and wastes 97.5% of its energy mostly as heat.

    A compact fluorescent light or CFL uses a long sealed glass tube. To reduce the space this long tube takes up manufactures ether bend the tube in a zigzag, or circular cork screw. The inside of this tube is coated with a fluorite coating. The tube is filled with small amount of mercury vapor. At each end of the tube is small heating element that is used to warm the mercury into a vapor. Since mercury is metal it is electrically conductive. When electric current flows through this vapor the atoms get excited and give off ultraviolet light. When the ultraviolet light is absorbed by the fluorite coating, this causes it to fluorescence. This fluorite coating now is giving off visible light. The light output is regulated by electronic ballast built into be base of the bulb. A compact fluorescent light is about 300 to 400% more efficient then a conventional light bulb.

    Pros and Cons to Lighting

    Conventional light bulbs pros
    1) Are cheap to replace
    2) Are easy to purchase
    3) Tolerate hot locations
    4) Will tolerate some moister
    5) Light comes on instantly

    Conventional light bulbs cons
    1) Waste up to 97.5% energy mostly as heat
    2) Don’t last long
    3) They get very hot
    4) Are a potential fire risk

    Compact Fluorescent Lights pros
    1) Typical 75% saving in energy
    2) Last 5 to 8 times longer
    3) Gives off significantly less heat
    4) Have a reduced fire risk.
    5) Ideal for hard to access locations

    Compact Fluorescent Lights cons
    1) Do not instantly produce light.
    2) Do not like hot environments
    3) Do not like wet locations
    4) Initially cost more
    5) Most can not be used with light dimmers
    6) May not fit into some light fixtures

    Hidden Savings. Since Compact Fluorescent Lights give off less heat than a conventional light bulb. The savings is in reduced air conditioning cost.

    How to find a happy home for your CFL?
    Since Compact Fluorescent Lights have solid state electronics in them, they do not like water, or hot environments. They do not like light dimmers. Unless the manufacture specifically states it’s compatible with light dimmers. Most CFL’s come with a standard size screw in type electrical socket, like most standard light bulbs. Locations to avoid would be like range vent hood, inside a refrigerator, or inside an enclosed light fixture that shares the same space with regular light bulb. A recessed can light fixture in an insulated ceiling is a questionable location, outdoors where rain can come in contact with the CFL. Some manufactures make outdoor CFL bulbs. As to respects to the possibility of heat damage. Just remember that CFL’s do give off some heat. The larger the rated wattage of the CFL is the more light and heat it will also give off. So if a CFL is in an open light fixture heat should not be a problem. But when the CFL is inside a glass enclosure were the hot air can’t escape from fixture easily. This will result in a higher CFL operating temperature. If it gets too hot it will destroy the CFL electronic ballast. To avoid this use a low wattage CFL. Reduce the number of CFL’s inside the light fixture. Or change to a different style light fixture. Or change the fixture to a fluorescent type. Remember that CFL’s come in many shapes and sizes. So pick the rite one for your application.


    • you work for the government, don’t you?


  8. Here are several helpful hints* for selecting the CFL that’s right for you:

    Matching the right CFL to the right kind of fixture helps ensure that it will perform properly and last a long time. Read the packaging to be sure that the type you choose works for the fixture you have in mind. For example:
    If a light fixture is connected to a dimmer or 3-way switch, select CFLs that are labeled for this use
    For recessed fixtures, it is better to use a ‘reflector’ CFL versus a standard-shaped bulb.
    Choose the color that works best for you. For example, while most CFLs are created with warm colors for your home, you could choose a cooler color for task lighting.
    To get a CFL with the right amount of light, choose one that offers the same lumen rating as the light you are replacing. The higher the lumen rating, the greater the light output. Use the table below to see how lumens can generally be compared.

    If you replace incandescent light bulbs with CFL light bulbs….
    ….then you’ll consume less electricity
    …..then less coal-based power will have to be generated to meet your demand
    ….then less coal will be burned
    ….then less greenhouse gas will be released into the atmosphere


    • NO…. I am going back to Incandescent.


  9. Standard Incandescent Bulb (Watts) Typical Lumen Output (Measure of Light Output)
    40 > 450
    60 > 800
    75 > 1,100
    100 > 1,600
    150 > 2,600


  10. Thanks Ann for trying, I will join you in this because the entire world is facing the crisis of energy. Whenever the light goes off we blame the electricity department
    and the government for poor supply. But we never think or want to think that what lies behind the problems. The
    electrical energy we consume is mostly produced from the non-renewable sources of energy, such as coal and
    natural gas. The energy produced by the generators and converters use petroleum products to run. All these raw
    materials are non-renewable and would exhaust one day. Without imaging the fate of that day, we keep using the
    energy extravagantly and mercilessly.The traditional bulbs convert only 5% of the energy into light while the rest of energy is wasted in the form of heat
    and radiation. Maximum amount of energy isn’t utilized. Then why we are using these bulbs. Apart from that
    these bulbs add to the emission of green house gas, which is a serious threat to our environment. Compact
    fluorescent bulbs use 66% less energy than a standard incandescent bulb. By replacing a 100-watt incandescent
    bulb with a 32-watt CFL you can save upto $30 in energy costs over the life of a bulb. These bulbs give the same
    amount of light as a standard bulb, but have lower wattage. Having less wattage means that they use less energy
    and create less pollution.


  11. Check the Label!
    Most CFL package labels provide important
    information about the bulbs. Look on the label
    and consider the following information when
    making a purchase.
    1. The wattage rating of the CFL compared to
    the incandescent bulb that it replaces.
    2. The estimated bulb life in years.
    3. The type of light emitted, such as Cool
    White or Warm White.
    4. The type of bulb, such as a globe bulb or a
    “bug” bulb.
    5. The light output in lumens.
    6. The energy consumption of the bulb in
    watts.
    7. The expected bulb life (in hours).
    8. An estimate of money to be saved over the
    life of the bulb.
    9. Examples of applications for which the
    bulb may be used.
    10. Other information such as “Instant On” or
    “Not dimmable.”


  12. Compact fluorescent lamps are not always the
    best bulb for every home lighting application.
    Regular incandescent bulbs are better than CFLs
    for use in fixtures where the light will rarely be
    turned on for more than a few minutes at a time
    (15 minutes or less), and the light is used less than
    1.5 hours total each day.11
    “Frequently switching them (CFLs) on and off
    will shorten the life of the product. If the life of
    the lamp is shortened significantly, you will not
    reap the financial benefits (including energy and
    life of lamp) that are common to CFL lamps.


  13. Thank you to everyone for your quality information. I have every intention of continuing with CFL despite their several drawbacks.

    However, there are some exceptions. I have installed a motion detector in a hallway that turns on the light whenever somebody walks through, and turns them back out again after about 15 seconds. this light uses an incandescent because it turns on and off frequently for short periods of time.

    I have stopped using CFLs outdoors (even those rated for outdoor use), but I don’t have much outdoor lighting.

    I have stopped using CFLs in the bathroom. I went through many expensive globe types in a short period of time. I have two fixtures that each hold four lights, but I keep three of the lights in each fixture slightly unscrewed so only one light is being used.

    Frankly,I am waiting for LEDs to become less expensive.

    Finally, the best solution would be the construction of many more nuclear power reactors. These would provide clean, abundant energy on demand. And if you are worried about CO2 (I am not), nuclear is an ideal solution.

    Thanks to all commenters,
    Tom
    ClimateSanity


  14. I live in a latitude north of Seattle. For my house, air-conditioning is unnecessary and the temperature outside is, for most of the year, cooler than I like it to be inside. Furthermore, I burn few lights during the “heat” of the day, even if I’m at home.

    By my calculation, 80% of what I save from CFL on my electric bill would be offset by an increase in my heating bill, regardless of how long the bulbs last.

    I use CFL for outside lights only. Inside, I can use the heat.


  15. My experience with CFL liftimes parallels Tom’s. The lifetime cost comparisons with incandescents are bogus because they do not account for the shrinking light output from CFLs which means “60 watt” equivalents which are barely 25 watt equivalents for much of time they still light.
    Most CFLs are also non-dimmable so cannot have power consumption adjusted to need.
    I wonder about the replacement of an easily recyclable product, produced locally from a teaspoon of sand and a few grams of metal, packaged in a simple paper sleeve by one with inferior light quality, producing RF interference,using many times the glass, phosphor coatings, mercury, large plastic assembly, electronic circuitry all shipped from China in massive plastic blister packaging with lots of printed promo material, all to be disposed of and or expensively recycled…. all labeled “eco friendly”?
    What ever happened to the original European bi-pin CFLs in which only the bare tube was replaced, the ballast assembly being permanent in the fixture? These logical and econimic designs, which were around for years before the heavily promoted spirals, are now hard to obtain.


  16. The European Commission together with several national energy agencies and public
    and private organisations is promoting end-use energy efficiency and conservation as a
    key component of the EU energy policy and the common goal of reducing climate
    change. As indicated in DELight study1: “Electric lighting is used in practically all
    households throughout Europe and represents a key component of peak electricity
    demand in many countries. There is already a well developed energy-efficient
    technology available on the market, in the form of compact fluorescent light bulbs
    (CFLs), that could deliver substantial savings. Such savings could be accessed quickly
    due to the rapid turnover of light bulbs in the stock – the challenge is to get the more
    efficient technology installed and guarantee the savings.” Total domestic lighting
    consumes about 86 TWh in the Union and it is predicted to raise to 102 TWh by 2020.
    Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use at least 60% less electricity than the
    traditional incandescent lamps while lasting ten to twelve times as long and can
    therefore deliver substantial savings in terms of both electricity and money.
    Therefore the development of the market for CFLs, is an important effort to increase
    energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions in the European Union. In fact, CFLs and
    other energy efficient technologies are of increasing importance in light of their positive
    environmental and economic consequences. It has been calculated that the impact of a
    wide spread use of CFLs in European households could reduce the emissions with one
    of the totally eight percentage-units that EU-15 agreed upon in Kyoto .
    CFLs represent only 5% of the lamp market in the residential sector. There is still much
    to do to capture a large part of the remaining 95 % of the market. The availability of
    good quality products is an essential part together with the availability of societal
    resources in programmes to make customers aware of their energy efficiency and to
    subsidise their entry into the market. Such support has been given by governments,
    municipalities, utilities.


  17. [...] Sanity « Compact fluorescent lifetimes CFLs and governance July 8, 2009 I never thought a quick post concerning a single burned [...]


  18. See more thoughts on CFLs here

    Tom
    ClimateSanity


  19. I’ve noticed all the other problems with CFLs, but not the burnout problem. They came with our house 3 years ago, and the 8 bulbs I bought for $1 each then still haven’t all been installed. A ten year life span would imply that one in ten go bad every year, and we’ve been below that I think.

    So how many lights do you have installed, and how many have gone bad?


    • Dear MikeN,

      I have approximately 20 CFLs installed, and I am replacing them at a rate of about one per month. I am now keeping track of installion dates and replacement dates, so will have better data as time goes on.

      I wish that there was an easy way to track the hours on each bulb, but I have to estimate this number.

      Tom


  20. I changed over to CFL about 2 years ago and have experienced the same short lifespan as others have noted. I was going to stick with them until LEDs but since Angie, Monica and Ann went out of their way to be so irritating about CFLs, I’m switching back to incandescents to spite them. Plus, they have better light and are cheaper.

    (BTW, we had the worst experience with the GE CFLs; finally switched over to Sylvania’s which seem to last longer.)

    C3H Editor


    • Dear C3H Editor,

      I did not find Angie, Monica and Ann to be irritating. The tried to provide solid information from their perspective. But I do think they down-played the disadvantages of CFLs.

      However, it is clear that they are (mis)guided by a fear of CO2 and global warming.

      Tom


    • I think Angie, Ann and Monica have a point there. They seem very educated in regards evrything the say. more than you guys

      Educate your self first, and when you do;
      Then you can write what ever the hell you want OK!!!
      And there is no fear of C02; the fear is people like you that are destroying the planet, with small brains.

      Finally,

      If you decide to change or stay with the usage of the CFL Bulbs. Is your decision.


      • Dear Ms. Private,

        Thank you for your profound insight.

        I have tried to provide an opportunity for any side to voice their opinion here. It is alway disappointing when somebody expresses themselves with the lack of eloquence that you have demonstrated.

        Best Regards,
        Tom Moriarty


      • FYI.. Is MR.!!!!!!!!!!
        Mrs.Tom Moriarty


  21. Dear Mr. Private,

    My apologies. It was unfair of me to draw the inference simply from the tone of your email.

    Best Regards
    Tom Moriarty


  22. Interesting to see how this thread has been side-tracked. The initial post related to how long CFL’s last in practice and whether they are a good investment overall.

    Unfortunately, the majority of the thread has been taken over by folks attempting to educate others on the virtues of CFL’s by parroting CFL industry talk about their wonderful theoretical lifetimes and other advantages. Those of us who have used CFL’s extensively know that the average lifetime does not match — indeed, is not even close to — the 10,000 hours typically advertised. Now, some would have us believe that the problem is that we are not educated consumers: we haven’t chosen the right kind of CFL; we haven’t chosen the right kind of fixture; we have put the CFL in a place that was a wee bit too hot; we haven’t used them with the right kind of switch; etc.

    What this “education” implicitly admits, however, is that (i) CFL’s are highly tempermental and (ii) in order to get something even close to the advertised lifetime you have to have the perfect CFL, in the perfect fixture, in the perfect place and so on. Unfortunately, such conditions seldom, if ever, exist in the real world.

    So, despite all this wonderful consumer advice we have received, we are right back to the initial questions we started with: What lifetime do we typically see — in practice, in the real world; and given that lifetime (and the other nuisances of CFL’s) are CFL’s still a good overall investment?


  23. Dear Eric Anderson,

    I agree with all you have said. By my experience CFLs do not live up to their hype.

    And I will be posting some more data very soon (I am busy, and I am a slow worker ;-) )

    But as far as I can tell, given the cost of the bulb and the cost of the electricity, CFLs are cheaper to operate. The quality of the light is poorer though. Ultimately, 300,000,000 consumers can make better decisions, in their haphazard way, then lobbyists and politicians.

    Tom
    ClimateSanity


  24. I wonder if the rotating BrownOuts that many electrical companies utilise in peak use hours to balance their load can cause early break down??

    I am not an EXPERT. I have only read experts talk about changing and lowered voltage levels affecting the life times of home electrical devices of all types.

    Any comments from EXPERTS on this possibility??

    Ann and others, as you salicate over billions of CFL’s being produced and used to save energy, have you given any consideration to the enormous amounts of mercury that WILL be spread around the environment??? How about the extra mining and manufacturing of the material in excess of what is used in conventional bulbs???

    I would add that rarely do the glowing accolades of a high quality product match what is actually sold to the consumer.

    We are far from a full accounting of the downsides of CFL’s.


  25. Nice post. Just tweeted it on Twitter.

    I’m in the middle of a series of posts on CFLs on my blog. I was surprised by some of what I dugg up in my research. It seems there is a lot of people saying that CFLs are not lasting as long as manufacturers claim.

    Do you have a Twitter account? If so what’s your username. I’d like to follow you. Mine is @EnergyGeekCA

    Talk to you soon
    Eric


  26. Hey Tom,

    I’ve also been looking into the problem of shortened CFL lifetimes. Have you noticed that enclosed CFLs (the floodlights normally used for recessed lighting) burn out faster than regular CFLs?

    I’ve noticed that the floodlight-CFLs that I have in my kitchen burnout much faster than the regular CFLs that I have in my covered lamps which are still going strong.

    I’m wondering whether the CFL’s heat is being magnified by the glass enclosure so that it destroys the ballast or some other part of the bulb. What do you think?


  27. CFLs have a many serious disadvantages compared to incandescent lighting: higher production cost, many failure modes (several producing toxic by-products), higher disposal cost and/or environmental impact from both construction and disposal, marginal energy saving at the electrical producer, etc. An excellent (rather technical) overview, with links to more information, is here: http://sound.westhost.com/articles/incandescent.htm

    @Sean: Yes, your CFLs are failing because they are not suitable for non-ventilated enclosures and the internal electronics are overheating.


  28. I think CFls are safe for use if you know what you’re doing. No i have not done extensive reasearch like some of the comments above but i have read alot about the subject from various site and have listen to peoples comments on the matter.For the time being cfls should not be used in homes until the manufactors have fixed the kinks i think cfls should be used in public facilitys because most public places have there lights on 24/7. since they are professional places they will have professionals install them asnd dispose of them properly thus cutting down on incidents. Concerning the tempture most public places have their buildings median tempture not to hot not to cold so that would cut down on the CFls pickyness. the part about the lifetime is one of the kinks they need to sort out. if you have a problem with it why dont you all write letters to the managers instead of complaining but doing nothing about the problem. LED lights are good and i would prefer to use them but they have their drawback too for one the lights are way too bright, they are very xpensive and the lights go only in one direction so that would mean you will have to buy multiple which not onl cause you to lose money but raise your electricty bill also. Regular incandescent lights has its drawbacks to you have to replace them often. they emit about 3 percent of the light and the heat makes up the rest of the 97 percent which means you are also losing energy. So basically its all about your choice of preferance.


  29. I started writing the dates I replaced the bulbs after I suspected they were not lasting as long as advertised. I found that most lasted 3 months to a year with about 1 in 10 lasting whatever the manufacturer said they would. Longest lasting bulb was 5 years, most lasted only about 6 months. I am phasing them out. They are too expensive, do not last as long as advertised and not bright enough. I just stocked up on 100 watt bulbs. screw the government. I might use LED lights if the price is right and they last long enough.



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