How long should a compact fluorescent lamp last? The manufacturers of CFLs say they can last for up to 10,000 hours. That would be years of normal usage. But lots of consumers say they can’t achieve anything close to that – and that bulbs can be defective right out of the box.
Add Carol Spencer of Charlotte to the list of the disenchanted.
“I am increasingly frustrated with the new CFL light bulbs,” she said in an email. A bulb in her shower failed immediately. Bulbs over the mirror in the master bathroom lasted anywhere from nine to 13 months.
“In my laundry room, I had the original light bulb (a real light bulb) for 14 years! I replaced it on 09-14-2011 with a CFL. Today, 07-01-2012, it burned out!!!!!! (All the exclamation points are hers.) ... Where on earth is the savings at that rate?”
She wondered whether others have complained. The answer to that, of course, is yes. Loudly.
Other Charlotte-area readers have run into the same problems, and the Internet is awash with sites where people vent about CFLs.
Todd Kistler of Centennial Energy Solutions in Cornelius, an energy auditor, said CFLs take awhile to heat up and come to full brightness. They don’t work well in fixtures that are turned on and off frequently.
If you Google “where not to use a CFL,” that’s likely to be the first tip you’ll encounter.
As Kistler suggested, the bulbs last longest when you turn them on and leave them on. That means they might not be best for, say, a closet that you’re going to light for just a few minutes at a time. Same for a laundry room.
Even CFL makers like GE say that turning them on and off frequently can shorten their lifespan dramatically, negating potential savings.
I poked around online and discovered other advice:
• They don’t work particularly well in fully enclosed fixtures, like those flush mounted on the ceiling. Some makers say new versions work in enclosed but not recessed fixtures. Read the package label.
• They don’t like to be mounted so that the base is above the glass in a fixture that’s not vented at the top. In that upside-down position, the base can overheat. In lots of bathroom fixtures, the CFL base would be above the glass.
• They don’t handle vibration well. So don’t use one in a ceiling fan or garage door opener unless the packaging says that’s OK. You’ll also need special CFLs for dimmers and three-way lamps.
At our house, I experimented with CFLs in two table lamps that we burn for hours at a time. I hadn’t done any research, I just calculated that we would see the most savings in lighting that was used the most. They were still going strong after several years – when I swapped them for new LED bulbs, and started another experiment. I’ll let you know how that goes.
It can be hard to separate science from politics when it comes to CFLs, but everything I read suggests you’re better off choosing name-brand bulbs that are Energy Star rated. You’ll get a higher-quality bulb, and Energy Star models must have reduced mercury levels.
CFLs are much more efficient than standard incandescents, so the potential savings is there. Some users proudly do the math. Just understand that your savings might not match the marketing.