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Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFL) Burning Out Quickly

Close Up Photo of Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs

We finally took the plunge last year and replaced nearly all of the lightbulbs in our house with compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL). It seemed the responsible thing to do, even if waiting a couple of minutes for full brightness was a little annoying. While it didn't feel thrifty at first, when we took into account their lower wattage used and the longer advertised lifespan, we decided it was a good investment.

Now, less then a year later, 4 of the 6 bulbs in our bathroom have burned out within days of each other. CFL bulbs have come down quite a bit in price lately, but when I got them we paid almost $8 a piece for the vanity globe bulbs. Needing to replace them so soon was a bitter pill to swallow.

On top of that, disposing of them is a bit of a hassle. They do contain trace amounts of mercury and, if not disposed of properly, that mercury will just end up in the landfill. Fortunately, we have Home Depot and IKEA relatively near us. They will recycle the bulbs, but not everyone is so lucky. Visit the EPA website for more information about disposal of CFLs.

Were we duped? Did we use the wrong type of CFL? No, if used properly these bulbs should last for years. The problem is where we put the bulbs and how we used them. The "compact" part of the bulb is not only referring to size of the fluorescent bulb, but also the fact it is it's own self contained bulb and ballast. Being able to make a functional ballast that small and adapt it's shape to a standard screw in light fixture is what made them such an easy replacement for incandescent bulbs.

So the problem is that most fluorescent lights, especially CFLs, are designed to be on for at least 1-2 hours once they are turned on. Turning them on and off within a few minutes repeatedly will drastically shorten their lifespan. That's why they work so well for lighting commercial spaces, but not so much for the bathroom vanity.

So the best way to use CFL bulbs and really get your money's worth is put them in places they can stay on for long periods, once turned on. We have found that they work well as porch lights and in our living room, because those lights don't get used until after dark but tend to be left on for awhile.

LED light bulbs do not have this problem and will be a good alternative in the future. For now though, they seem too expensive for what they are worth. The cheapest I have found is $20 a bulb (usually they are $30-40) so to replace the lights in a our bathroom vanity, that would $120! That is too much right now, even if it does use less energy.

For now, we are going back to the old wasteful incandescent bulbs for our bathroom. We are going to use the lowest wattage possible and be mindful of turning off the light when we are not in the room, the exact behavior that burned out the other bulbs. This fix won't last for too long though because incandescent bulbs will be phased out by 2014.

By Stew

Editors Note:Would you like to share your own experiences with CLF or other energy efficient lighting options? Post your ideas here!

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By Pixiedust7 [7]05/15/2011

In 2002, I replaced as many bulbs as I could with CFLs, and noticed an immediate drop in my electric bill of about $20-30 per month. I live on Long Island in NY, where electricity is very expensive, so that was an impressive saving. I have had good luck with all the CFLs. I learned that you have to pay attention to the wattage to get the right amount of light. A 23W CFL is equivalent to a 100W incandescent bulb, and the light is quite satisfactory.

I used to use 2 decorative 40W incandescent bulbs in my hall fixtures; the bulbs were expensive & blew out 2-3 times a year; the lights were kept on about 16 hours a day. I replaced them with equivalent CFLs and have only changed each one once in 9 years. CFLs are also available as yellow "bug" bulbs, which I use in the outdoor lights. I also discovered that I can use 40W or 60W CFLs in my hollow plastic Christmas yard decorations (blow-mold figures), and they illuminate the figures much better than the recommended 25W incandescents. The CFLs run cooler & are lower wattage than the incandescents, and work wonderfully in the Christmas figures. The only problem would be if the temperature outdoors went below 10 degrees, which seldom occurs here at that time of year.

My bathroom fixture is enclosed & I could never find a small enough CFL to use in it. Then I learned that a CFL wouldn't last long there because that light is turned on & off frequently for short periods, so, I still use a 100W incandescent bulb in there. I'm waiting for the LEDs to become cheaper & will try my first one in that fixture.

The LEDs should save even more money on the electric bill than CFLs do, but as others have noted, the initial cost is daunting. I also heard about a technology called "cold cathode CFLs" which use even less electricity, but so far cannot find these bulbs or further info.

There really is a harmful level of mercury in CFLs, so it really is important to dispose of them properly, especially if you break one. We really don't want mercury to escape into the environment; the harmful effects of mercury are pretty scary.

By Janice C. [18]05/11/2011

I've had 3 burn out in the past few years, and I think I bought them at dollar-type stores. They were in lamps that were not overused. I think I got some clunkers, and will buy known brand names from now on.

By Louise B. [4]05/10/2011

I would just like to say that I have switched to these bulbs in most places, and haven't had any of these problems. I do not use them in the bathroom because I have a fixture that uses decorative bulbs. I do use them inside of glass globes. I have had no real problems.

If you find you are not getting enough light from these bulbs, buy a different kind. Like regular bulbs, they come in different wattages.

By Lee Anne G.05/10/2011

I had the same experience. I wrote to GE and they wanted me to tell them the codes on the lights (like I kept the wrappers) I feel totally gypped. What a scam. That is utterly ridiculous that the lights are made like that and there is NO warning. I spent close to 100 dollars on bulbs that lasted only a few months then cost a dollar a piece to dispose of. I hope the legislation to keep the old lights gets passed.

By Barbara Huggins [8]05/10/2011

I have been using the CFL bulbs for years and have not had to replace any of them yet. And I use them everywhere; where they will remain on and in the bathroom where they only stay on for a short time! Maybe you got a bad batch.

By Elaine [129]05/10/2011

The closest place I have to take burned out bulbs is 40 miles away. Then, when I do get there It is tough to remember to bring the bulb. I agree, they don't last any longer than regular bulbs and if turning them on and off wears them out sooner, haven't you defeated the purpose? I don't think they are all that they are cracked up to be.

By David M. [1]05/09/2011

Sheesh if one read the packaging they would see that it clearly states that a cfl should not be in an enclosed spaces where subject to excessive heat IE: like inside of a bathroom vanity enclosure. It also clearly states that the cfl should not be used in a situation that the light is turned on and off repeatably IE: like in a bathroom or a closet. Energy wise a clf is many time more efficient than the old style light. clf's produce much less heat too. If you are really serious about cutting energy prices and the longevity of your lamps (30,000 hours), think about LED lighting. Sure it is not cheap just yet, but prices will come down as more and more people start using them. Again LED lighting is not for use in place that are subject to excessive heat as it will dramatically shorten their life span.

By Fletcher Sandbeck [3]05/09/2011

We've had good luck with CFLs at our house. I think I've had two burn out over the last couple years. Well within their advertised lifetime.

Do the lights ever blink when your furnace, dryer, or a vacuum cleaner turn on? That can be a sign that your circuit breaker is not keeping the circuits in your home separated from each other. Voltage fluctuations can cause light bulbs to blow out faster than they might otherwise.

If the lights burned out quickly you might also try returning them to the store or manufacturer. It's possible you got a defective batch.

By Helmut [8]05/07/2011

Incandescent bulbs will NOT be phased out, even though certain stores only carry the more profitable CFLs.

Eventually consumer groups will demand and get warranties for CFLs. They CAN be made, so that they last a few years in any condition. (Regular light bulbs can be made so that they last too. Just get Mil-Spec bulbs. They are not designed to burn out in a year or two)

Once you get a CFL with a warranty, save the receipt and warranty in an envelope marked with a number and warranty expiry date. Then write that number onto the socket or ballast with a fine-line Mark-All like a Nissen marker. (they are heat resistant). When one burns out, check the number and expiry date. Every time one burns out, take it back with the paperwork.

Respectable stores will honor the warranty. Walmart won't, just the respectable stores.

We did the same with industrial 8 foot fluorescent tubes in the 70's, and GE and Sylvania smartened up in a hurry. Since then you get the 8 footers so that they last about 8 -10 years, with the occasional one twice that.

By the way, don't worry about the mercury in CFLs. That is just fear mongering nonsense put out by people, who don't like the much higher merchant profits of the CFLs. The amount of mercury involved is negligibly small, and it is heavy. Just like water will ooze down through the landfill to the water table, mercury is 78 times as heavy as water and will ooze down below that, to the levels where it originally came from. The same as with regular fluorescent lamps, don't eat the tubes or their content. They could cause indigestion and if you eat enough of them, could maybe even increase the chances of getting cancer. Nobody has tried it yet, but apparently it IS possible.

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By Kay05/07/2011

I have had this same experience. Also the CFLs are not supposed to be used in enclosed light fixtures or they will burn out much quicker. I believe some of the incandescent bulbs are supposed to start being fazed out in 2012. Our local utility company offers a service that you call in to and they will give you energy efficiency advice. When I called in about our CFLs constantly burning out thinking I was buying the wrong brand or type, the person I spoke with said this was an issue with CFLs and she was going to stockpile regular light bulbs and suggested I do the same before the faze out.

By Joan [13]05/06/2011

I have had a couple of the CFL bulbs that didn't last as long as they are supposed to either, and they have been in locations that the lights are on for extended periods of time. I don't think the CFL bulbs put out as much light as the incandescent ones do either. This makes it hard for older people and people with poor vision to read, maybe we aren't supposed to do things like that, just sit and stare into space. lol

By Margaret05/06/2011

Yes, I also replaced the old burned out bulbs with the new "energy saving" bulbs in my bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom. ALL the new energy saving bulbs that were suppose to last for so many years have already burned out while some of my old bulbs are still burning. I am very disappointed.

By m [2]05/06/2011

Thanks for sharing this! But isn't the gov't making us change soon? This should be brought to their attention!

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