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09 June 2011

I don't mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist but... [More:]Remember how compact fluorescent bulbs were the longer lasting (but more expensive) alternative to incandescent bulbs? And how that was their main selling point? And you know how incandescent bulbs are currently in the process of being phased out of existence (in the US, anyway)? Well, now that they are no longer just an alternative but becoming the only option, I am noticing that my CFL bulbs don't last any longer than regular bulbs. Two of them in a chandelier of mine have burned out after a few months' use. But they're still more expensive. Conveeeeeeeeeeeenient.
is it just me or do the fancy new types burn out in a stranger, smokier way?
posted by Firas 09 June | 22:08
How old is the wiring in your home? How bad is the power supplied from the street? Bad fluctuations in the load will actually kill compact fluorescent bulbs faster than incandescent bulbs because it affects the circuitry in the bulb itself. Where do you live? Do you notice short lived brownouts? Do your TV or computer sometimes reset because of power fluctuation? Do the lights in your house change brightness now and then? Have you ever had a microwave clock or alarm clock reset themselves to 12:00?

Just curious.

posted by Splunge 09 June | 22:25
Hmm, interesting. The power doesn't fluctuate enough to cause clocks to go off and on, but the lights do occasionally dim slightly for a moment. I don't know how old the wiring is (it's an apartment), but I wouldn't be surprised if it was pretty old.
posted by amro 09 June | 22:41
The problem with power fluctuations isn't so much the part where it goes dim, it just means that there is usually a power spike afterwards. That power spike can kill diodes and such. That might be a part of the issue. I am not a licensed electrician, but you might have one come around to check your mains.
posted by Splunge 09 June | 22:47
I'm the chief bulb changer for our building, and yeah, those things don't last any longer than a regular tungsten incandescent. The local power company has been subsidizing them, so they're $0.50 retail, but even at that price I've been fitting LED lamps where possible. CFLs have semiconductors in the base to power the spiral, and I figure that's what dies - I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the initial lifespan studies were done with better-quality prototype units that have been subsequently given over to the beancounters for cheapening.
posted by Triode 09 June | 23:18
Hmm, my very-old building and between-the-edges-of-two-towns location is semi-prone to short power failures (about monthly) and my wiring is suspect (running the microwave and convection oven at the same time has caused my circuit breaker to break - so much for extra quick meals), but I haven't had a fluorescent bulb go dead yet. I replaced incandescent bulbs in the bathroom and kitchen almost two years after moving in and the new bulbs are over three years in use. And the standing-lamp-next-to-the-desk is on year five with the original don't-call-them-bulbs.

Semi-related: I realized a few months ago that I had FIVE flashlights scattered around my apartment that I never use - then when I cleaned out my dad's stuff I found he had NINE flashlights in the same approximate space (including a "100 LED Light" he had just bought from Cheezy Mailorder Inc). Final irony: comedy writer Dick DiBartolo (MAD magazine, The Match Game) also does a tech gadget podcast and bits on ABC Overnight News as The Giz Wiz; he recently started selling to his viewers random boxes of gadgets from his hoarder-licious collection (like's Bag of Crap but older stuff and less hoops to jump thru) and, in spite of all the junk I already have to sort out, I went, yeah, I'll buy a box. Of the seven items (including an autographed MAD magazine) in the box, two were flashlights (but one was a wind-up flashlight! bye bye batteries! hello arm muscles!).
posted by oneswellfoop 09 June | 23:25
We've slowly converted from incandescent. Slowly because I hate fluorescent. They're not as noisy as they used to be, but they're also not as bright as they claim to be. The to-be-replaced-one-of-these-days chandelier over the dining table is on a dimmer switch. The fluorescent bulbs get really loud when turning down the dimmer switch - scary loud.

The outside porch lights (two of them) have had to be changed a couple times since we've lived here (five years), so they definitely aren't lasting as long as they should. This house was built in 1978 and I doubt the wiring has been updated, so that may be an issue. The lights dim once in a while, but nothing else goes out or resets itself.

foop: We had a couple wind-up flashlights that were also radios. They only lasted a year. Good thing they weren't very expensive.
posted by deborah 09 June | 23:58
Yeah, our house is 60+ years old, with wiring to match, and CFL bulbs burn out pretty quick around here- usually within 8 or 9 months. It's frustrating and very expensive.
posted by BoringPostcards 10 June | 06:48
Something else to consider: are you using the bulbs in sockets that point down, so the CFL base is at the top? Or in a recessed fixture, for that matter - I think manufactureres are getting better about managing heat, but generally if the bulb isn't specifically rated for those two setups, the circuitry in the base is basically venting its waste heat back onto itself, and can shorten the life of the bulb.

Personally, I've outfitted my house with 100-year Shelby bulbs. Sure it's incredibly dim in here, but I'll never have to buy another one!
posted by sysinfo 10 June | 08:52
I don't know what we're going to use for our ceiling fan lights when incandescents are gone. They're downward-pointing and vibrating, and I haven't found any CFLs that indicate they can be used in such a setting.

I was looking forward to the extended life of a CFL for our porch light --- but it turns out you can't use all-purpose CFLs in an enclosed shade, which ours is.

I may have to stockpile incandescents.
posted by Elsa 10 June | 09:31
are you using the bulbs in sockets that point down, so the CFL base is at the top?

posted by amro 10 June | 09:35
Even though scientists tell me I can't, I can see the flicker rate in fluorescents. I hate 'em.

*makes note to stock pile incandescents*
posted by Specklet 10 June | 12:52
No, the bulbs all point upwards, base is at the bottom.
posted by deborah 10 June | 14:49
Sure it's incredibly dim in here, but I'll never have to buy another one!

Soooo...New technology that actually fails at its primary function (provide proper illumination) but lasts a long time?
Isn't that a bit like the old joke about two women at a restaurant, and one woman says "The food here is really terrible." And the other woman says "Yes, and such small portions, too."
posted by Thorzdad 11 June | 08:15
I've got some light fixtures that take two bulbs, and some three. The ones that take three HAVE to have an incandescent or the bulbs just hum like a swarm of bees.

I see a black market in Mexican incandescents coming...
posted by lysdexic 11 June | 21:48
CFLs just aren't cutting it for me. I can write several paragraphs about why I dislike them but if you're serious about stockpiling incandescents, get going now: it's already getting difficult to find inexpensive ones that have wattages divisible by five.
posted by jamaro 11 June | 22:28
I like my combo of incandescents and cfls. I use cfls mostly, but they take a while to warm up and give enough light so for the lights that are on a switch when I first enter my apt, I have an old incandescent one in there to be bright immediately.
I have cfls in the bathroom but want to switch back because the light is so white and harsh. I guess I could get tinted ones...
posted by rmless2 12 June | 01:28
If you build a new house here, at least 40% of the area must have energy efficient lighting (ie noj incandescent or halogen). Incandescent bulbs are being phased out completely and will be illegal in a year or so.

But there is an enormous range of CFLs available for all sorts of purposes, including dimmers, instant start versions, different collie temperatures etc - maybe this huge range isn't available in the US?

My experience is that they last significantly longer than incandescence.
posted by dg 12 June | 17:38
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