Compact fluorescent bulbs – myth or magic?

I replaced another compact fluorescent bulb in my kitchen yesterday. In fact I have to replace them seemingly all the time. That’s not what we signed up for. The supposed wonderful energy cost savings (75% by many accounts) are attenuated by the higher costs of the bulbs (as much as four or five times as expensive. Yet in the interest in contributing to a greener planet my wife and I felt this was a no-brainer. We’ve found that we might be the ones losing our minds.

So exactly how long do compact fluorescent light bulbs last? I tried to find out a definitive answer but I answers to that question are very elusive. The additional cost is supposed to be eclipsed by the longer lifespan. In our experience that’s not the case at all.

A couple of links shed a little light (sorry) on the subject – both describe some level of experience and the Youtube video depicts the issue of cracked CFL’s as they are referred to at times.

Personally and professionally I am very interested in green energy solutions. When I first heard about CFL’s several years ago my wife and I bought the hype and a ton of bulbs at places like Home Depot. Now it’s possible that the level of quality of the CFL bulbs we bought at Home Depot is not all that good, (which from what many people have found out is true about many goods at Home Depot), but we also have purchased CFL’s at local hardware stores and other outlets.

The problem is we are buying too many of them in the first place and if they were supposed to last 7 years on average why are we continually replacing them? Do we turn them on and off too much? If that is the case how exactly does leaving a light bulb in the on position fit in with being energy saving?
And then there’s the issue of what to do with CFL’s that no longer function. Since most people are aware that there is a small amount of mercury in the CFL’s those people know that you cannot simply just toss those non-functioning bulbs in your trash can to end up in a landfill and possibly poison someone that handles it. Consequently we have a box full of dead CFL’s that we have to dispose of on something our town calls ‘Hazardous waste disposal day’. Not one of the most celebrated events of the year in our town. But it is well attended and that’s another story entirely.

What about you? Have you bought the hype and the bulbs? Do yours last 7 years? 2 years? Are you replacing them all the time? I cannot believe this is limited to our experience.

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver, baseball lover
This entry was posted in Customer Experiences, Living in the World Today, Media and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Compact fluorescent bulbs – myth or magic?

  1. Michele says:

    One of the things we’ve started doing is putting a date on the bulb when replacing it so that we can know how long it actually lasts. The CFL bulbs definitely last longer than regular bulbs but maybe only 1-2 years not anywhere close to 5 or 7.


  2. Hi Mark,

    I am co-owner of a lighting store in Colorado and we spend a lot of time helping educate our customers about CFLs. We found that there can be a BIG difference in how long they last depending on the manufacturer but it can also be usage (such as you mentioned with turning on and off frequently). We placed our bets for stock on Feit Electric for standard spirals and floods. I’d be interested to find out what type of bulb you’re using and what type of light you’re using it in. Often times, we discourage customers from buying CFLs for certain fixtures where heat might be trapped, causing early burnout of the ballast. Early burnout can also be caused by how the bulb is mounted (if it’s a spiral bulb and it’s upside down in a fixture, it can be problematic for the ballast).

    We replaced as many of the incandescent bulbs in our store with CFLs as we could 4 years ago – so far they have lasted fairly well overall, considering they are on 10 hours a day. We are lucky enough to have a city utility that helps pay for CFL recycling at our store and many other locations but once the program is over, we will continue to have this service for our customers as a courtesy. I would recommend contacting a lighting showroom in your area (especially if they are a Lighting One member) and encouraging them to help in CFL recycling for customers. I’m sure they would appreciate the business it can generate!

    Feel free to contact me if you have more specific questions I can answer.

    Jennifer (self-proclaimed lighting expert)
    The Light Center


  3. Eric says:

    They last about one year for us. We are sick of the expense of buying them. We have been buying ours at Lowe’s. We also think it is silly to have to worry about bulb angle, turning it on too often etc – good grief, who wants to baby a light bulb? We will buy incandescent from now on and then switch to LEDs when all the tungsten in the world runs out.


    • markkolier says:

      It’s only natural to feel that way Eric – we feel much the same but somehow feel guilty for that. I suspect it’s Lowe’s, and Home Depot ‘quality’ but it’s a real wild card. Thanks for the comment.


  4. Phyllis Robinson says:

    I was excited about the claim of these long life light bulbs. I am getting up in years and I have some lights that are hard for me to reach and everyone wants to save money. This was the solution I was looking for. Replace the bulbs and forget it! Wrong! The bulbs that I purchased at Walmart lasted abour 7 times less than my old stand by bulbs! Maybe these new compact florescent bulbs are getting better but I feel that I was definitely “misled”. The package said they would last 7 years or 7 times longer. I expected to get at least half of that from each bulb. Needless to say, I was very disappointed and have gone back to buying (and stocking up on) the old reliable (sort of) light bulbs. They can claim anything on a package but only time will tell if the claims they make are true.


    • markkolier says:

      I’ve heard the Wal-mart bulbs are lower quality than those found other places but the bottom line is compact flourescent bulbs are less than advertised. Thanks for reading and for your comment.


  5. Jim says:

    Here’s my experience thus far:

    Bulb Application Lifetime
    Sylvania 23W Garage Door Opener 1.1 years
    Sylvania 11W Bkfst Room @ WE home 0.1 years (burned out ~6th time used)
    GE 10W Bkfst Room 2.4 years (spiral in ceiling fan, angles downward)
    GE 10W Bkfst Room 1.7 years (spiral in ceiling fan)
    GE 26W Front Porch 0.9 years (replaced 150W bulb… burns ~12 hours/d)
    Feit 13W Bkfst Room 0.9 years (spiral in ceiling fan)
    GE 26W Garage Door Opener 2.4 years (spiral mounted horiz.)
    Feit 11W Bath Vanity 1.8 years (enclosed spiral mounted horiz.)
    Feit 11W Bath Vanity 2.0 years
    Feit 11W Bath Vanity 1.5 years
    Feit 7W Den night light 1.9 years


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