Tuesday, May 12, 2009

CFLs versus Incandescents

Being the good greenies that we try to be, we have, by now, replaced every single incandescent bulb in our house with a CFL (except for appliances). But I'm noticing a disturbing trend, and I'm not the first to cite it: My CFLs are burning out at the same rate that my incandescents did!

Apparently, the problem is with our well-ingrained and well-meaning habit of turning off lights when we leave a room. The constant on/off wears down CFLs faster than just leaving them on for long lengths of time. Make no mistake, it's not the leaving on of the light that lengthens their lives. It's the lack of switching from on to off and back again. And I can't find any hard data in about 20 minutes of googling on how long is long enough to be gone from a room before the benefit is worth turning the light off: two minutes? five minutes? 30? I don't have an answer.

And how much does this reductions extend the life of the bulb? Are we talking an extra year? An extra couple of hours? There seems to be no way to know.

I've also heard/read that older light fixtures, such as are found in older homes like my own, are not entirely compatible with CFLs and thus result in a shorter life expectancy.

Does the brand matter? Popular Mechanics seems to think so.

Personally, I'm a big LED fan and can't wait until LED production is mainstreamed and I can replace all my CFLs with LEDs.

What do you think? What's been your experience with CFLs? Any tips on maximizing their performance?


Sarah Berry said...

I'll be very interested to see what you and other people find out because I had read sometime last year that the whole "leave it on to extend the life and save on electricity" thing was actually a myth. No time to research it now since we're tied up in the move - but definitely let us know what you're able to find out! Just for fun, I'll ask the engineer husband if he knows any data about the situation.

Sarah Berry said...

PS - Aforementioned engineer husband is a huge LED fan as well. And here's a random tidbit for you - our little green town that we live in was (they claim) the first town in America to switch all of the traffic lights to LEDs.

feather nester said...

I think the problem there is that many people have misinterpreted the situation. Leaving CFLs on does not save energy, which some people have misunderstood. Turning them on and off decreases their lives (though it does not use more energy), so they burn out faster if you are frequently turning lights off and on in your home. You still would use less energy if you turn them on and off, but the bulb will burn out faster. To get the benefits that we all hear about the long life of CFLs, you apparently need to leave them on as you move from room to room in your home. But the tricky part is, how long is long enough to see what kind of difference?

Strongmama said...

We've had a bunch of ours burn out as well. I have no idea what the answer is, but just a reminder to not throw the CFLs away in the trash and take them to a place that will dispose (or recycle? not sure what they do) of them for you. Pretty sure Lowe's does.

die Frau said...

Boy, is that confusing! Just what do we do? I guess leaving the lights on is ok?

I, too, am eager to see if you solve this conundrum.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb said...

As soon as our kitchen and dining room lights went busted, we went ahead and bought a Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb to replace them. I hope you get your answer soon.