The CFLs are coming! The CFLs are coming!

But will they save energy and reduce costs? Most EE&T readers who wrote us last month say the government has acted rashly without looking at all the consequences. Maybe the government and CGL manufacturers have just done a lousy job of educating folks about CFLs.

It's been my experience that the longer CFLs are left on, the longer they last. Bulbs that are on 24/7 (in stairwells and entryways, for example) have lasted five or more years. Another major factor in CFL life also seems to be the manufacturer.

As far as LED lights go, I find them too dim and far too short-lived to be worth the cost. I bought some Lights of America brand LED bulbs from Wal-Mart, and they failed within six months.

CFLs and LEDs both need to be available in higher outputs. People often are looking for replacements for 100-W incandescent bulbs, not just low-wattage 40 or 60-W replacements. CFLs and LEDs need to be more cost effective than incandescents, burn cooler, last longer, put out more light, come in a variety of color temperatures, and be non-polluting. (CFLs contain mercury, and I would bet that 90% of those bulbs end up in the trash).
Name withheld

I wonder about putting CFL bulbs into enclosed fixtures. When the bulbs first came out, there was concern about them getting hot. So are CFL bulbs safe to use in enclosed light fixtures such as ceiling light that mount flush to the ceiling and protrude down with a frosted glass globe with no opening for heat to get out?
Eric Eichler

I now use a few CFLs, but only in table lamps that are on for lengthy periods of time and where the CFL ballast is covered only by the lamp shade. I think it is unreasonable to ask ordinary consumers to keep track of whether a bulb is going to be installed base-up or base-down. And if the bulb is installed sideways in a wall fixture??… It is probably also naïve to think most consumers would keep track of this detail.
Leland Teschler

I agree with your editorial article lamenting the demise of the incandescent light bulb. One key item politicians seem to ignore is that UV emissions from fluorescent bulbs have significant medical implications to people with autoimmune diseases. UV exposure causes acute symptoms in many people with diseases such as MS and lupus. These include vertigo, and significant loss of alertness and muscular control. This is not a problem with the incandescent, but is a significant problem with many other sources of lighting: fluorescent, halide, halogen, and yes, sun exposure. I know of these effects from personal experience. My spouse can walk into a big box store in good form. After 20 minutes of exposure to the lighting, she can't walk a straight line, her speech is garbled, and she needs to support herself on the cart just to get out. Recovery may take several hours. I find it unconscionable that we're eliminating the only readily available source of light for these many people.
Duane Hoole

I have been stocking up on incandescent bulbs for those locations where I need light when it is less than 50 degrees F.

When I turned the CFL on in my garage this past winter, I could barely see. It seems CFLs provide only half the light of comparably rated incandescent bulbs until they warm up. I guess if I left the garage lights on for a few hours they might get bright enough to see by. That should save electricity. Even in my basement, the CFLs over the pool table take some time to get up to full brightness.

I also do not believe that the current line of dimmers can handle CFLs, so people will need to rewire their houses if they want the same capabilities of incandescent. I have seen some CFLs marked as dimmable but I don't know how they do this.

These issues have not seen addressed anywhere and I hope something will be done soon. Otherwise, we'll hear thousands of people wailing when they discover these truths.
Edward Downs

I am not a “green” engineer, but I suspect that there may have been a simpler solution to the early failure of your garage CFL. Consider that many light bulbs are more efficient when energized “base down.” Could it be that in your application, the bulb was inserted in a ceiling socket, putting the controller at the top, with all the emitted heat baking the “electronics”?
Robert Herold

I doubt this was the problem. That bulb was indeed in a ceiling socket, but it failed after six months of an Ohio winter in an unheated garage. Even so, a ballasted screw-in CFL that can't manage its thermal issues sitting out in the open, whether base down or up, isn't much of a light bulb.
Leland Teschler

I agree. The only reason I mentioned it is because there are many CFLs which state prominently “burn base down.” I also have several CFLs in lamps around the home and have gotten good service from them. I changed them as a matter of personal convenience, not for politically correct reasons. And, all the ones I've replaced are 3-way types that we have in living room, den, and bedroom lamps, equipped with three-way sockets. Here in Florida, I'm not too worried about the cold in the garage.
Robert Herold

In reference to your editorial, I am going to guess the CFL you installed in your garage was a self-ballasted lamp installed in the base up or partially up position. Self-ballasted CFLs have an electronic ballast chip in the base of the lamp and are to be used base down, as in the case of a table lamp. When installed in a ceiling fixture, particularly a base up socket or recessed fixture, the chip will be fried prematurely and life expectancy is quite low.

When the lamp manufacturers first started making CFLs, the plastic base was molded to shroud the lower spiral. Excessive heat within the shroud leads to premature burn out in almost any position. (We have examples of lamps with the plastic shroud on the top of the base melted and charred from heat radiated from the tube. Can you imagine what that amount of heat does to the sensitive electronic chip inside the base?) GE and some other lamp manufacturers then began manufacturing lamps with the two tubes exiting straight out of the shroud for a small distance before beginning the spiral shape. This helped but it still did not address the issue of the heat rising into the base when installed base up.

Today, we are not recommending SBCFL's because of the heat issues and short life. We build fixtures with ballasts separate from the lamps. And we are researching ways to keep ballasts running as cool as possible. This is a big part of the reason why fluorescent bulbs in commercial fixtures last so much longer. The type of ballast used is critical and it must be matched with the lamps and controls. It is true that frequent cycling CFLs will shorten lamp life for a fixture using instant-start ballasts.

My recommendation: Change your fixture to a commercial grade one with the lamps and ballasts separated within the fixture and a programmed-start ballast. This will give you the expected lamp life. By the way, LED's lamps are in their infancy and expensive. There are a great may pitfalls with them, including especially heat reducing their life expectancy.
Ken Knauss

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