The myth of the long lasting CFL light bulb

In my basement I have about 8 ceiling lights that use low energy GE CFL 23 watts bulbs. Over the last 2 years, at least 18 of them have failed. GE claims that each one should last about 8 years before failure.

Here’s a selection of the burned out ones I kept:

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27 Responses to The myth of the long lasting CFL light bulb

  1. Dan Whitney says:

    We have a barn that we leave lights running 24/7 and most of our cfl bulbs last 8 or 9 years. That is over 70,000 hours of operation. I think it is harder on them to turn on and off than to just leave them on.

  2. WILLIE HALL says:


  3. Steve says:

    I bought (4) 23 Watt Compact Mini Twister bulbs, the packages says “LASTS 9 YEARS!” 3 out of the 4 stopped functioning after 1 day. 2 are completely dead, the other one turns on when it wants to. I guess I’ll see how long the final bulb lasts.
    Absolute garbage, for a premium price.

  4. Edin says:

    Some people should educate themselves and talk only what they know about.
    Light dimmers DO NOT simply lower the voltage and waste the rest of the energy as heat. If that were the case, your dimmer switch would produce about as much heat as a 60W light bulb when lowering the light by about 50% for a 100W bulb. That may have been true prior to thyristors (SCR and TRIAC), but not for the last 50+ years.
    THYRISTOR-based dimmers work like switches, except that they turn on and off 120 times per second, and you change the amount of light by simply changing the ratio between on and off times. You don’t notice this in an incandescent light bulb because of its thermal inertia; the filament simply can’t change its temperature that fast, and it gives you an average of the energy supplied; thus no flicker.
    A TRIAC-based dimmer typically wastes less than 5 percent of the energy flowing through it, because it drops about 1.2 volts across when it is on. With a 100W light bulb (0.83 amperes at 120 volts), that means about 1W when fully lit.
    When you drop the amount of light to about half, your dimmer still wastes around 1W or only slightly more: you ARE saving about half the energy your light bulb typically uses.

  5. Elo McMillan says:

    Lets face it. We the public have been scammed. I changed about 50 incandescent bulbs to CFLs 5-7 years ago. I bought them at Walmart and Home Depot. More than half of them have failed. I hate to have junk in my house so I did some internet research and found that CFLs were not properly researched before being legislated in to being by President Bush. They contain mercury and other toxic substances and have to be taken to a disposal facility when they fail. My daughter gets a wicked headache when she sits anywhere near one of these so they must be emitting some serious EMFs. Yesterday I changed a 28 year old incandescent at my mother- in- law’s house with another incandescent. I installed it when I built her bathroom back then so I know it was original. I am currently removing all my CFL bulbs and replacing them with Incandescents.

  6. Rand McNulty says:

    GE CFL bulbs are absolute junk. GE products used to be known for quality. Now “General Electric” stands for dreck made in China. That goes not only for these overpriced crap bulbs, but for their appliances, too. Their refrigerators are a joke. China sells everyone junk, and everyone buys because it’s cheap.

    And why CFL? Because incandescents “waste energy”. Thanks, Al Gore. I am sure saving a lot of energy driving to and fro to Home Depot to return these blasted CFLs. After which they’ll get thrown in a landfill and pollute some kid’s drinking water with mercury.

    The environmentalists strike again.

  7. Bert Jones says:

    About a year ago I bought 2 lamp fittings from B&Q. each with 3 CFL 11w bulbs. They have all failed, and now B&Q do not stock them so can’t be replaced under the guarantee.

  8. james says:

    utter crap I have a box full of Phillips cfl bulbs stating 10 year life and only lasted about two years each.

  9. gerry says:

    I have date stamped all my low energy bulbs and apart from 2 none last anywhere near their stated hours. It is about half when I work out the hours. Just totally crap and very expensive to replace. Thank god China still make the old type of bulb. I am changing back to our old reliable and cost effective bulbs. They work and they last.

  10. David says:

    15 watt or lower cfl should be used if the base is up otherwise the heat from the bulb will cause the base to get too hot and die prematurely.

  11. Don B says:

    CFL’s are junk. Electronic ballasts are junk – that’s why. Now, if these were constructed of quality materials, we would have another story. But they’re not – they’re built with bottom-of-the-barrel components, and they’re built in China–almost exclusively; with what amounts to labor-camp labor. Doesn’t that make you feel good, America? Of course, most Americans are so dumb, as long as they “can’t see it from their house”, they don’t give a rip.

    You will see the same failure issues with LED bulbs, but not to the CFL extent; because their firing voltage is far lower, at least as long as there is are very few LED elements in a “bulb”, or if they’re wired in parallel in the case of many elements. If there are many elements, wired in series, then you will see the same issues. The higher-frequencies used to eliminate flicker and increase efficiency, coupled with higher voltages, are hard on poorly-engineered and -built electronic ballast components. These devices typically produce large amounts of RF interference, as well, which can adversely affect many communications devices. Just place an AM radio anywhere near one while it’s operating for a good demonstration of this.

    And this whole idea of “saving” energy? Who’s kidding who? Where are you going to “save” it? In 100,000 acre battery or capacitor complexes? Let’s get real. Yes, it could help reduce the necessity to build new power plants, or provide the additional unused capacity of existing plants to large customers – i.e., corporate, military, and government entities. But it’s certainly not being “saved” ANYWHERE.

    Get the picture?

  12. craig swift says:

    The most common part failure of a CFL is the ballast, or power supply, mounted in the base. Prior to 2000 the ballasts were magnetic that’s why they are lasting as designed; after 2000 they are electronic which is why they aren’t. While “low end” components are used CFLs should last the estimated life claimed.
    The problem is that the electronic ballast is a form of Switching Mode Power Supply (SMPS). SMPSs are in almost every electric device built today. Because of the way they work, SMPSs don’t work well when near other SMPSs; especially ones that switch at the same frequency as in CFL electronic ballasts. A cool white of any brand will switch at about the same frequency.
    Think of the switching as the pop or crackling noise you hear on an AM radio when an incandescent bulb is turned on. Now switch that light on a few hundred or thousand times a second. That radio won’t survive very long. It’s a simplified explaination for the difficult subject distorted power aka harmonics. And it doesn’t end with CFLs. Ever wonder why a CD/DVD blank disc doesn’t copy right or your monitor/TV dies right after the warranty runs out or the Super Bowl went 1/2 dark? Harmonics. Unfortunately most electrical engineers don’t believe it.

  13. JohnM says:

    I’ve have been buying CFL’s since the 1980’s. These from the 1990s are going strong. So much so that I can’t get then to fail. The CFLs from the 2000’s, however have mostly burned out. They worked great, until the accountants started removing cost. It’s the old, story of analyzing the worn out product, find what is still working, and make that part cheaper. the result is a slow steady decline in total product durability,

  14. Walt says:

    We have enjoyed similar disappointments with the compact cfl bulbs. I have taken a few back to home depot and they give me free replacements which also fail. It is frustrating; the hype claims long life and low energy use; reality- not long life but if you have a failure, they don’t consume energy. I would like to see Consumer protection agencies go after the mfgs for false marketing claims. It makes it difficult to be green when the bulbs keep failing.

  15. janet says:

    Had the pub refurbished 2010/11. Put in low energy bulbs as advised. Countless have gone phuttt – at vast expense. Will be contacting Trading Standards, as bulbs claim to last for 8 to 10 years……and cost enough that they should! Also – light much lower in strength – which in a low-ceilinged old pub and accomodation above, in a village with no street lighting, takes us back to medieval times!! Candles would be cheaper!!! Janet Kirk, The Fox & HOunds, Uffington SN7 7RP

  16. Jason says:

    I moved into a home 2 years ago that was fully converted to CFL bulbs. I’m continuously replacing them and they include a mix of brands and models. From what I’ve read, there seems to be no question in the market that the CFL does not live up to advertised claims.
    I believe the reality of it is that perhaps the bulb itself could last for the advertised period, but the power supply embedded in each unit does not. These power supplies include a small circuit board that contains a number of extremely low end components that are known in the electronics industry to be used for short life time products such as toys. The power supplies are needed to convert the power from the 120V connection to a voltage that is appropriate for CFL bulbs and I honestly believe the power supply is the bulk of the cost in manufacturing a CFL bulb. If the issue is with the power supply and not the bulb itself, I suspect the tradeoff to improving the issue is that if a manufacturer actually used components that could last the life time of the bulb, the cost would greatly multiply.

  17. alphalights says:

    CFL lights are pointless despite all the rumours. If you want light bulbs to last you need to research and purchase the correct types of light bulbs for your environment.

  18. Ricky Nelson says:

    I bought 16 CFC bulbs in 2007. I also bought about 100 of the incandescent Halco long lasting bulbs. A 4 pack of CFC bulbs cost $11.99 and a 4 pack of the Halco long lasting bulbs cost $6.99. I have 32 light fixtures in my house. I put 16 CFC bulbs and the Halco bulbs side by side so they would burn at the same hours. I noticed very little decrease in my electric bill.. Both made claims they would last 10,000 hours. Now, over five years later 15 of the 16 Halco bulbs are still burning and only 6 of the 16 CFC bulbs are still burning. I am replacing all the burned out bulbs with the Halco bulbs because any savings on electricity are more than eaten up by the cost of the CFC bulbs and the fact that they burn out faster than the Halco bulbs. The CFC bulbs also contain mercury which could not be a good thing and they emit an awful odor sometimes when they burn out. I saw 2 of them smoke right before burning out.

  19. CFL Crap Failure Lies says:

    I have a bucket of various brands all dead and waiting for the recycling nightmare.
    All were in fittings with ample air circulation, and were not frequent on and off scenarios.These bulbs are a scam.The premature failure rate of all brands is over 50%.
    I am going to convert our home to fluoro tubes.Long type and some circular in a few spots.
    When LED comes good and China gets its act together I may change tacks,but for now my evidence is empirical Never buy CFL globes.They are NOT an green or economical choice, at either end of their cycle.

  20. hsauro says:

    That is a possibility but they are open on the downside.

  21. Steve says:

    Are the ceiling lights enclosed? the lack of ventilation will kill cfls and leds faster than normal…

  22. 6500k cfl says:

    it’s very common. GE or other supplier usually stated that their cfl buls has 8 years life span.
    but this number is based on theory. And in fact, because of the different way of usage, unsteady voltage, the actual life can not reach what they promise. Is your lamp the ? I like 2700k color temperature

  23. Randall says:

    I have had the same problem and know of tons of others with the same short life of CFL!! They are not worth the effort!! I have incandescent bulbs that have out lasted all my CFL bulbs!!
    @ Vanessa you cant use a dimmer on a Fluorescent light! But yes a dimmer doesnt save any electricity! It only lowers the voltage and dissipates the extra as heat!

    Anyone find some CFL that do last please tell us what brand they are!!

    Randall – WW5RM

  24. hsauro says:

    The wiring is completely new. I think it is a combination of poor quality bulbs and overheating.

  25. George H. says:

    I never had this problem with my CFL light bulbs. I think you should check your house’s wiring. There might be a problem there. Or you could buy a different brand.

  26. Vanessa says:

    As far as I’m concerned there’s no need to use low eengry bulbs with a dimmer because they’re so dim already. Dimmer switches are themselves consumers of eengry.We’ve had discussions about this before, but it’s probably worth going over the same ground again because organisations like Greenpeace are being so dogmatic about the whole issue.I really wanted to use CFLs and I have honestly tried to learn to love them, but they are in most circumstances just crap. I acknowledge that technically an 11W CFL may give out the same number of lumens as a 60W bad’ bulb, but in use there is a significant difference in the quality of light which makes CFLs unusable for many kinds of normal domestic activity. Unfortunately, I doubt if I would qualify to obtain incandescent bulbs on prescription from my doctor, which is Greepeace’s helpful suggestion to cater for continued use.I shall do all I can to oppose the bully-boy tactics of Greenpeace and others on this issue. Anyway, since my electricity comes from a 100% renewable supplier, changing my bulbs will make no difference to my carbon footprint. It may of course make me blind, so I won’t need lights at all.

  27. veera says:

    amazing magic The myth of the long lasting CFL light bulb
    Hydrogen for cars

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