Let There Be (New) Light


To give you an idea of just how much of a dork I am, for the last two weeks I’ve been impatiently waiting for the light bulb in my desk lamp to burn out so I could put in this bulb, a compact fluorescent bulb whose manufacturer (you know, the one that builds defense systems — and airs Will and Grace!), declares that it will last at least ten times as long as any normal bulb. Well, we’ll just see about that, I thought. But I had to wait until the then-current bulb burned out because unscrewing it and putting in a new one when this old one hadn’t popped its filament was just wasteful and wrong. Now, for a moment, let us consider the sort of magical-yet-entirely-insane thinking that occurs in my brain that allows me to buy a new, $1,800 computer because I’m bored with looking at the old one, yet forbids me to throw out a 60-cent light bulb because it’s not used up all the way. Honestly, why the hell I’m allowed to spend anything more than pocket change is totally beyond me.

Be that as it may, today was the big day — at around 5pm, that most recent example of Edison’s Big Idea finally gave up the ghost, and with precipitate glee I removed it from its post and screwed this new one in — my first alternate lighting choice. And indeed, it works as advertised; despite being fluorescent, the light it gives off is about as "warm" as any incandescent bulb you might choose to think of, and when the lampshade is on the lamp the office is bathed in the same generally mellow glow I got out of wave after wave of 40-to-60-watt lightbulbs (this one, by comparison, uses a mere 13 watts). Naturally, it’s too early to tell whether it will last ten times as long as a normal bulb, but I’ve got the stopwatch on it. We’ll see, won’t we.

One of the things I find deeply amusing about this bulb (aside from its appearance, which is in fact decidedly un-bulblike) is that GE guarantees the bulb for five years, and if the bulb does burn out before then, why, you can get your money back. Just remember to stash away the bulb’s UPC code and register receipt, so you can mail them to GE. I’m trying to imagine the universe in which I of all people keep both of these things at the ready, waiting for the merest hint of product failure before November 18, 2010. I imagine in this alternate universe I also have a thick mane of wavy chestnut hair and a giant talking puma named Jo-Jo, whom I ride sidesaddle in my job as Chief Leprechaun Catcher for the state of Ohio. Those damn Leprechauns and their stupid pots of gold. They’re a plague, I tell you.

I am in fact passing curious as to how many people actually take up GE on the offer, and how many of these people genuinely have the bulb go out early. The five years guarantee is based on four hours of usage daily, which seems a little skimpy to me, since I clicked on the new light at five and it’s 1:30 am now, and that’s a not unusual work day for my lamp this time of year. I can just imagine some thrifty fellow using the bulb six hours a day and then sending back his UPC and receipt three and a half years in, and thinking he’s gotten away with something. Naturally I find this sort of warranty abuse appalling. I shall set Jo-Jo upon him. Then we’ll see who is clever.

33 Comments on “Let There Be (New) Light”

  1. Actually, I know a few who should. The house lights in our building, all now the GE compacts, are exposed to extreme cold in the winter and plugged into some of the shoddiest wiring I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s a wonder my PC doesn’t blow u-

  2. Jim: when you buy a new computer and read this: heh.

    John: warranties on inexpensive things are cheap advertising, because few people will take you up on your warranty. You could claim that your bulb blew out early without a receipt, because GE probably won’t question it. What’s in it for them to wrangle about whether or not a $10 lightbulb (or whatever it cost) burned out within its warranty period? Almost nobody is going to keep their receipts, or keep track of how old their bulbs are – I couldn’t tell you how old the ones we have are, for example – and very few people are going to try to collect on the warranty for the same reason. It’s only a $10 bulb, they’ll say, it’s not worth the hassle.

    It’s like mail-in rebates. Manufacturers use them because they actually cost less than a price reduction due to the fact that only something like half of the eligible rebates are will be sent in. A $30 rebate thus costs them, on average, less than $15.

  3. Compact Fluorescent are nice and efficient, but I don’t usually use them for task lighting. Over time, they’ll start to flicker, an effect more pronounced if you’ve also got a CRT monitor flickering nearby. I use the fluorescent for general or overhead lighting, and for task lighting I use a screw-base halogen bulb. The halogens are nice because they fit in any standard light socket, they give about 10% more light than a standard bulb, they last 2-3x as long as a standard bulb, and they don’t run any hotter. It’s also a cleaner, whiter light than fluorescent or standard incandescent, and it won’t flicker (though it might buzz if you put it on a dimmer). (I geek out on this stuff because I used to sell lighting.)

    But the compact fluorescents are nice. We moved into our current apartment a little over 2 years ago, and I changed all the overhead lights to CF bulbs. So far, only one of them has burned out. (And no, I didn’t keep the UPC or receipt).


  4. We use compacts everywhere. They do burn out much sooner than 5 years – but then, when I say “everywhere”, I should explain that I work on a farm and we use them in our milking shed and our 90% humidity cheese coolers. They only explode, like, every year or so, which is a way better track record than anything else.

    As for the shape… when we’re being polite, we call them pig-tails. Otherwise, we refer to another portion of the pig’s anatomy which happens to be corkscrew-shaped….

  5. I use them for outdoor lighting. With incandescent, it seemed I was changing a lightbulb every week. I’ve only changed one outdoor compact since we switched over. Plus, Costco (and probably Sam’s Club, too) sells them for about half the normal price.

  6. We use compact flourescents all over the house. They definitely last longer than incandescants but not 5 years. We blow bulbs like mad though – when we put a meter on an outlet it consistently shows that Edison drives too much current around here – as high as 118 watts and that doesn’t do good things for anything electrical. One more reason to use GOOD surge supressors on any electronic equipment not just the $10 ones from the hardware store.

  7. You feel silly waiting for one light bulb to burn out? I recently bought a three-pack of those compact flourescent bulbs, you know, to use when other bulbs burned out. when I went to put them in the cupboard where we store things like spare light bulbs, I discovered that I already have over a dozen spare incandescent light bulbs there. I may not even get to use these babies within the warranty period.

  8. ‘sidesaddle’?

    No, you have to ride astride with pumas – the shoulder blades play merry hell with feminine saddles. You want all those Leprechauns to laugh at you?

  9. Cut out the UPC and tape it and the receipt to the bottom of the lamp, where nobody can see it and where you’ll forget it even exists until a week after you throw out the dead bulb.

    And GE has spies they send around to make sure you don’t go over the 4 hour daily limit.


  10. Stuart MacBride:

    “You want all those Leprechauns to laugh at you?”

    Well, see. That’s part of the technique.

  11. I moved into my current place three years ago, put these bulbs in almost every outlet (kinda pricey, that), and have only had to change one out so far, and that was one I allowed to burn too much and too wastefully. So they do last longer than your average bulb by a healthy margin. We’ll see which ones go two more years to make the five.

  12. OK, you’ve convinced me to give compact fluorescents another try. When they first came out I found the light to be too, well, fluorescent. I’m very sensitive when it comes to wierd lighting, evidently my eyes don’t adjust well to anything new. Or maybe it was an imperceptable flicker from the eco-bulbs.

  13. John – I’ve got a bunch of the compact fluorescent types, including one I’ve been running almost continously for 2+ years now. I’ve never blown one (apparently ComEd is giving me decent power). Well worth the money.

  14. All of our lights are compact fluorescents here, and just by making sure things that were in use were not left open and these lights we saved about 250$ a year in electricity bills. And we’re in Quebec were electricity is between 50% and 75% less expensive than in the right of North-America, so someone living somewhere else would save a lot more AND pollute less since in most of the rest of N-A electricity is partly produced by coal (here it’s mostly hydro and wind).

  15. I’ve had several CF bulbs for about five years and haven’t had to replace any yet. The only thing I don’t like (and maybe they’ve fixed this now) is the lag time between when you turn the lamp on and when the bulb actually starts putting out light. Still, it certainly saves on electricity…

  16. Fluoresent bulbs are a bona fide bright idea, and are and have been the way to go for light years already, so congradulations. All my left-over incandescent bulbs I intend to sell as antiques someday, just like everybody else. My incandescent bulbs have been running close to 2 years already. And the fluoresent bulbs cost way less than before. They’re not subject to vibrations as much as the incandesent should the stems work themselves loose. I actually wasn’t expecting that the fluoresent bulbs would last long enough to save money over cheaper incandesecnt replacements, but they already have recouped the cost. The reason I switched to fluoresent was that the only way you know for certain incandesecnt bulbs don’t now work, is by turning on the light switch and hearing them pop, which usually happens in the morning or coming back from work….inconvenient and all that.

  17. “As for the shape… when we’re being polite, we call them pig-tails. Otherwise, we refer to another portion of the pig’s anatomy which happens to be corkscrew-shaped….”


    Okay, So I’m from the city.

  18. CFs are great. I’ve been using them for years, back when a bulb would set you back fifteen bucks. We’ve got them everywhere, including the ceiling fans. We’re even waiting for the globes to burn out in the bathroom so we could get them replaced (2 out of 5 so far).

    Oh, yeah, I love me them CF comment threads.

  19. I’ve got a bunch of CFs installed around the house, but my experience is that they take a few minutes to reach full brightness so they’re better in areas you tend to leave the lights on for a while and not places where you’re only turning them on briefly. OTOH, since they’re so cheap to run, you can just leave them on and not worry about the warmup issue. =)

    What’s extra nice is that they seem brighter and whiter than the bulbs they replace (even at ostensibly the same pseudo-wattage) so waiting those few minutes is worth it.

  20. We have CFs in all our non-dimmed light sockets, and they’re very nice. The best part is, if you have any of those awkward light sockets that say “Max 60 Watt”, but are in a position where more light would be nice, you can slap a brighter CF light in without exceeding the heat/power draw danger thresholds.

  21. I use CF all over my house too, everywhere exexpt my favorie reading spot. One thing you have to watch out for is any inclosed or inverted lighting fixtures with solid tops. Heat will build up and greatly reduce the life-span.

  22. “I’ve got a bunch of CFs installed around the house, but my experience is that they take a few minutes to reach full brightness so they’re better in areas you tend to leave the lights on for a while and not places where you’re only turning them on briefly.”

    Older CFLs were like that, but the new ones with electronically controlled ballasts are pretty instantaneous. I suggest you try some.

  23. Ok, let me get this straight…

    you dream of fantastic hair, OK.
    you want to do something undeniably cool for I living… don’t we all?

    but in your fantasy world you still live in OHIO?!?

  24. I bought a bunch of GE Helical 26W CF’s 2 yrs ago. I was interested to see how long they last; I didn’t believe they would last 5 years, so I wrote the date of purchase + the warranty info on the base of each CF + the cost (only $3 dollars each). Here it is 2 years later 2-16-2006 and I just noticed that my first CF burned out. It was in a hallway, so higher use than others, but still only 30 minutes a day at the most. That would be 365 hours use over 2 years. I also wrote on the bulb that the rated hour life = 8000 hours. Looks like that GE Compact Fluorescent 23 watt lasted 5% of the rated life. Now I read that I am supposed to have saved the receipt plus the UPC for 2 years in order to get my $3 bulb replaced. Funny ha ha. Wouldn’t it be nicer if they printed the date of manufacture on the bulb? One other thing I noticed is that these 2 year old GE bulbs take 2 minutes to brighten up all the way when you first turn them on. I bought a replacement Sylvania 23 watt CF today at Aldi’s for $1.99 and it turns on immediately to full brightness. Assume this means that CF’s have gotten cheaper & better in the last 2 years.

  25. For those of you that are waiting for your incandescent bulbs to go out, keep in mind that every second that you use your old bulbs, you are wasting between twice as much energy and five times as much energy as you could be using. For each incandescent bulb that you wait to go out, typically 750 hours of 60 Watts of power drain (assuming a KWH costs about 10 cents) will cost about $4.50. Running a GE 26 Watt CF bulb will cost $1.95 in the same time, meaning that you will lose $2.55 per bulb that you wait to go out.

    Now if you take into account that a CF bulb costs about $0.49 more than an incandescent bulb to purchase per 750 hours that it runs, you are left with $2.06 that you save by putting that bulb in right away.

    This is according to a bunch of random pricing information that I found online, and so feel free to challenge/correct this.

  26. It seems to me me that people just worry about a few bucks in the pocket. The issue of global warming I understand. Please consider that the mercury in these bulbs, bought by a million people will poison the land! we are saving energy but poisoning the food we need as well! Is there anything good for humanity.

  27. Yes CF bulbs contain Mercury, but according to the wikipedia article on compact fluorescent lamps, “coal power plants are the single largest source of mercury emissions into the environment”.

    Thus the mercury in the CF plus the mercury produced by the energy required to light CFs, is less than the mercury produced to light incandescent light bulbs.

    And the article also says that the levels of mercury in CFs are not large enough to pose a hazard to users.

    Answering another question on CFs flickering and taking a while to light up. Modern CFs have electrical ballasts that increase the frequency of the mains power to that of tens of thousands of Hz, making the flickering unnoticeable. And also with electrical ballasts, the light turns on pretty much instantaneously, unlike old fashion magnetic ballasts.

  28. If you buy GE helicals, save the receipts and UPC codes because they do not last anywhere near the 5 years advertised. The longest we have seen one last is over 2 years and the quickest burn out was in just 4 days.

  29. How healthy is it to watch big screen Television with n lights on? Bad habit ofsomeone i know. Shes cut though.

  30. I have had 2 GE FLE20HT3/2/SW burnout, both with a bad smell and burn marks around the leads going into the base. These were both mounted in a ceiling fixture with a square, flat glass shade. Perhaps the shade holds the heat too much. There is a safety issue when they go bad.