Compact Fluorescent Lifetime in Household Use

Summary

Compact fluorescent lamps save little or no money when used for standard household evening lighting, and they are ecologically more costly than equivalent incandescent lamps. Government regulations to force their use everywhere are counterproductive with both financial and environmental accounting. Expensive brands seem to do no better than economy brands. High power lamps have much shorter lifetimes than advertised. Since early 2014, prices have gone up and lifetimes have been falling sharply.

Details

Ontarians are being ordered to stop using 'wasteful' incandescent light bulbs and to use solely 'green' compact fluorescents. We are told that their higher initial cost will be repaid in lower energy costs and a greener planet.

Really? Well, not for lamps used for ordinary household lighting, only for plant lights and similar uses.

First, we need real data on lamp life, not the fictitious ratings being touted by manufacturers based on idealized operation in their own laboratories. Here's data on the lamps that have failed for me since November 2005, when I moved into my current house and started keeping an accurate record of the lamps I installed there. I'm an empty nester, and tend to get up and go to bed with the sun, so my lamp usage per day will probably be less than yours, except for my inside kitchen with no windows and my wall of aquariums.

TypeRated HoursActual Hours%use
GE FLE7/2/CAM/827 7W60002190036510 hr/day aquarium
Rona Ultramini 9W60001906031810 hr/day aquarium
GE Biax 5W60001589026510 hr/day aquarium
Rona Ultramini 9W60001406023410 hr/day aquarium
GE Biax 5W60001240020610 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 13W100001961019610 hr/day aquarium
GE FLE7/2/CAM/827 7W60001160019310 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 13W60001160019310 hr/day aquarium
Rona Ultramini 9W60001079017910 hr/day aquarium
Rona Ultramini 9W60001015016910 hr/day aquarium
Philips EL/mdT 11W100001670016710 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 13W6000997016610 hr/day aquarium
Globe 13W6000867014410 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 9W6000854014210 hr/day aquarium
Philips EL/mdT 11W6000742012310 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 9W6000730012110 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 9W600053909010 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 13W1000088208810 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 13W1000085208510 hr/day aquarium
Philips EL/mdT 11W1000082008210 hr/day aquarium
Globe BH4505 26W60004500758 hr/day kitchen
Rona 13W1200090007510 hr/day aquarium
Niagara TPN0413M 13W1200079906710 hr/day aquarium
Niagara TPN0413M 13W1200079106610 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 9W1000055705610 hr/day aquarium
Sylvania CF23EL 23W120006648558 hr/day kitchen
Rona UltraMini 13W600032805510 hr/day aquarium
GE 20W FLE20TT3/8271500080005310 hr/day aquarium
Globe 23W100004072418 hr/day kitchen
Rona UltraMini 13W1000040404010 hr/day aquarium
GE 20W FLE20TT3/8271500059003910 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 9W1000034103410 hr/day aquarium
Philips EL/mdT 11W100003353331 hr/day hallway
Sylvania CF23EL 23W120003688318 hr/day kitchen
Philips EL/mdT 27W100002964301 hr/day basement
Rona UltraMini 13W1200036003010 hr/day aquarium
Philips EL/mdT 27W100002767281 hr/day basement
Globe 9W1200032002710 hr/day aquarium
Rona UltraMini 13W1000025202510 hr/day aquarium
Globe 9W1200029602510 hr/day aquarium
Rona 13W1200029202410 hr/day aquarium
Noma FLE26HT3/23100002422241 hr/day basement
Philips EL/mdT 27W100002192221 hr/day basement
Noma FLE26HT3/23100001879191 hr/day basement
Rona UltraMini 13W1000016401610 hr/day aquarium
Philips ELJdT 42W1200017801510 hr/day plants
Rona UltraMini 13W6000919151 hr/day basement
Philips Marathon 27W100001200121 hr/day basement
Rona T2 13W1200011801010 hr/day aquarium
Philips EL/mdT 15W800070090.5 hr/day stairs
Rona T2 13W120001070910 hr/day aquarium
Rona T2 13W120001090910 hr/day aquarium
Globe UltraMini 13W600040770.2 hr/day bathroom
Luminus 13W 2913-E031000060062 hr/day bedroom
Globe Ultramini 9W600030050.2 hr/day hallway
Rona 13W12000389310 hr/day aquarium

Now we can calculate the dollar savings to actually expect. First, the average 1000 hr incandescent lamp produces 14 lumens/watt, the average compact fluorescent 60 lumens/W. So, each watt to a compact fluorescent saves 3.3 watts compared to an incandescent. Home electricity in Ottawa Ontario costs 12c/KWH (mid-2009, GST and kWh-derived costs included). Electricity used within our homes during our heating season saves on home heating fuel, but adds to air conditioning costs during the summer. The length of the heating season is 7 months in Ottawa, the cooling season 2 months, so this factor will slightly decrease the energy savings calculated below.

Standard 60 W incandescent lamps cost $0.92 (taxes included) and last 1000 hours, so a fluorescent lamp that lasts 8000 hours saves $7.36 in replacement cost.

TypeHoursCostKWH savedlamps savednet savinguse
Rona UltraMini 13W196002.8058219.685.1310 hr/day
Philips EL/mdT 11W167005.6960616.782.4210 hr/day
Rona Ultramini 9W190603.2056619.182.2610 hr/day
GE FLE7/2/CAM/827 7W219003.9950121.976.8710 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 13W11602.8049711.667.5110 hr/day
Sylvania CF23EL 23W66485.705056.661.028 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 9W140603.2041814.159.8510 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 13W99702.804271057.6410 hr/day
Rona 13W90002.793869.051.8210 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 13W98202.803788.850.7310 hr/day
Globe 13W86702.803728.749.8010 hr/day
GE 20W FLE20TT3/827800021.79528848.9310 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 13W85202.803658.548.9010 hr/day
Niagara TPN0413M 13W7990free3438.048.4810 hr/day
Niagara TPN0413M 13W7910free3397.948.0010 hr/day
Globe BH4505 26W45004.373864.546.108 hr/day
Rona Ultramini 9W107902.8032010.845.5910 hr/day
Rona Ultramini 9W101503.2016910.142.3110 hr/day
GE Biax 5W158903.9926215.942.0910 hr/day
GE FLE7/2/CAM/827 7W116003.9926811.638.8410 hr/day
Philips EL/mdT 11W82005.692988.237.5710 hr/day
Globe 23W40724.713094.136.128 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 9W85402.802548.535.5010 hr/day
Philips EL/mdT 11W74205.692697.433.4510 hr/day
GE Biax 5W124003.9920412.431.9710 hr/day
Sylvania CF23EL 23W36885.702803.731.308 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 13W55702.802395.631.0010 hr/day
GE 20W FLE20TT3/827590021.793895.930.3710 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 9W73002.802177.329.9610 hr/day
Philips EL/mdT 27W29644.652643.029.771 hr/day
Philips EL/mdT 27W27674.652372.826.381 hr/day
Noma FLE26HT3/2324225.082102.422.461 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 9W53903.201605.420.9710 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 13W40404.141734.020.7410 hr/day
Philips EL/mdT 27W21924.651952.220.741 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 13W36004.141543.617.7010 hr/day
Philips ELJdT 42W178014.682471.816.5610 hr/day
Noma FLE26HT3/2318804.581611.916.491 hr/day
Rona T2 13W29202.791252.914.9310 hr/day
Philips EL/mtD 11W33532.791223.414.901 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 9W34103.201013.412.0910 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 9W32803.20973.311.6110 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 13W25204.141082.511.1510 hr/day
Globe 9W32003.20953.211.1510 hr/day
Globe 9W29603.20882.910.0710 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 13W16404.14701.65.8110 hr/day
Rona T2 13W11802.80501.24.3710 hr/day
Rona T2 13W10902.80471.13.8210 hr/day
Rona T2 13W10702.79461.13.7010 hr/day
Rona T2 13W3892.80170.40.3610 hr/day
Luminus 13W 2913-E036003.41260.60.232 hr/day
Philips Marathon 27W12004.50301.20.171 hr/day
Globe UltraMini 13W4073.20170.4-0.720.2 hr/day
Philips EL/mdT 15W7005.69350.7-0.880.5 hr/day
Rona UltraMini 13W9192.8030.9-1.611 hr/day
Globe Ultramini 9W3002.8090.3-1.450.2 hr/day

As you can see, the less the daily use, the less money is saved. That's because turning a fluorescent light on causes at least as much wear on the lamp as an hour of running.

The Sylvania CF23EL lamp package featured the statements, "Save $184 in energy costs", and "Lasts 11 Years!". The statements are misleading because both can't be achieved with the same lamp. If the lamp is used few enough hours per day that it reaches 11 years, the total hours will be so short that the savings will be minimal. If it is used under the laboratory conditions that achieve the savings quoted, the lifetime will be far shorter than 11 years. My actual lifetimes for the pair, used base up in a standard kitchen fixture for an average of 8 hours/day, were 1.3 and 2.1 years, the total energy cost saving $92.32

Modern compact fluorescents weigh twice as much as an incandescent of similar lumen output (the earliest ones weighed up to ten times as much) and the materials of which they are made are more toxic, so the environmental costs of production and disposal per bulb are higher. Not only is there mercury in them, the phosphors exposed when the glass is broken in a landfill are even more toxic than the mercury.

In short, compact fluorescent lamps save little if any money when used for standard evening household lighting, and they are ecologically more costly than equivalent incandescent lamps. They should only be used when left on for many hours at a time. Government regulations to force their use everywhere are counterproductive with both financial and environmental accounting.

I'm now replacing failed lamps with LEDs, that claim 20% higher efficiency and double the lifetime. When I get enough data, I'll report on them.

John Sankey