By Leora Broydo Vestel, NYT
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I have been using CFL bulbs for over two years and have not had one fail yet. This is certainly disconcerting as poor quality and defects may keep potential buyers away thereby leading to higher energy consumption. Thanks Tom P. for sending this.
SAN FRANCISCO — It sounds like such a simple thing to do: buy some new light bulbs, screw them in, save the planet.
But a lot of people these days are finding the new compact fluorescent bulbs anything but simple. Consumers who are trying them say they sometimes fail to work, or wear out early. At best, people discover that using the bulbs requires learning a long list of dos and don’ts.
Take the case of Karen Zuercher and her husband, in San Francisco. Inspired by watching the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” they decided to swap out nearly every incandescent bulb in their home for energy-saving compact fluorescents. Instead of having a satisfying green moment, however, they wound up coping with a mess.
“Here’s my sad collection of bulbs that didn’t work,” Ms. Zuercher said the other day as she pulled a cardboard box containing defunct bulbs from her laundry shelf.
One of the 16 Feit Electric bulbs the Zuerchers bought at Costco did not work at all, they said, and three others died within hours. The bulbs were supposed to burn for 10,000 hours, meaning they should have lasted for years in normal use. “It’s irritating,” Ms. Zuercher said.
Experts say the quality problems are compounded by poor package instructions. Using the bulbs incorrectly, such as by screwing low-end bulbs into fixtures where heat is prone to build up, can greatly shorten their lives.
Some experts who study the issue blame the government for the quality problems, saying an intensive federal push to lower the price essentially backfired by encouraging manufacturers to use cheap components.
In California, where bulbs have been heavily encouraged, utilities have concluded that they will not be able to persuade a majority of consumers to switch until compact fluorescents get better. That is prompting them to develop specifications for a better bulb.
The effort aims to address the most consumer complaints: poor dimming, slow warm-up times, shortened bulb life because of high temperatures inside enclosed fixtures, and dissatisfaction with the color of the light.
“Because of the aggressive goals in California, we have to be pushing the envelope at all times,” said Roland Risser, director of customer efficiency at Pacific Gas and Electric.
Experts and bulb manufacturers say that consumers need to play a role in solving the problems by learning more about the limitations of compact fluorescent bulbs. The Federal Trade Commission has begun to study whether it should force improvements in the labels of the bulbs.
Better labels might have helped the Zuerchers, the San Francisco couple. Initially, they put regular compact fluorescents in virtually every socket in their home, including enclosed ceiling lamps, dimmable fixtures and areas where lights are turned on and off frequently.