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4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of CFL Bulbs

Energy savings for CFL bulbs may be overstated

Although switching from incandescent light bulbs to modern, energy-efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs is a bright idea that can save money on monthly electric bills, CFL bulbs have taken it on the chin lately for failing to live up to expectations regarding lifespan and energy savings. But while benefits like 75 percent energy savings and lifespans of 10,000 hours are being debated, there are four simple things you can do to make sure you get your money’s worth when using CFL bulbs.

1. Avoid enclosed light fixtures for best performance

The lifespan of CFL bulbs is shortened by heat. If you use them in enclosed light fixtures or recessed lighting, the heat that gets trapped around the bulbs will cause them to operate at higher-than-normal temperatures and burn out faster, according to Roberts Research and Consulting, a lighting technology and consulting firm. If you need to use CFLs in enclosed fixtures, your best bet is to shoot for low-wattage bulbs and use them in cooler parts of your home.

2. CFLs will last longer if you leave them on longer

Although it sounds like exactly the opposite of what you need to do, in order for CFLs to achieve their advertised lifespans, they need to be switched on for a minimum of four hours at a time, says architect and builder Bob Formisano. According to Formisano, if you turn on CFLs for only an hour at a time you can expect a 20 percent to 50 percent reduction in bulb lifespan. And if the CFL bulb is only used for 5 minutes to 30 minutes at a time, you can expect it to last 70 percent to 85 percent less than advertised. Natural Resources Canada suggests leaving CLFs on if you’re returning to the room in 20 minutes or so and recommends considering incandescent bulbs for lights activated by motion sensors.

3. Avoid using CFLs with ceiling fans

Another drawback of normal CFL bulbs is that they’re vulnerable to vibrations and jolts, which means using them in ceiling fans isn’t a good way to extend a bulb’s lifespan. According to Popular Mechanics, even using a CFL bulb in the foyer is a bad idea because its lifespan will be shortened every time your kids slam the front door. There are, however, heavy-duty CFL bulbs that are more resistant to vibration and could make good choices for installing in ceiling fans and near doors.

4. Tape the receipt to the box and keep it

Find out what the return policy is for the CFL bulbs you buy, either from the retailer or manufacturer or both. Consider taping the receipt for the bulbs to their packaging and storing it out of the way somewhere so that you can return the bulbs if they burn out early.


Get Your Money's Worth from Energy-Saving Bulbs,” The Globe and Mail, Aug. 19, 2011.

9/20/2011 8:15:00 AM