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Get your money's worth from energy-saving bulbs Add to ...

Is there anyone else out there who feels ripped off by compact flourescent lamps (CFLs)? You know, the curly, spiral-shaped light bulbs that are 75 per cent more energy-efficient than the traditional incandescent light bulb?

They cost a few dollars a pop, compared with several cents for a traditional light bulb, and never seem to come close to lasting the 10,000 hours or so advertised on the box. Although the outlay is small, I will admit to feeling a bit cheated because they promise so much. (They also contain mercury, and the fact that cleaning up a broken bulb or disposing of a burnt-out bulb is a major production does not endear them to me either.)

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The government, on the other hand, loves them.

The average Canadian home has 30 light fixtures that consume close to $200 of electricity every year, according to Natural Resources Canada. "Replacing just five bulbs with Energy Star-qualified CFLs in high-use areas can save up to $30 a year, depending on location and amount of time used. That means you'll pay off the added cost of the bulbs in less than two years, and they last for at least five. Better still, you won't have to change them as often!" the department says on its website.

Not all users are as enthusiastic. Consumer Reports found that CFLs last 3,000 hours before wearing out, on average. California utility Pacific Gas and Electricity Corp. recently cut its estimates of average bulb lifetimes, from 9.4 years in 2006 to 6.3 years, amid controversial, taxpayer-subsidized CFL sales.

How can you get more out of your swirled light bulbs? Here's what I found:

1.) Don't use them in enclosed light fixtures and recessed lighting, where heat gets trapped around the bulbs. That means they're operating at higher-than-normal temperatures, which makes their lives shorter, according to lighting technology consulting firm Roberts Research and Consulting. If you must place them in enclosed fixtures, aim for low-wattage bulbs in cooler parts of the house.

2.) To get the lifespan advertised on the box, you must leave them switched on for at least for four hours at a time, according to architect and builder Bob Formisano. If they are on for only an hour, you get a 20 per cent to 50 per cent reduction in lamp life, he says, and if the CFL is on for five to 30 minutes at a time, the life is reduced 70 per cent to 85 per cent.

"The lifetime quoted on a CFL is just an average, meaning that 50 per cent of the lamps can and do fail before the stated hours and it can still be considered a valid rating," he adds.

3.) Don't use them in fixtures with ceiling fans or in areas where they are vulnerable to vibrations and jolts. According to Popular Mechanics, the life of a lamp installed in the foyer is likely to be shortened every time you slam the front door. Heavy-duty bulbs are apparently available for spaces such as this.

4.) Remember how your mum always told you to switch off the lights if you were leaving a room? Don't switch CFLs on and off too often -- leave the lights on if you're returning within 20 minutes, says Natural Resources Canada. Similarly, go with old-fashioned incandescent bulbs for that light that is activated by a motion sensor on your porch.

5.) They are also sensitive to voltage fluctuations. If you live in an area where power surges are the norm, your bulbs will burn out faster.

6.) If you have the time, tape the receipt for the bulbs to the packaging. If they burn out early, contact the retailer or manufacturer and ask about the return policy.

I found my research... illuminating. So, maybe using CFLs in the ceiling-fan fixture in our warm kitchen, located directly beneath the bedroom where our boys are always jumping around, is not such a bright idea.

 

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