What is the Best CFL? Buyer Beware!


CFL bulb

CFL Bulb for Recessed Lighting

I think one of the best ways I can help you know which brand of CFL bulb to buy is to share with you my experience with buying CFLs at the lowest price.  I made this mistake in a very large way and hope that this will help others avoid a similar mistake.

Last year, I decided to upgrade the lighting in my home from incandescent bulbs to CFLs.  This was a challenge since I have recessed lighting, chandeliers and outdoor lanterns.  Altogether, this is close to 100 bulbs to upgrade.

I started with the recessed lighting.  The incandescent flood lights in my home were rated at 65 watts.  I made a trip to a large discount retailer and found a great price on Lights of America CFL recessed flood bulbs rated at 16 watts that should be the equivalent lighting output of an incandescent 65 watt bulb.  (this was actually printed right on the package)  Even at discount retailer prices, buying dozens of CFLs is not for the penny pincher at heart!

When I got the bulbs home, three were DOA and didn't work at all.  I exchanged them and finished the installation.  After a few weeks, I moved on to replacing all of the candelabra-style bulbs with the same Lights of America brand CFL but shaped like a candle and rated at 7 watts.  I purchased around 40 of these bulbs and two were also DOA and didn't work at all.  I made an exchange trip and installed the last two in one of my chandeliers.

After about 3 months of use, one of the 16 watt recessed lighting bulbs burned out.  Shortly thereafter, two of the candelabra bulbs burned out; one on each chandelier.  This time, I replaced them both with Philips brand CFLs since this is a trusted brand.

Today, less than a year after the original retrofit, I now have three recessed lighting CFLs and two more candelabras burned out.  I just made a trip to a different big box retailer and bought three General Electric Energy Smart 15 watt recessed lighting flood bulbs and installed them.  I discovered that one of the dead bulbs was the new Philips EL/A R30 bulb I had just purchased a few months ago!

An important note to make is that several of the incandescent bulbs I replaced were at least 4 years old and a few had never been replaced since I bought our home in 2003!  I have since spoken with a friend who is an engineer at another large lighting manufacturer and he told me that CFLs don't do well in recessed cans due to ballasts overheating.  If this is true, I question why any trusted brand would carry a CFL bulb built to be placed in a recessed can.

Right now, I have a stack of bulbs for which I will attempt to get warranty replacements.  The Lights of America warranty is two years and the Philips is 7 years.  However, they all require that you have a register receipt and proof of purchase.  Don't ask me if I saved the bar code from the packages.  Who does this for light bulbs?  Who will keep a light bulb register receipt for 7 years?

I'll do a follow-up post with the results of my warranty replacement quest.  Until then, here are the brands and models of CFL bulbs that failed:

Lights of America Model 2915 L 15W 280mA (397) China

Lights of America Model E12 Mini-Decor 7W China

Philips Model EL/A R30 16W 225mA China

So what is the best CFL?  At this point, I can't answer this question.  All I can do for you is provide some advice when purchasing bulbs:

  1. Check the warranty on the bulbs before you buy
  2. Cut out the bar code from the packages and save them with the store receipt in a folder
  3. Consider contacting the manufacturer before buying recessed lighting CFLs.  You may be better off waiting for LEDs to come down in price before replacing these bulbs.

Tell us about your experience with CFL lighting upgrades on the Mapawatt Community.

- The Mapawatt Team

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For most of different brand CFLs, their life span is 6000 or 8000 hours indeed. Usually the warranty manufactures provide is one year.
I've tried Sylvania, Home Depot brand and <a href="" rel="nofollow">GE CFLs</a> and have found that the GE ones do not need replacing as often. They should last at least 15000 hours. Also, GE just came out with an interesting hybrid bulb that incorporates halogen and CFL technology.
I had a CFL burn out in a VERY difficult to reach recessed light in the stairwell. I had installed a CFL there because I had to borrow a ladder to reach it in the first place, and I wanted it to last a long time. When it burned out, I replaced it with an LED bulb, so hopefully I never have to get on that ladder again!

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