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How long can CFLs last?

Consumer Reports News: October 24, 2007 05:17 PM

Our focus recently has been on compact fluorescent lighting, but Consumer Reports has been analyzing lightbulbs for decades, as this photograph from 1965 shows (left). The bulbs in this vintage image were incandescents, but a primary goal of that project was the same as it is for our ongoing testing of energy-saving CFLs: to measure the life span of lightbulbs.

By the end of this month our engineers will have tested five brands of 15-watt mini-spiral CFLs, equivalent to 60-watt incandescent bubs, for about 5,000 hours each. (A typical incandescent bulb lasts 1,000 hours.) The tests will continue until more than 50 percent of the test samples for a given brand have burned out. The process is kind of like the Beckett play “Waiting for Godot," but something is going to happen--really. It might take several more months, however, for the longest-lasting bulbs to expire.

Turning CFLs on and off frequently shortens their life, so our testers, curious as they are, are now running nonstop cycles during which each CFL is on for 5 minutes and then off for the same amount of time. The purpose of the test is to see if any differences in life span exist among CFL brands and to compare the longevity of the different CFLs to that of incandescent bulbs.

(One way to help your CFLs last as long as possible is to install them in fixtures that are typically on for more than 15 minutes at a time or several hours throughout the day, according to the people who run the federal government’s Energy Star program.)

By the way, as I reported last month in this story, Wal-Mart had set a goal of selling 100 million CFLs this year in the U.S. market. The Bentonville Behemoth recently announced that it has surpassed its sales target, with stores in California, Florida  Illinois, Ohio, and Texas ringing up the highest CFL sales.Kimberly Janeway

Essential information: Reduce home energy consumption and start saving hundreds of dollars annually with these 10 easy steps. And see more vintage Consumer Reports testing photographs in our archives.

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