Compact Florescent Lifespan
July 10, 2008 7:51 AM   Subscribe

My family's been wanting to upgrade to compact florescent for years, but we've always found they burn out quickly thanks to our flaky power surges. Would dimmable bulbs be helpful, or is there some sort of inexpensive power conditioning that can be added to light sockets?

My family tries to be environmentally friendly, but we've yet to completely switch over to compact florescents. This is because our most used rooms, like the kitchen and the living room, have a lot of power surges on their circuits, thanks to things like the air conditioner and refrigerator coming on, and possibly surges from the power company itself. For our electronics, we use surge protectors, and they definitely extend the life of those items. Is there a way I can add this to a lightbulb socket without much work?

Also, our local hardware store has finally started carrying dimable lights. This is a boon to us, because the contractor who built our house seemed to love dimmers. However, I'm wondering if because dimmable lights are made to tolerate voltage changes, can they also handle a few quick power surges/brown outs? Would we be smarter to get dimmable lights for our regular sockets than trying to deal with power conditioning?

Also, we're worried about hiring an electrician, as we don't have much money free at the moment. There is probably something not quite right with the wiring in the house, but it seems to only hurt kitchen appliances not on surge protectors and florescent bulbs.

PS: We tend to stick to big brands, like Sylvania and Philips. The cheap ones seem to die way faster.
posted by mccarty.tim to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps one of these
posted by zeoslap at 8:18 AM on July 10, 2008

Note that it's a bad idea to use standard CFLs in the dimmer sockets.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:21 AM on July 10, 2008

@Zeoslap: Perhaps. But I think a lot of the surges come from inside the house as well, such as when the fridge or the air conditioning or a vacuum turns on. The regular lights go dim when such things turn on, especially if they're on the same circuit. Would a whole-house surge suppressor help with that as well? Also, is it hard to install without the help of an electrician?
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:22 AM on July 10, 2008

@sebastien: I know that, but thanks for reminding me. My mom installed one in a dimmer and lost it, so she learned the hard way. It died in 30 seconds. I only install them in standard sockets.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:23 AM on July 10, 2008

When you say that the CFLs burn out quickly, is there a pattern? Does this happen both in table lamps and ceiling fixtures?

Also, do you use them in recessed or enclosed track fixtures? Fluorescent bulbs don't tend to last long in these fixtures because of heat dissipation issues: CFLs perform best in open fixtures that allow airflow, such as table and floor lamps, wall sconces, pendants, and outdoor fixtures. Note that you

posted by SteveInMaine at 8:44 AM on July 10, 2008

Oops, I slipped...

Note that you can buy compact fluorescent bulbs especially made for recessed fixtures.
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:45 AM on July 10, 2008

We had a similar problem in our old (as in "we don't live there any more" as well as "over 100 years in age") house, one light fixture wouldn't work, and 'normal' CFLs from Costco would fail quickly.

Solution: Philips dimmable CFLs (from Home Depot). All fixtures worked, no early failures.
posted by lowlife at 9:03 AM on July 10, 2008

You should buy a low-end UPS (uninterruptible power supply) from, say, APC -- they should be ~$40 at an office supplies store. Almost any UPS should do a good job at smoothing out the power surges.
posted by progressor at 2:07 PM on July 10, 2008

progressor: You should buy a low-end UPS (uninterruptible power supply) from, say, APC -- they should be ~$40 at an office supplies store. Almost any UPS should do a good job at smoothing out the power surges.

I really, really don't think that is true. In particular, I think most $40 units are in truth standby power supplies, rather than true uninterpretable power supplies - see APC's own white paper on UPSs.

lowlife: We had a similar problem in our old [...] Solution: Philips dimmable CFLs (from Home Depot). All fixtures worked, no early failures.

As with UPS, the term "dimmable CFL" is ambiguous. There are true dimming ballasts (note that white paper design requires a special dimming input signal - not in your normal household wiring scheme), and there are CFLs simply built to 'withstand' dimming (though you might not get a full range of light levels, and other problems). It seems likely that the later are designed and built more robustly, and should therefor withstand other stresses better. "Other stresses" would include both surges and increased heat, of course..

In my experience, the surge suppression problem is highly overblown, and I think SteveInMaine is on the right track. Nonetheless, dimmable CFLs may still be an answer (though I've never tried it myself, and without knowing the specifics of a given design trial and error is all we have to go on).
posted by Chuckles at 8:27 PM on July 10, 2008

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