Best CFL bulbs???????
December 20, 2008 11:18 AM   Subscribe

Which CFL bulbs are the longest lasting and cheapest to buy? I'm concerned about saving money on my electric bill but not worried about mercury content (if lights are broken). Are there any CFL bulb giveaways that are online?
posted by boby to Work & Money (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Wal-Mart has done a lot of research into this as part of their green campaign. They actually sell some of their bulbs at cost in order to get people used to buying CFLs.
posted by Pants! at 11:38 AM on December 20, 2008

Switching to CFL bulbs has, for most people, a minimal immediate impact on your bill. You'd likely be far better off to work on weatherizing (reducing gaps and cracks for airflow) and checking the efficiency of your appliances instead of replacing bulbs. Don't get me wrong - any gesture is a good gesture but there are many things I'd recommend spending money on before lightbulbs.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 11:51 AM on December 20, 2008

Comments like TomSophieIvy's are totally incomprehensible. Sure, you'll save money by weatherizing, but what has that got to do with using more efficient lightbulbs? Here are your options:

You can buy one CFL bulb, a 60 watt equivalent that consumes 13 watts, and has a life expectancy of 10,000 hours. It costs you $7.50 (or probably way less at WalMart or when a local utility has a subsidy program). Say electricity runs you $.15 per kilowatt hour. Over the 10,000-hour life of the bulb, you spend a total of $27: $19.50 for electricity, and $7.50 for the bulb.

OR, you can spend 75 cents for an incandescent bulb with a lifetime of 750 hours. During the 10,000-hour life of the CFL, you would go through 13.3 incandescents for at a total cost of $10. Meanwhile, you consume electricity at 60 watts, not 13, and so your total power cost is $90. Total cost to stick with incandescent: $100.

Savings during the life of one CFL bulb: $80. One bulb.

Yet people like TomSophieIvy still say this has a "minimal impact on your bill," and that it's just "a gesture." Unbelievable.

So, to answer the question and avoid immediate deletion of this rant:

I moved into a new house 2.5 years ago and put in brand new CFLs everywhere. They came from Home Depot and are a brand called Commercial Electric. Some of these are in fixtures that are on 6 hours a day, so they are at about 5500 hours so far. I have had to replace exactly one bulb so far, which obviously falls on the low end of the bell curve. But I don't expect to see many more fail for another couple of years when some of them start to hit the 10,000 hour ballpark. I estimate that I've saved over $500 during this time versus using incandescents. I don't call that minimal, although it's apparently minimal to TomSophieIvy.

I have also heard good things about GE and Philips bulbs.

There are usually no giveaways online, but check with your local electric company. They often have either subsidized pricing at certain local stores (like 99 cent CFLs, usually the 13 watt type), or a catalog or web site where you can order subsidized bulbs.

For those who still have issues with CFL's color spectrum and other perceived flaws, check this comparison test by Popular Mechanics, in which most of the CFLs rated better than the incandescent bulb they were tested against.

As to the mercury content: years from now when the bulbs burn out, recycle them properly--retailers are required to take them back in most places.

Also, it's likely that by the time CFLs installed today burn out, LED lights with a decent indoor spectrum will cost under $10, which means you'll be replacing your 10,000-hour CFL with a 50,000-hour LED that may well outlive you.
posted by beagle at 12:44 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

We have used GE's Energy Smart daylight (very white light, not the soft white that tries to mimic regular incandescent bulbs) with great success for some time. About three years ago we went through our house and replaced every bulb possible--there were some in tall fixtures I couldn't reach with my ladder--with CFLs, and usually the 100W equivalent that consume 24-27W of power. Those same bulbs have been with us for two moves since that and only two have gone out. In our new residence, every bulb has been CFL from the beginning and have worked very well.

We paid about $4.99 for individual bulbs, but now that the daylight/cool white flavor is available in four to seven packs, individual bulb cost has gone down to around $3/ea. Check Costco; they have several varieties of GE-made-but-relabeled CFLs in multipacks which are highly recommended if you're going to replace en masse, and I urge you to do so.
posted by fireoyster at 1:02 PM on December 20, 2008

If you have an IKEA nearby, you can get a pretty great deal on CFLs there. They start up quickly and cast a slightly yellowish light much like incandescents do.
posted by advicepig at 1:15 PM on December 20, 2008

placed in the context of the question (I'm concerned about saving...) my answer was quite reasonable. My job is to talk to people all day about their electric bill and usage. When someone asks about a high bill, quite often the first thing out of someone's mouth is "I turn the lights off whenever I leave the room." So you are turning a 60 watt bulb off for 45 seconds while you are leaving everything else on, and you believe that will actually change your electric bill?
I meant to possibly reframe the question in a more meaningful way. You will get far greater impact doing many other things before changing out your lightbulbs.
You estimate you have saved $500 over 30 months, or about $17 month. Good for you - but simple weatherization could easily save you $500 in just a few months. Replacing light bulbs is a gesture relative to other things you can do. It's not at the top of my list if you have a limited amount of money, or just want to do a few things.
If you want to attempt to dress me down about your particular usage I would be more than happy to discuss this via email. I'm glad you were able to save $500 but that's chump change compared to what you can really save with not much effort.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 2:42 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

It looks like you live in Massachusetts. To answer your question, the utilities there are offering instant rebates until the end of 2008 (click on "N" for NSTAR and National Grid) on CFL bulbs. I'd suggest going to your local home center or hardware store and if it's not clear that there's a rebate, ask somebody. You'll also see which are cheapest this way. I doubt you'll find a cheaper price online than you'll find locally.
posted by SteveInMaine at 2:58 PM on December 20, 2008

My former roommate just spent a year compiling the first published list of toxic mercury levels in lightbulbs made by major manufacturers. Her efforts are listed on the SF Environment page. Click on the "SF Approved Lighting" pdf.
posted by cali at 4:24 PM on December 20, 2008

The only brand I've been routinely disappointed by is Globe. Very poor life on all the ones I was stuck with.
posted by scruss at 4:31 PM on December 20, 2008

Again, TomSophieIvy, with all due respect, the question is about saving money with CFLs, nothing else. Maybe some forms of weatherization have a faster payback than installing CFLs throughout your house right now, but (a) that wasn't the question, and (b) the payback on a CFL is well under a year in most cases, which is better than most energy conservation investments you can make at home. If your job is is to talk to people about their electric bills, I hope you're not discouraging the use of CFLs this way all day.

(Correction on my savings calc, it should be $73 saved, not $80, although it will be close to $80 with a discounted or subsidized CFL.)
posted by beagle at 6:41 PM on December 20, 2008

Here's how to figure the cost of the operation of a light bulb:

(watts used x energy rate x hours of operation) / 1000

For example:

100 watt incandesent bulb operating for 5 hours/day, 365 days:
(100 x $0.09 x 1,825 hours) / 1000 = $16.42 per year

28 watt CFL operating for 5 hours/day, 365 days:
(28 x $0.09 x 1,865) / 1000 = $4.60 per year
posted by partner at 9:27 PM on December 20, 2008

Thanks for all the good advice! My electricity provider, National Grid, has a rebate program which states, "National Grid offers a $6.00 ENERGY STAR Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb Instant Coupon for customers in Massachusetts who purchase ENERGY STAR qualified light bulb packages containing 6 or more light bulbs between April 1, 2008 and December 31, 2008."
I'll try to buy the CFL bulbs before the New Year.
I will also be replacing a real old refrigerator that is still running with an Energy Star model. Using one of those "kill-a-watt" devices showed that replacing my old fridge with a new Energy Star one would save me over $25 per month!
Consumer Reports showed GE Long Life and N:Vision brands were true to their bulb life rating.
I will shop locally for the bulbs because shipping charges usually kill any good deal available online.
posted by boby at 3:02 AM on December 21, 2008

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