2011-11-02

Lightbulbs, why isn't this a solved problem?

With all the new regulations that require lightbulbs to be of some energy-saving design, buying lightbulbs has become a major pain in the neck -- as well as an overly expensive affair.  Here are some suggestions for both manufacturers and groups that advise consumers.

  1. Many of the new types of light bulbs have physical dimensions that are not within the envelope of the traditional tungsten counterparts.  Lightbulbs that are outside this envelope should be clearly marked as such since it is very hard to judge while you are standing there in the store without ripping open boxes and comparing light bulbs.
  2. The type of socket should be clearly marked on the box.  One would think that this piece of information would be prominently displayed on the packaging, but quite often it is tucked away somewhere in the fine print.  I've even come across packaging that doesn't print the socket type at all. The result is that to be sure you have to rip open the packaging to inspect the socket.
  3. The lifetime figures printed on the box are nonsense.  Exactly NONE of the power-saving lightbulbs I've purchased have lasted anywhere near as long as it says on the box.  Not even after I moved into a brand new house.  Quite obviously the manufacturers either lie outright or the standards for testing are inadequate.  Many of the energy-saving lightbulbs boast of longer life (to justify their high price), but in reality they have only somewhat longer life-span.  If it is longer at all.
Points 1 and 2 should be easily fixable for manufacturers.  The fact that many major manufacturers don't do this just means they have figure out what on earth the people who design their packaging are doing.

Point 3 is probably never going to happen.  Lightbulbs have limited life-span by design so manufacturers are incentivized to make sure their bulbs stop working as soon as possible -- but not so soon that consumers catch on.  If they wanted to they could make nearly unbreakable bulbs that would keep functioning for decades, but they won't.  Fine, we know this, but I think some manufacturers have become a bit too greedy and it is time to introduce some balance.  Perhaps some regulatory action is needed.

3 comments:

  1. I have used compact fluorescent lightbulbs almost exclusively for four years, and they are all still functional.

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  2. @ljosa: I've had three of them fail after just 2 months. LED lights seem to do fine, but then again, they are more robust and they probably have decent power regulation electronics.

    I miss tungsten light. It is much nicer although the bulbs burn out.

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  3. "Lightbulbs have limited life-span by design so manufacturers are incentivized to make sure their bulbs stop working as soon as possible -- but not so soon that consumers catch on. If they wanted to they could make nearly unbreakable bulbs that would keep functioning for decades, but they won't."

    Well, no, not so much actually. With tungsten bulbs you're pumping electricity through a piece of wire to heat it up. Thicker wire means you have to use more electricity. Thinner wire means it's more likely to break at some point. There's just no perfect way to offset these two processes.

    CFLs have a different but very similar problem in their ballasts.

    LEDS....they should last as long as the actual chip, the LED itself does. But again, there's a failure rate, just is going to be with anything at all physical.

    It's like saying that we can make bicycle frames that will never break. Yup, sure can, but they'd be about 10x the weight of the ones we already have and not all that useful.

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