CFL bulbs burn out quickly? Here’s what to do.

I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about CFL bulbs lately. I’ve written about how to address premature CFL burnout before, but I guess it bears repeating. It’s a five-minute fix, usually, to get the bulbs to last a while. So here’s what to do if your CFL bulbs burn out quickly.

Odds are that if your CFL bulbs burn out early, so do incandescents, but we notice it more with bulbs that advertise a lifespan measured in years rather than months. If an incandescent burns out after 3 months instead of four, we don’t really notice.

Check this tab first

CFL bulbs burn out quickly
When the brass tab in the center of a light socket gets mashed down, it causes problems. Bend the tab up to at least a 20-degree angle. If it’s badly discolored, it can also cause problems.

Inside the light socket, there’s a metal tab that engages the light bulb. Over time, this gets mashed down from tightening bulbs all the way. Reach in with a popsicle stick or something else non-conductive and bend that tab back up. It doesn’t have to be far. About 15-20 degrees usually does the trick.

Check your light switch

If that doesn’t fix it, chances are it’s the light switch. The internals of a light switch can corrode or get dirty over time, which hurts conductivity and shortens bulb life. I only had to replace one switch, in a bathroom. But if bulbs burn out prematurely even after fixing the tab in the socket, it’s probably the switch.

I have some tips for replacing a light switch at the end of this entry.

Not all bulbs are the same

The other possibility is the bulbs themselves–some brands do better than others. I did well with Ecosmart and Feit bulbs; I had mixed success with other brands prior to discovering those two. So when all else fails, try a different brand.

I bought my first CFLs in 2003 and was 99% CFL by 2005. I bought my last big package of CFLs in 2008. The CFL in my garage lasted from 2003 to 2017 and I replaced it to get 40% more efficiency and 50% more light, not because it had burned out. They have their detractors, but CFL bulbs really do save energy and money. I noticed a difference of about $10 a month in 2003-2004. And in 2011, when I had modern bulbs and did a few other things, my power usage dropped 19 percent.

The LEDs I’m buying are about 50% more efficient than the CFLs they replaced, so I wasn’t heartbroken when one burned out. I like LEDs better but if you have underlying issues that cause CFLs to burn out early, LEDs probably will too. Fix those issues before you switch to LEDs.

As for LED longevity, they do typically last the 10,000 hours the package says they will. I only buy LEDs now.

I would estimate high-efficiency bulbs have saved me at least $1,200 since I started using them in 2003. I don’t know very many people who have that much money to just throw away. And that figure isn’t counting the replacement cost of the incandescents that would have burned out over that time. That’s probably double what I’ve spent on the more advanced replacements, since modern lighting lasts so much longer and I haven’t had to buy them in quantity for a very long time.

One thought on “CFL bulbs burn out quickly? Here’s what to do.

  • January 24, 2014 at 7:02 am

    When we were buying whatever cfl bulbs were cheap at Home Depot, they were lasting a couple years at most. Now, I only buy brand name bulbs, and they’ve started lasting much much longer. The packaging on the generic and brand name bulbs makes the same claims about how long they last, but in my experience, the brand name ones actually live up to those claims.

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