Today the Consumerist linked to a report that CFLs burn out faster than expected.

That’s probably right. But not all CFLs are created equal, so if you have a bad string of luck with one brand, try changing brands.

I also think that CFLs are more sensitive to bad power than conventional bulbs are. Or maybe we just care more when a CFL burns out.
I’ve talked about this before, but the tabs in the fixture can become deformed, causing arcing, and, in turn, causing bulbs to burn out before their time. Arcs are bad, because they cause inconsistent power and excess heat, and the problem is cumulative. Arcing leads to grime building up on the circuit, probably due to sparks pulling in particles from the surrounding air, and that dirt buildup leads to still more arcing. My experience with my toy trains  makes me all too familiar with this phenomenon.

The last time I mentioned that, an alert reader suggested that light switches can cause the same symptom. Well, since that time, I’ve had a chance to try that.

The light bulbs in my bathrooms have never lasted very long. After I read about the tabs in the fixture, I checked that, but they seemed to be OK. After the reader suggested the light switch, I waited until one Saturday afternoon when the rest of the family was gone, and I changed out the switch. I don’t like to mess with electricity when I might be interrupted.

Bulbs in that particular bathroom used to only last a month or two. And, guess what? It’s been several months, and the bulbs I installed when I put in the switch are still glowing. So now I don’t have to use the very cheapest 40W bulbs I can find anymore; the CFLs I put in are still working.

Light switches cost less than a dollar, and if you have the right tools and have them all handy, you can change a switch in a matter of minutes.

I don’t know precisely how long my CFLs last, since I only started tracking the installation date three years ago. What I do know is that since I switched to CFLs, I spend a lot less time changing bulbs than I used to. I probably have between 25 and 30 of them, and I change about six per year. So, doing the math, I guess that means on average they’re lasting me 4-5 years.

That’s a little disappointing, I suppose. But my electric bills are lower than most people’s.

I like LED bulbs and think they’re the future, but their prices and limited availability of brightnesses and color temperatures make them impractical for widespread adoption right now. And if you’re having problems with CFLs burning out after just a few months, LEDs may very well have the same issue. So it’s better to solve that problem than to throw $20 bulbs at it and start losing those after a few months. That would really hurt.

Since my bulbs seem to be dying a couple of years before their time, it makes me wonder if I should invest in a package of light switches. I know a good number of them date to the 1960s, so they’ve had a good run.