NRK CFL Test

Copy of an article posted yesterday on the Norway national television NRK website (translated from Norwegian):

LONG TERM TEST OF LIGHT BULBS:

These energy savers went out first

Nemko test of bulbs (Nemko)
10 of 50 bulbs has already gone out the long-term test. The picture was taken in the laboratory Nemko this week.

Compact fluorescent lamps from Osram Luxram and have poor life in long-term test.

Published 09/15/2012 17:15.

Every fifth bulb has gone out after only half of the specified lifetime. Bulbs from Luxram and Osram had especially poor performance in NRK test.

At the request of NRK Consumer Inspectors, Nemko tested the life of ten different bulbs. Five copies of each lamp were tested.

Now this long-term test has been going on for 5200 hours, which equates to almost five years in consumption if the bulbs are turned on for 2.7 hours each day.

10 of the 50 CFL bulbs have already packed it in, even though most of them are claimed last for 10,000 hours or more, according to information on the packages.

Five of the bulbs had gone out after only 2500 hours.

Luxram and Osram

In Nemko laboratory the bulbs are turned on and off at regular intervals, according to the international test standard.

The result so far allows two lamps stand out as very durable.

All five Luxram bulbs (11 W Energy Saver) has now gone out.

Compact fluorescent lamps from Osram and Luxram
All Luxram bulbs and three Osram bulbs have gone out at mid-term.

Moreover, three of the five bulbs from Osram (Duluxstar Mini Ball) have called it a night.

Approx price for these two bulbs were respectively 29 and 80 kroner, and both have a specified life of 10,000 hours.

One of five bulbs from Energetic (Energy Saver Warm White Bulb Classic) and one lamp of the North Light model from Clas Ohlson has gone out.

Best at other qualities

Although life is so-so, the Osram lamp became test winner as Nemko and NRK tested other qualities of a half ago.

The Osram bulb had good efficacy after both 100 and 1000 hours, and it starts quickly. Osram is admittedly more expensive than many of the others, but uses the least power in return. Read more about the test here.

- We regret the outcome of course, but are surprised by the result, says CEO Arvid Furru in Osram AS.

He questions the fact that only five bulbs of each brand tested. – If they originated from a batch that had a weakness, it may be an explanation for life. In Europe, selling tens of millions Osram series without errors each year, says Furru to NRK.no. He adds that Osram bulbs have three years warranty in Norway. – Customers may experience problems of this type, you switch to a new bulb by contacting us or the store where it was purchased, he said.

- Realistic

Lifetime of bulbs (Photo: Tor Risberg / NRK)
That the package says 10,000 hours / 10 years, does not mean you can expect a long life. Photo: Tor Risberg / NRK

- Luxram doing so badly is not surprising at all. Early in the test, it became clear that these bulbs have poor light output, which is further reduced after 1000 hours. And one of the five Luxram bulbs went out after only 1160 hours, said Erlend Lillelien, head of the knowledge center [national lighting industry representative] Lyskultur. He is more surprised Osram results. – The manufacturer is known for good quality, and these bulbs came out best in the remaining portion of the test. I hope the explanation for poor life is that Osram bulbs stems from a bad batch.

Head of Erlend Lillelien, Lyskultur (Lyskultur)
Information about life can be misleading, says Head of Erlend Lillelien in Lyskultur. Photo: Lyskultur

- But the test is realistic in the sense that all the bulbs are picked straight off the shelves, says Lillelien to NRK.no. He believes many consumers get the wrong impression when labels informs about a ‘life of 10,000 hours.’ – The internationally agreed definition of life is that half of the savings bulbs continue to burn after the 10,000 hours. It is not possible to produce bulbs with a guarantee that all last that long.

- Therefore, the information on the packaging to be rather confusing for the public, says Erlend Lillelien.

- Inadequate

Already in May, three of five Luxram bulbs burned out. CEO Frode Eng at Lampe magazine, which sells Luxram bulbs, admitted then that result is too bad. He, too, was surprised at the poor life, even if he thought it’s a bit unfair to compare the 29-kroner bulbs with others that cost far more.

- But of course we are unhappy with the result. Life indicated on the package of course should be valid, said Eng NRK.no the last time we summarized the test results. Now all Luxram bulbs in the test have burned out.

These are the other bulbs in the test, which have not yet gone out:

  • Philips Softone (T60WW827)
  • IKEA Sparsames
  • Megaman Ultra Compact Classic (GA911i)
  • FIXIT saving bulb
  • Biltema 11 W
  • Europris Power 9 W warm white

The test is still in progress. CFLi have an effect equivalent of between 48 and 60 watts compared with the old incandescent bulbs.

***************************

Halogenica comments:

1. Isn’t it funny that when tests reveal CFL bulbs to not last as long as claimed, the lighting industry representative “hopes” that it was due to “a bad batch”. How about a bad product?

2. And then the representative goes on to state: “The internationally agreed definition of life is that half of the savings bulbs continue to burn after the 10,000 hours. It is not possible to produce bulbs with a guarantee that all last that long. Therefore, the information on the packaging to be rather confusing for the public”.

Confusing is right! But I think fraudulent would be the correct word here. Imagine if the food or pharmaceutical industry said: “Half the products in this line may actually have gone bad by the expiration date. We understand that this must be confusing to our consumers, but it is not possible to produce a product that will keep until the marked expiration date.”

3. And the Luxram retailer thinks the test is unfair? While it does follow a certain logic that cheaper lamps can’t be expected to have the same quality as top brand bulbs, how is it unfair to expect a lamp to last as long as it says on the package? Especially when long life is one of its two major selling points?

4. Interesting also how the article author feels compelled to point out that the Osram lamp still made Best in Test on other qualities. Such as quick startup time and good brightness both after 100 and 1000 hours.

Well, a 100 hours into its life happens to be the peak of any fluorescent lamp’s life according to manufacturers, and good output after 1000 is no insurance of how good it will be after 3000 hours, or 5000 hours – if it lasts that long – or that it even gave as much light as promised in the beginning. Qualities such as colour rendition, dimmability etc are not mentioned at all. (Incandescent and halogen incandescent lamps are far superior in that regard, and startup time is not only quick but instant.)

I’m not at all surprised by these results. The CFL bulb models tend to lose more light and have shorter life than bare tube models due to being enclosed in that outer bulb, trapping heat which affects both life and brightness. And while the very thin diffusing layer on the inside of a frosted incandescent bulb has virtually no effect whatsoever on its light flow, adding another frosted bulb over the already semi opaque tubes has a marked light diminishing effect in CFLs.

It is simply a product which should never have been made, since there are already other lamps that do the same job so much much better.

CFL Analysis – Lifespan

Updated Aug 2012

Shorter life than promised

One of the most common complaints from disgruntled customers is premature failure after only a few hours, days, weeks or years, way short of the life rate stated on the package; sometimes due to poor lamp quality, sometimes from using good lamps in the wrong luminaires so they overheat, or switching them on-and-off too often.

In real scenarios, what causes CFLs to fall short of their rated life?

As anyone who frequently replaces CFLs in closets or hallways has likely discovered, rapid cycling can prematurely kill a CFL. Repeatedly starting the lamp shortens its life, Snyder explains, because high voltage at start-up sends the lamp’s mercury ions hurtling toward the starting electrode, which can destroy the electrode’s coating over time. Snyder suggests consumers keep this in mind when deciding where to use a compact fluorescent. The Lighting Research Center has published a worksheet [PDF] for consumers to better understand how frequent switching reduces a lamp’s lifetime. The sheet provides a series of multipliers so that consumers can better predict a bulb’s longevity. The multipliers range from 1.5 (for bulbs left on for at least 12 hours) to 0.4 (for bulbs turned off after 15 minutes). Despite any lifetime reduction, Snyder says consumers should still turn off lights not needed for more than a few minutes.

Another CFL slayer is temperature. “Incandescents thrive on heat,” Baker says. “The hotter they get, the more light you get out of them. But a CFL is very temperature sensitive.” He notes that “recessed cans”—insulated lighting fixtures—prove a particularly nasty compact fluorescent death trap, especially when attached to dimmers, which can also shorten the electronic ballast’s life. He says consumers often install CFLs meant for table or floor lamps inside these fixtures, instead of lamps specially designed for higher temperatures, as indicated on their packages. Among other things, these high temperatures can destroy the lamps’ electrolytic capacitors—the main reason, he says, that CFLs fail when overheated.

Are Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs Really Cheaper Over Time?

Chen W, Davis R, and Ji Y. 1998, in “An Investigation of the Effect of Operating Cycles on the Life of Compact Fluorescent Lamps” wrote:

A study published in 1998 examined CFL performance with five different operating cycles. It found that when the length of time the lamps were on was reduced from 3 hours to 1 hour, the lamp lasted for 80 percent of its rated life. When reduced to 15 min and 5 min, the lamp lasted for 30 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of its rated life.

A spokesman for the (pro-CFL) Energy Saving Trust confirms that frequent switching may reduce CFL life:

Regularly flicking a bulb on for a brief moment and then off again is not recommended as it can shorten the lifetime of the bulb.

Lifespan of energy-saving bulbs reduced by repeated switching

When CFLs fail prematurely, calculated long-term savings of course go down the drain. As noted in this New York Times article: Do New Bulbs Save Energy if They Don’t Work?

Irritation seems to be rising as more consumers try compact fluorescent bulbs, which now occupy 11 percent of the nation’s eligible sockets, with 330 million bulbs sold every year. Consumers are posting vociferous complaints on the Internet after trying the bulbs and finding them lacking.

Bulb makers and promoters say the overall quality of today’s compact fluorescents is high. But they also concede that it is difficult to prevent some problem bulbs from slipping through.

Experts say the quality problems are compounded by poor package instructions. Using the bulbs incorrectly, such as by screwing low-end bulbs into fixtures where heat is prone to build up, can greatly shorten their lives.

Some experts who study the issue blame the government for the quality problems, saying an intensive federal push to lower the price essentially backfired by encouraging manufacturers to use cheap components.

Example of long list of typical complaints can be found in the comments section of this (substandard and subjective) CFL test by Popular Mechanics and here: Compact Flourescent Light Bulbs – Lifespan

Consumer tests

According to the few consumer tests that test CFLs for that long, life span seems to have improved over the last decade for the best lamps, though not all CFLs work as long as promised.

• In a German test published January 2009, Osram & Philips CFLs lasted the full 15 500 hours – though with decreasing output - whereas 20% of IKEAs lamps went out before 3000 hrs and most reflector lamps died fairly soon. The tendency was for cheaper lamps to go out sooner. Konsumo: Energiesparlampen-Test: – Zweifel beseitigt

• Another German test from Dec 2008 gave “less than good results”. The first lamps went out after 1500 hours. (However, the exact details were not presented.) Öko-test Online: Energiesparlampe versus Glühbirne

• In a Swiss test from November 2007, Noser, IKEA and Megaman had fallouts before 3000 hrs, whereas the other 11 kept burning. Arcotronic AG: 14 Sparlampen im Test

• In a Swedish test from 2008, various lamp models and wattages from 3 common brands were tested for 6000 hours. 3 of the 4 tested IKEA lamps lasted the 6000 hrs, but one model an average of only 4398 hours. 11 of 14 Osram models (promising 6-15 000 hrs) passed the 6000 hour test, and the remaining 3 (sold as ‘6000 hrs’) lasted 4984 – 5911 hours. 8 of 15 Philips lamps kept burning at 6000 hrs and the other 7 went out between 3189 and 5837 hours, of which one (marked ’10 000 hrs’) lasted only 4244 hrs and 4 of 8 sold as ‘8000 hrs’ lasted only between 5178 and 5837 hours. Råd & Rön: Lågenergilampor, 1/2008

And this is when tested in lab conditions with bulbs burning openly without shades, at optimal temperature etc. In home luminaires with insufficient air flow and real life situations, e.g. when turned on and off often, life rate may turn out to be significantly shorter.

Edit 2012: Since I wrote this article, Råd & Rön tests have been made annually and published online (see Consumer Tests – CFL in pages section), but only the 2009 cycle tested CFLs for as long as 8 000 hours. Quoting myself:

Lamp life: Quite a few burned out long before stated life. Of the Osram ‘Miniball’ 11W (marked 6 000 h), all had gone out by half that time! And of a less known brand, North Light (marked 10 000 h), 40 % had gone out by 6 000 hours. Bulb models were least durable while spiral models gave most light and lasted longest. 

Improvements seem to have been made in the amount of on-off cycles top brand CFLs can withstand, but when I mailed and asked, it turned out that on-off cycles were: 2 hours 45 minutes on, 15 minutes off, meaning that not even this Swedish consumer agency wants to test more frequent switching than that.

This in essence makes CFLs useless for many if not most sockets in an average home, except perhaps a continuously burning porch light. Humorously illustrated by this youtube video where visits to different rooms were actually timed (thanks to Freedom Lightbulb for recommending it):

And making 20 000 hour incandescent bulbs is clearly possible since they can be bought at Aero-Tech Light Bulb Co, it’s only a matter of wanting to. [Thanks to Freedom Lightbulb and Argumente für die Glühbirne for finding the link.]

 

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