Unreliable Sylvania

The two selling features of compact fluorescent bulbs are higher efficiency (more light produced per unit energy) and longer lifespan, when compared to incandescent bulbs. We have already established that the first isn’t a concern for people actively heating their homes. My recent experience with the second is also rather negative. I recently replaced as many bulbs in my house as possible with fluorescents. In the month and a half that followed, four of the bulbs failed: those in my kitchen, on my back porch, and in my front hallway.

I have never had incandescent lights fail so quickly. It’s not clear what caused these ones to die so abruptly (A manufacturing defect? Problems with my power supply?), but it will definitely prevent me from buying Sylvania brand bulbs in the future.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

14 thoughts on “Unreliable Sylvania”

  1. I’m just going to pretend I’ve already argued and we’ve agreed to disagree about the possibly dangerous unknown psychological effects of discrete spectrum lighting.

  2. Full-spectrum fluorescent lighting: a review of its effects on physiology and health
    McColl, S.L.; Veitch, J.A.

    National Research Council Canada

    There is no dispute that light affects animal and human physiology and health. Both direct and indirect pathways for this influence are known, although not always well understood. In certain cases, such as neonatal hyperbilirubinemia, known effects of light on physiology have led to simple, non-invasive treatment for disease. This review, however, sought to determine whether or not FSFL should replace other lamp types for widespread general interior lighting. or in light treatment for psychological disorders. Although media interest and broad publicity have been accorded this idea, the review revealed little support for it. This review does reveal, however, that much of the research in this area, upon which many of these claims are based, is of poor quality. Effects that are observed tend to be small, and often cannot be firmly attributed to light sources. Veitch and McColl (2001) reached similar conclusions with respect to the literature

    Proponents of FSFL advocate this light source because of its purported similarity to daylight, which they claim has evolutionary significance for human well-being. Overall, however, the evidence reviewed here does not support the evolutionary hypothesis. With a few exceptions, the best studies show that whether through direct light absorption by skin, or by indirect hormonal or neural mechanisms there is generally no intrinsic benefit to FSFL in comparison to other common electric light sources.

    One reason for the lack of support for this hypothesis, even among well-designed and thoroughly-reported investigations, could be the inadequate equality between FSFL emissions and daylight. Our light exposure is typically reflected and filtered light and is not principally direct rays from a source (Corth, 1983). The spectral composition of the daily light dose depends on the colours and reflectances of walls, ceilings, floors, furniture, plants and ground, and on the transmittance or reflectance of windows, water, eyeglasses or contact lenses, and the eye itself. Thus, a specification of the spectral qualities of light solely in terms of the lamp SPD is inaccurate as a description of the visual and physiological stimulus. Although the necessary light dose for health and well-being is unknown, the direct effects of UVR on vitamin D metabolism and calcium absorption are widely accepted. The review noted a few studies favoring FSFL for the metabolism of Vitamin D and, indirectly, on calcium absorption and dental caries. Even in this instance the best outcomes may relate as much to intensity of the light or to some other unknown aspect of illumination. The UVR from an FSFL is far less than that from daylight, making the effect negligible for people with access to outdoor exposure. The experimental evidence for the efficacy of FSFL to replace naturally occurring UVR exposure in populations unable to obtain daylight is scant.

    It remains possible that improvements in research design, statistical analysis, and reporting will reveal meaningful effects of FSFL on important physiological and behavioural outcomes. Work in this area should proceed cautiously, rigorously, and with a more clear connection to theories of systematic effects. In particular, well-controlled studies are needed to determine the necessary daily light dose, both in intensity and in spectral distribution. Researchers also should pay further attention to the possible role of luminous modulation to determine the optimal lighting system characteristics for the daily light exposure. Researchers in the biobehavioural sciences, in collaboration with experts on the technical performance of lighting systems, have an important role to play in improving the quality of lighting-behaviour research and affecting lighting codes and standards, which are presently based largely on consensus about how lighting affects people (Boyce, 1987, 1996). For the present, however, it can be concluded that the scientific literature does not support the claims that FSFLs can dramatically improve physical or mental health, as compared to other electric light sources. Widespread adoption of these more expensive, less energy-efficient light sources is unwarranted

    (cf. Veitch & Finn, 1994).

  3. Full-spectrum fluorescent lighting: a review of its effects on physiology and health
    From the Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal; and National Research Council of Canada, Institute for Research in Construction, Ottawa, Canada

    Psychological Medicine (2001), 31 : 949-964 Cambridge University Press
    Copyright © 2001 Cambridge University Press
    Published online by Cambridge University Press 31 Jul 2001

  4. “full spectrum” fluorescant lighting IS NOT full spectrum lighting. It is still discrete, because it is produced by exciting various gases that each emit a lot of light at one frequency, unlike black body radiation which emits all of the frequencies at variating intensities.

    If the question concerns whether discrete spectrum or black body spectrum lighting makes a different to human well being, then comparing different kind of fluorescant bulbs is not even the right place to start to find an answer.

    Also, fluorescant bulbs flicker, whereas black body bulbs emit a constant stream of light. Does anyone really think that a 60hz flicker is unoticable?

    Ok – anyone who thinks fluorescant lighting has no health effects, run your computer monitor at 60hz for a month, and see if you believe it after that.

  5. If you can find a study that addresses your concers more directly, please link it. The one above is the best I could find on the basis of a relatively brief Google investigation.

  6. Their website says nothing about a warranty. I will check the packaging next time I am at the grocery store.

  7. On fluorescent light and chromosome damage:

    On repetitive behavior in autistic children and fluorescant light:

    On the relation between colour temperature of light and body temperature:

    headaches caused by flickering fluorescant bulbs:

  8. Fluorescent light-induced chromosome damage and its prevention in mouse cells in culture

    Without a doubt, all forms of electomagnetic radiation can cause damage to molecules, chromosomes included. Still, it is a bit of a jump from: “mouse lung cells exposed to fluorescent light get damaged by hydrogen peroxide that gets produced” to “fluorescent lights are harmful to people.”

    The effects of fluorescent and incandescent illumination upon repetitive behaviors in autistic children

    “Subjects spent significantly more time engaged in repetitive behavior under fluorescent light. Previous research suggested that these findings were related to the flickering nature of fluorescent illumination. Practical and theoretical implications were discussed. Further experimentation was suggested to assess relationships between flickering illumination and arousal.”

    This seems plausible and does demonstrate an effect on humans.

    Effects of Color Temperature of Fluorescent Lamps on Body Temperature Regulation in a Moderately Cold Environment

    1) The sample size is very small (7 men).

    2) This study is testing the relative effects of different kinds of fluorescent light. As such, it isn’t an indictment of fluorescent lighting in general.

    3) This paper doesn’t seem to investigate whether the body temperature changes observed have any health importance.

    Full-spectrum fluorescent lighting: a review of its effects on physiology and health

    This is the paper I linked and quoted from above.

    In short, if this is the kind of scientific literature showing problems with fluorescent light, it doesn’t seem very substantial, except perhaps in the case of autistic children.

  9. UV light fear over ‘green’ bulbs

    Being too close to energy-saving light bulbs could cause skin reddening because of ultraviolet light emissions, health experts have warned.

    The Health Protection Agency (HPA) cautions against being closer than 30cm (1ft) to some compact fluorescent (cfl) bulbs for long.

    But it added there is no evidence that such bulbs pose a cancer threat.

  10. But problems of dimming, flicker, and light color remained. And manufacturer claims of bulb lifetime and quality were wildly exaggerated. Consumers didn’t understand that CFLs burn out rapidly when they’re not allowed to rest at least 15 minutes between being cycled off and on, or that they’d overheat and fail if they were used in recessed ceiling canisters; they weren’t told that there was no standard definition of what a 60-, 75-, or 100-watt incandescent replacement actually was.

  11. Very late to the party on this one but here are my experiences:

    I replaced all the lights in my mother’s house with CFLs in roughly 2006 or 2007. Their performance has been generally terrible. They take approximately a minute to reach an acceptable brightness, several failed within the first year, and one filled an entire floor with an acrid smoke when it died.

    The latter incident was particularly troubling as the plastic case of the CFL was severely charred. I seriously wonder about the fire risk of using CFLs now, and I’m not prepared to buy any more. My next hope for low energy lighting is in LEDs.

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