Friday, November 08, 2013

One big CFL scam

Sorry football fans (and critics), this is about Coompact Fluorescent Lightbulbs, not the Canadian Football League.

I think I've documented previously that I can be obsessive about things. (In ironic contradiction to that claim, I'm not going to bother linking to an illustrative previous blog post.) I also like having some sort of validation (even anecdotal) of claims I make or causes I defend. That is to say, I am a critical thinker.

In this vein, I didn't vigorously defend the little mercury buggers when a certain friend of mine, the kind who, on principle, doesn't use a green bin, told me that he switched back to incandescent bulbs after trying a set of CFLs.

He told me he tried CFL bulbs once but it didn't last nearly as long as it was promised to last, so he switched back to incandescents. For those of you just joining this decade, compact fluorescent lightbulbs are those little curly bulbs that are supposed to provide the same amount of light for about a quarter of the electricity, thus saving you more money than the much higher cost than traditional incandescent light bulbs.

Like a good little environmentalist sycophant, I use the bulbs and generally go along with the groupthink that they're better. (There are various arguments about the mercury contained in the bulbs vs the amount of mercury released in the generation of electricity for the less efficient incandescents, but since I don't have air conditioning I like that they don't put off as much heat)

For the record, my friend also complained that they took longer to get to turn on (and, subsequently, to get to full brightness). I no longer notice this myself (i.e. I've gotten used to it) but I must admit that it does take a second or so for the lights to come on.

But about the price, I wanted to contradict my friend, and tell him that the lights are rated for many years, so he must have gotten a dud. And the bulbs have gotten better since he would have tried them. But I wanted to be able to say this with the confident knowledge that my own experiences with the things were consistent with this claim.

This was a problem.

Sure, one remembers generally replaces the lights in one's house, but given how long they last, who can really say with confidence how long any particular one lasts?

This guy, that's who.

For the last couple years, I've been writing in fine-tip Sharpie the date of purchase and installation on my lightbulbs, and hanging on to the packaging (which is necessary anyway because I need a way to stockpile the old bulbs, since I don't get anywhere near any place that takes returns of these things, even though there are plenty of places that sell them)

Lo and behold, tonight I replaced a bulb in my bedroom ceiling fixture, and written on the bulb was "purchased 2012-10-28 Home Hardware Glebe, installed same". It was from a Sylvania 3-pack of 100-watt equivalents, and the other two bulbs were still fresh in the package in my closet. Incidentally, to my friend's point, the packaging has a little "Instant On" sticker.

My bulb's usage did not have any of the contraindications: no "dimmer, electronic timer or photocell, illuminated switch, totally enclosed recessed luminaires, or where directly exposed to the weather". So, being just barely a year old, it died well before it's 9-year warranty. The fine print on that is based on "normal household usage in accordance with package and bulb directions", which is to say an average of 3 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I figure I use my bedroom light for more than 3 hours a day, but I'm pretty confident I don't use it for 27 hours a day, which is what would be needed to reach the bulb's 10,000 hour lifespan.

So okay, the bulb died and the warranty obviously applies. So where do I get my replacement? Turn back to the fine print on the side of the box: "if this bulb does not last for the time period guaranteed...return bulb, proof of purchase, register receipt and your name and address to OSRAM SYLVANIA Inc, 435 E. Washington St., Winchester, KY 40391-2298. OSRAM SYLVANIA will replace the bulb. This replacement is the sole remedy available, and LIABILITY FOR DIRECT, INCIDENTAL, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES IS HEREBY EXPRESSLY EXCLUDED [except in states where we're not allowed to exclude it]..." (all-caps original)

So for a set of three bulbs I bought for $14.99 plus tax, I'm going to have to spend how much to ship the bulb to fucking KENTUCKY?!? And that's just the first bulb; if I only use the other two one after the other, I'll have to wait another two years at the current rate to get through them to send all three back together. I mean, if I send in the proof of purchase etc with only the first bulb, I won't be able to get replacements when the other two die prematurely. But what if the other two bulbs last 4 years each? Then by the time I ship them back the warranty period will have been over, despite each bulb lasting less than half its expected lifetime.

But do you know how much it costs to ship things to the U.S.? I'm guessing somewhere between five and ten bucks at the slowest, cheapest rate. And then what? I'll get another bulb that will last a year, and for thirty bucks I'd have three bulbs plus three replacements that lasted for a combined total of 6 years when each one was supposed to last for nine?

I think my skeptical friend may be on to something, since thirty bucks could buy many many years' worth of incandescents (or would have, had Dalton McGuinty not banned them).

So let's summarize:
- bulbs don't last anywhere near warranty
- it costs as much or more to claim warranty as to just buy new bulbs
- BlackBerry's autoreplace changes correctly-spelled words for no reason
- you're not supposed to throw them out due to mercury, but there's you can't take spent ones back to where you bought them (for places downtown, at least)
- I'm still going to be using them

That last one is for two reasons: one, the heat factor. Two, they're still cheaper.

As five bucks a pop, if we assume 3 hours a day 7 days a week, and if we assume 5 cents a Kilowatt-hour, these 23-watt "100-watt equivalent" bulbs save me $4.21 per year over incandescents. Factor in the fact that I likely use it more than 3 hours a day and 5 cents a kWh is the rate before your hydro bill gets more than doubled by fees and taxes, it still saves me money.

So then the only unresolved question is, how do I punish Sylvania for this? I've already spent an hour writing this blog post, so that could be $20 or so of my own time. Why not go all out and play into their game. Here are some ideas:

- send the bulb in a bubble envelope so it will most likely arrive broken when they open the package
- waste at least as much of their time on the phone and responding to emails so their payroll costs match what I paid
- send by UPS with paperwork that triggers UPS to charge the recipient the fixed customs fee of $40
- hire a lawyer to sue them for $15 (hm... or a class-action...)
- send Sylvania a Canadian football

Ah, but this is all a pipe dream. Truth is, just like those weasels gambled, I don't really care to do anything about it, over a five-dollar-a-year investment in lightbulbs.

Except blog about it.

- RG>