The concept is simple. You buy something relatively inexpensive, and it has a five-year guarantee. Thus, if it stops working within five years of purchase, you get either a refund or replacement from the manufacturer. Sounds like you come out a winner no matter what…
…Unless that item is a GE compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb.
Here’s the story. Thanks to my wonderful neighbors and their generous offer to split a Sam’s Club membership, we now once again have access to crazy quantities of bulk items. Right now in our shed are 27 Christmas hams, 219 barrels of pretzels, and enough CFL bulbs to light up a black hole. I spent some time in the last couple days merrily replacing all the 150-watt bulbs (come on, previous residents–150 freakin’ watts???) with less blinding, far more energy efficient 13-watt CFL bulbs.
In addition to their greater efficiency, CFL bulbs typically last five times longer than conventional light bulbs. In fact, GE is so sure their CFL bulbs will last five times longer than the typical one-year life span of normal bulbs that they’ll replace a CFL bulb for free if it dies in the first five years. How totally nice of them, right? Read the fine print on the back of the box…
Guaranteed to last 5 years based on rated life at 4 hours consumer use per day at 120V. When used in accordance with package and bulb directions, if this bulb does not last for the time period guaranteed (based on 4 hours average usage per day/7 days per week) return bulb, proof of purchase, register receipt, and your name and address to GE Consumer & Industrial, General Electric Company, Nela Park, Cleveland, OH, 44112. General Electric will replace the bulb.
From GE’s guarantee, we learn a few interesting facts:
- GE owns a whole entire park. I want a park…
- If you use your CFL bulbs an average of 4 hours and 1 second per day or more and try to return it, you’re a dirty liar. Hell has a special place for people who commit CFL bulb fraud.
- More importantly, you must surrender your proof of purchase and receipt when asking for a replacement. So if a second CFL bulb from your Sam’s Club 8-pack dies later on, you have no proof of purchase or receipt. Not that it matters since you’d be wasting your money shipping the bulb back…
- Most importantly, you ship your broken bulb to GE at your own expense. Keep in mind that bulbs are fragile (even broken ones!) and they don’t exactly fit in a standard envelope. The cost of a GE 13-watt CFL bulb at Sam’s Club? $1.36 ($10.88 for an 8-pack divided by 8). The cost to mail a broken bulb to GE? Assuming the package, bulb, and padding weigh only five ounces, at least $1.35; and that’s without counting the price of packaging and padding! The return shipping costs more than the original bulb!
And so GE’s five-year CFL guarantee is rendered utterly worthless.
All that said, CFL bulbs turn out to be a great deal in the long run. Just don’t read too much into their guarantee. And should one of my GE CFL bulbs bite the dust in the next five years, I actually will ship it back to them and ask for a replacement… but not before smashing the bulb into a million tiny pieces so that it fits in a 39-cent envelope.