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Understanding Life Hours, Part 2: Life Hours vs. Warranties

Broken Light Bulb

Part 2 in a series about life hours and how you can use this spec to inform your purchase and maximize the life of your bulbs.

In the previous article, we discussed how manufacturers determine life hours differently for incandescents, fluorescents, HID lamps, and LEDs. Switching to something less technical, this article will give you information that is much more practical, namely, how to choose the right light bulb for your application.

Life hour ratings are often confused with warranties, but unlike a warranty, a life hour rating is not a guarantee of the life of the bulb. If your light bulb is rated for 1,500 hours and has a warranty of one year, you’ll be hard pressed to get the manufacturer to reimburse you the cost of the bulb after one year and a day, even if you only used the bulb 1,499 hours. Likewise, the manufacturer would be likely to reimburse you if your bulb failed one day short of a year but you used the bulb 1,501 hours. (On a side note, if you set a stopwatch every time you screw in a light bulb, you need to find a new hobby.)

So when you go to buy a light bulb, should you just ignore the life hour rating and look for the longest warranty? That depends on your application. If you’re a homeowner looking to get your full return on some expensive new LED bulbs, you’d be wise to look for an ironclad warranty. But if you’re outfitting an auditorium with 50 foot ceilings, you’d be better off selecting bulbs with the longest life hours. Why? A warranty isn’t much consolation when you still have to climb 50 feet to change a bulb.

Several major lighting manufacturers don’t even offer warranties, and if they do, they tend to make the warranty documentation difficult to find and contingent on more variables than most people care to read. Sylvania’s Quick60+ Warranty, for example is a system warranty, meaning it only applies if you are using both Sylvania lamps AND ballasts in your application. If you’re using Advance ballasts with your Sylvania lamps, then sorry, you’re out of luck!

The other two of the “big three,” GE and Philips also tend to be stingy with their warranties. However, a lack of a warranty doesn’t mean a low-quality bulb. In fact, if you’re into the big brands, just the opposite could be argued. You’ll remember from the last article in this series that life hours represent roughly the amount of time it took one half of a test batch of bulbs to burn out. The other half hadn’t yet burned out. Think about your application, how often you’re going to use the bulb, and how likely you are to hold on to your receipt. You might find yourself less concerned with warranties than you thought.

In the next and final installment of this series, we’ll tackle the fine art of making your bulbs last longer, sometimes longer than either warranty or life hours. A hint: It’s not really an art at all.

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Benjamin is a writer for 1000Bulbs.com.