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Blown bulbs: Why it's likely not your wiring - 15th Sep 2015

Blown bulbs: Why it's likely not your wiring Finding that your lightbulbs are blowing all the time? It could be a classic case of 'you get what you pay for'. This interesting article from Stuff.co.nz highlights a growing problem with substandard lightbulbs entering the New Zealand market. We find that forking out a little extra for a quality bulb means you won't have to change it very often, which means you'll actually save money over time.

An influx of cheap, potentially dangerous lightbulbs into the country is frustrating householders with constantly blown bulbs, and keeping electricians busy.

The Master Electricians Association said it was a disaster waiting to happen.

Electricians confirmed they were dealing with a steady flow of calls from people worried about the wiring in their houses because bulbs kept blowing.

Waikato electrician Colin Hyde says he deals with about 10 such calls a week, and replacing lightbulbs has become his biggest revenue earner over the last few years.

He says most of the issues seem to be with incandescent bulbs, while fluorescents are now causing a bit of trouble too.

In fact, he has reverted to advising people to check their bulbs and change to the more modern LEDs before he even comes around, and says "generally that fixes it".

While LEDs might cost you a bit more up front, Hyde says "the savings are incredible". Not only do you save on power, but they last much longer.

In his words, most of the cheaper bulbs are "are absolute rubbish".

Leading Edge Electrical's Brad Martin says he's seeing the same thing.

He's getting a call a week, mostly from landlords with concerned tenants, and "it's always people thinking they've got a problem with their electrics".

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Martin has also taken to advising people to switch to LEDs before he bothers booking a callout, but says sometimes he has trouble convincing people he might not need to come around.

Andrew Steffert, owner of Chris Peebles Electrical believes the issue is that retail outlets have "started to bring in these really cheap bulbs which are just rubbish".

He also mostly deals with landlords channelling the frustrations of tenants who are constantly replacing bulbs.

But according to the Master Electricians Association, the problem is more than just a minor annoyance - its a potential safety issue.

Operations manager Bernie McLaughlin says lightbulbs are among several electrical products that seem to fall into a "legislative hole" where "there doesn't seem to be anybody governing quality".

It's tantamount to "waiting for something to fail before they decide whether it should have been in the country or not," says McLaughlin.

And in the case of electrics like light bulbs, failure can be anything from a blown bulb, to an exploding bulb to a house fire.

That's disputed by Energy Safety, the government body responsible for ensuring electronic products that come into the country are safe.

Principal technical advisor, Peter Morfee, says the safety concerns when it comes to lightbulbs are "not significant".

"Very few [electricians] have approached us saying there is a problem," he says.

Because of that he is "not convinced that these products are coming in, in quantities that are a problem".

Besides, he adds, there are strict standards any supplier must adhere to when selling each different type of lightbulb.

If they were to sell substandard products, Energy Safety could hit them with a hefty punitive bill.

No one has paid out on selling dodgy lightbulbs yet, however, because no one has raised concerns with Energy Safety about lightbulb safety.

Morfee says that does not mean the body is sitting back and waiting for things to go wrong before it acts.

"It's not the wild west. It's far, far from it. It's an exceedingly well controlled market."

BULB BASICS

Incandescent: The original bulb developed by Thomas Edison consisting of a heated filament inside a gas filled bulb that glows when electricity heats it through.

CFL: Compact fluorescent lamps are the spiral shaped energy saving bulbs that appeared a few years ago and work like a fluoro tube. They take a minute or two to power up fully but are cheap to run.

LED: Use a development of light emitting diodes that were once found only in simple electronics like digital clock displays to produce bright lighting with a fraction of the heat and cost compared to Incandescent lights.

BEST OF THE BULBS

The world's longest running officially recognised lightbulb, the centennial bulb, has hung in a firestation in Livermore California since 1901.

It is a handblown bulb from the Shelby Electric Company with carbon filament and began its duty as a nightlight over the firetrucks at a glorious 60 watts.

Apart from a couple of short breaks during the odd powercut it has burned continuously despite its output dimming to four watts. After a 2013 powercut it flared back to 60watts for a couple of hours before fading again.

In June 2015 its 1 million hours of service was celebrated with a party and the bulb has been the subject children's books and documentaries as it casts its light worldwide, thanks to a live webcam.

Livermore Mayor John Marchand described the humble bulb as a contrast to the planned obsolescence of modern equipment that often wasn't necessarily any better.

"This is something that is usually so simple, so fragile and so taken for granted," he mused. "Yet it is something that renews our faith in technology, gives us pause to reflect on something that was built to last, something that has transcended generations.

"This small thing that has been such a constant in our community... our light bulb."

Narelle Henson | Stuff.co.nz

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