Shedding light: New bulb law goes into effect in 2012

April 7, 2011 By Mary Beth Breckenridge

When it comes to the new lighting law, a lot of people seem to be in the dark.

Recently I've encountered quite a bit of misunderstanding and flat-out fear about the new federal lighting standards that will be phased in starting next year.

For the record:

-No, the government is not banning all incandescent light bulbs.

-No, you're not being forced to switch to fluorescent lighting.

-No, you won't have to change all your lamps and light fixtures.

Now, I'm not saying we won't notice the changes or have to make adjustments. And I'm not venturing into the issue of whether the government is overstepping its bounds. That's a different topic for a different forum.

But I do think it's important to have the facts straight - both so we can discuss the matter intelligently and so we know what to expect when we go shopping for light bulbs.

Here, then, are some questions and answers that I hope will shed light on the issue.

Q: Why is the government regulating light bulbs?

A: The new lighting standards are part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The purpose of the law, in short, was to reduce our and our dependence on foreign .

Since lighting accounts for about 14 percent of the electricity used in buildings in this country, the law targeted lighting as one of the areas where improving energy efficiency could make a significant difference.

Q: Why are incandescent bulbs being singled out?

A: Conventional incandescent lighting - the kind we're most familiar with - uses energy much less efficiently than other kinds. Only 10 percent of the electricity used by a conventional goes into producing light. The rest becomes heat.

The government wants to improve those numbers, at least in general-service bulbs, the kind we use most often.

Under the new law, it's requiring those bulbs to be roughly 25 percent more efficient.

Q: Does that mean all incandescent bulbs are being banned?

A: No. The law applies only to general-service bulbs, the pear-shaped, screw-in bulbs with a medium base that fit most standard lamps and lighting fixtures. What's more, the law affects only 40-, 60-, 75- and 100-watt general-service bulbs.

Even with that type of bulb, you'll still have incandescent options. Manufacturers are coming up with more efficient types of incandescent light bulbs that will meet the new standards.

These more efficient bulbs are called halogen incandescent bulbs. Halogen is a form of incandescent lighting that uses halogen gas in addition to a metal filament.

Q: Won't those halogen bulbs produce light that's more harsh?

A: At full power, halogen bulbs produce a brighter, crisper, whiter light than conventional incandescent bulbs. That's good for tasks such as reading, but not everyone likes it for ambient lighting.

But here's a nifty thing about them: The light of halogen bulbs can be made softer and warmer by turning them down with a dimmer, said Terry McGowan, director of engineering for the American Lighting Association.

Dimming the bulb reduces its Kelvin rating, which measures the color of light, McGowan explained. A halogen bulb can range from a bright, white 2,930 Kelvins to 1,850 Kelvins, the color of candlelight.

So in effect, a halogen incandescent bulb gives you a variety of lighting options in one bulb.

Q: Will I still be able to buy incandescent bulbs for things like appliances and chandeliers?

A: Yes. The law does not apply to appliance bulbs or candelabra-base bulbs, the kind with narrow screw-in bases that are often used in chandeliers and electric window candles.

Nor does the law apply to medium-base bulbs other than the specific general-service bulbs I mentioned earlier. Among the bulbs it excludes are three-way bulbs, 150-watt bulbs, black light bulbs, bug lights, colored lights, plant lights, rough-service bulbs and shatter-resistant bulbs.

Q: When do the changes take place?

A: The changes will be phased in. They'll affect general-service, 100-watt bulbs on Jan. 1, 2012, 75-watt bulbs a year later and 60- and 40-watt bulbs on Jan. 1, 2014.

Now, here's where the issue gets a little complicated. It's not entirely correct to say the government is banning those light bulbs. What's actually happening is the government is limiting the amount of energy a bulb can use to produce a certain amount of light.

Q: Huh?

A: OK, here's a quick lesson in Lighting 101.

Although we've gotten used to thinking about a light bulb's brightness in terms of watts, that's an inaccurate measure. Watts measure the amount of electricity a light bulb uses - or any electrical device, for that matter. Brightness is measured in lumens.

A conventional incandescent light bulb uses 100 watts of electricity to produce about 1,600 lumens. Under the new standards, general-service bulbs won't be permitted to use more than 72 watts to produce that amount of light. Different wattage limits apply to bulbs of other brightness levels.

Q: That sounds pretty complicated. How will I know what to buy when I go shopping for light bulbs?

A: By the middle of this year, light bulb packages will be required to bear a lighting facts label designed to help consumers choose bulbs. The label is similar to the nutrition facts label found on food packages.

The label will show the number of lumens the bulb produces, the number of watts it uses, and the lumens per watt - a measure of the bulb's efficiency. It will also tell how warm or cool the light is and how true colors appear under the light. If the bulb contains mercury, the label will note that, too.

Eventually we'll get used to thinking in terms of lumens when we're choosing bulbs. For now, here's a conversion guide from the Department of Energy:

-Replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb with one that gives you about 1,600 lumens.

-Replace a 75-watt bulb with one that gives you about 1,100 lumens.

-Replace a 60-watt bulb with one that gives you about 800 lumens.

-Replace a 40-watt bulb with one that gives you about 450 lumens.

Q: Will the new bulbs fit my old lamps and light fixtures?

A: For the most part, yes, assuming your lamps and fixtures are designed to fit general-service bulbs. All three types of energy-saving bulbs - compact fluorescent bulbs, halogen incandescent bulbs and LED bulbs - have screw-in bases that are the same size as general-service incandescent bulbs. The bulbs are roughly the same size as the old ones, too, although some may be a bit bigger or smaller than what you're used to.

If you're in doubt, the Energy Department recommends taking one of your old bulbs with you when you shop so you can compare or get assistance from a salesperson.

You can even buy those twisty compact fluorescent bulbs with coverings that give them the shape of more conventional bulbs, so you can use them in fixtures where the bulb shows or with lampshades that clip onto the bulb.

Q: Aren't these efficient bulbs more expensive?

A: Yes. But they cost less to operate, and some of them last significantly longer than conventional incandescent bulbs. So in the long run, you'll pay less to buy and operate the efficient bulbs than conventional incandescent bulbs, the Energy Department says.

Let's look at the upfront cost first. A conventional, 100-watt incandescent bulb will cost you about 60 cents to buy. To get the same amount of light, you'd pay about $3 for a compact fluorescent bulb, $3 for a halogen incandescent bulb or $40 for an LED bulb.

(Bulb prices can vary significantly, depending on the quality, wattage, retailer and other factors, but I'm using averages from the American Lighting Association for the sake of simplicity.)

But consider the costs of lighting those bulbs. That standard incandescent bulb will cost you around $4.80 a year to run, according to the Energy Department. A good-quality compact fluorescent bulb would cost you $1.20; a halogen incandescent bulb, $3.50; and a good LED, $1.

With LEDs and compact fluorescent lights, you'll save even more because you won't have to replace them as often. A compact fluorescent bulb lasts about 10 times longer than a conventional incandescent bulb, the Energy Department says. An LED bulb lasts up to 25 times longer.

Halogen incandescent bulbs, on the other hand, won't give you a longevity bonus. They last about as long as conventional , the lighting association says.

Explore further: Mandated change in light bulbs to occur at year's end


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2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 07, 2011
well, in my opinion, the savings are never passed to the consumer. I switched to compact fluorescent bulbs few years back and found that they do not last a " lot longer " than the incandescent like it was advertized. By now since a lot more people are using them, the prices should have gone down but on average they are still high. So who ends up with the savings when going from one bulb to another? The same company which was making incandescent bulbs in the past and is now making fluorescent bulbs.

Conclusion? I am not buying into the electric car concept anytime soon.
5 / 5 (3) Apr 07, 2011
Compact florescent lights (CFL) Facts.

1) "High Quality" CFL's are not identified by price or listing
2) Frequent switching kills CFL lifespan.
3) Dimmers & many motion-sensor switches kill CFL's
4) Photocell switches must also be listed for CFL's
5) Ovens / attic spaces & high ambient area's kill CFL's

CFL lifespan is based on constant ambient temperatures in the laboratory, and cycling on & off once per day. The best application remains identical to linear florescents, indoor lighting on timer circuits.

The weakest link in LED's is the Driver electronics. LED's don't last 50,000 hours, because the electronics in the driver burn out much sooner. Luminaries last as long as their weakest link, whether its lamps or electronics, lifetime follows the warranty period listed by the manufacturer.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 07, 2011
No surprise here that Edison-screwed energy wasters still show up...But, he is an American, after all, not like naturalized alien shits like Tesla.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 07, 2011
No surprise here that Edison-screwed energy wasters still command the show...But, he is an good ol' American capitalist after all, not like naturalized alien shit smartarse Euro-upstart like Tesla. The new laws is therefore full of holes you can string all the 100W incandescents to your heart's content. Feck the world, we consume energy as we like and afford it!
0.7 / 5 (48) Apr 07, 2011
Are you sarcastic? I can't tell.
not rated yet Apr 07, 2011
Are you sarcastic? I can't tell.

Apparently you need to take more melange..P
0.7 / 5 (48) Apr 08, 2011
not rated yet Apr 08, 2011
Again the government got it backwards on banning the most efficient bulbs first and the least efficient bulb last.

Because the efficiency of a standard incandescent bulb goes down as the light output goes down. A 40 Watt bulb produces less lumens per watt than a 100 Watt bulb.

But I do appreciate the halogen bulbs and I wish they'd been on the market sooner. They do last longer than standard bulbs, except on dimmer circuits where the temperature is reduced and the halogen cycle doesn't work as well to recycle the tungsten back to the filament.

The difference between a standard 2700 K bulb and a 2900 K halogen is neglible, though I would say the halogen is slightly better in my opinion. The halogen bulb lends itself better to higher illumination levels because the sensitivity of the eye shifts towards warmer colors when the light levels are increased, balancing out the "harsh" effect of the higher color temperature just as in nature where daylight tends to be more blue.
not rated yet Apr 08, 2011
Though the new efficiency targets do pose a problem in that you can't have white diffuse incandescent bulbs anymore, not even the halogens, because it reduces the light output. Only clear bulbs can be made.

So shadows become a problem as the smaller halogen bulb filament is more or less a sharp point source and that makes the light fixtures cast sharp shadows on the walls if they have features like supporting wires, pull cords or handles.
not rated yet Apr 08, 2011
As for the LED lights, they are not cost effective. The luminous efficacy of the LED bulbs on the market is highly exaggerated, and what the manufacturers actually promise for high power LED bulbs is about 25,000 hours, not 50,000 hours.

In reality you need about 20 Watts of LED to replace a 75 Watt standard incandescent. An actual LED replacement for a 100 Watt bulb costs between $125 - $325 not $40.

For 60 cents you get about 1000 hours of light, so you pay $15 for the same light hours on the regular bulbs, as opposed to a minimum of $125 on the LEDs. Meanwhile the LED bulb will use 1375 kWh less energy. The result is that those saved kilowatt-hours end up costing you 8 cents each. A small saving if you pay the average 11 cents a kWh.

Take a CFL, the difference is so small that the LED ends up costing you at least a $100 more.

And if you value light quality, you'd buy a halogen bulb which will use 28% less energy, negating the savings.
not rated yet Apr 08, 2011
And frankly, the savings over a regular bulb would be divided over 6.84 years with 10 hours of light a day, the total amount of which would be a mere $41.25 or $6 per bulb per year.

That's a tough decision - better quality lighting at home, or couple coffees at Starbucks.

It's nice to put things into perspective.
not rated yet Apr 08, 2011
While I'm unsure of the outcome... I'd love to see bulb makers list the operating COST of a bulb for a fixed number of years on their packaging... The fact that each bulb have drastically different life spans make things a little messy but I think people might pay more attention to how much your bulb choice will cost you over a known period of time instead of how much they'd save.

We do this all the time when buying other items... Cars being a great example, sure you might be able to afford the car payment on a luxury car but calc in the cost of much higher insurance, premium gas and lower gas milage as well as much higher repair cost will quickly cause someone to rethink their purchase.
not rated yet Apr 08, 2011
lighting accounts for about 14 percent of the electricity used in buildings
Which raises the question how many percent of the total electricity the electricity used in buildings accounts for.
not rated yet Apr 09, 2011
While I'm unsure of the outcome... I'd love to see bulb makers list the operating COST of a bulb for a fixed number of years on their packaging... The fact that each bulb have drastically different life spans make things a little messy

And not only that, but the fact that incandescent bulbs give pretty much the same amount of light until they burn out, but CFLs and LEDs dim over their lifespan.

The question becomes, when is the bulb considered "dead". For incandescents it's obvious. For CFLs and especially for LEDs the lifespan may be ridiculously long if the electronics don't fail first, but you won't be getting much light out of them by the end of it.

So, do you toss the bulb out when it produces 1/3 less light than when it was new? 1/2 less light? Or do you wait until it dims and dims and finally stops working due to a physical flaw? (I have many such "tired" CFLs in my house)

There's too much wiggle room for the manufacturer to make the costs seem lower than they are.
not rated yet Apr 10, 2011
looks like nobody is awear that cfl use mercury if one gets broken its anoff mercury to make toxic ur whole house

mercury is one the most toxic element to human health
0.7 / 5 (48) Apr 10, 2011
There is very little mercury in CFL lightbulbs. I love how people who criticize environmentalists use arguments they would never let an environmentalist get away with to pursue their agenda. If an environmentalist was making this same claim about mercury you would be demanding corporations have the right to dump mercury in rivers or something equally atrocious. I'm sorry you don't like the light CFLs give off but it really is of better quality and you'd get used to it if you weren't such a stubborn bastard.

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