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Shedding the light

on switch to energy efficient light bulbs

Created date

November 23rd, 2010

Americans love technology; jettisoning last year s model for this year s cool new thing. Yet one of the most basic and ubiquitous conveniences of modern living the old-fashioned incandescent light bulb is the same basic item that Thomas Edison designed in 1879. It s not that technology has ignored the light bulb. In recent years a number of new products like compact florescent bulbs (CFLs) and halogen bulbs have been introduced to the marketplace, but Americans reaction to these new designs have been tepid at best. A 2009 U.S. Department of Energy survey found that only 11% of household sockets are actually using CFL bulbs, the most commonly available energy-efficient bulb. By contrast, Consumer Reports found that 81% of Americans have purchased an energy-efficient bulb. They just don t seem to be using them for most of their lighting needs.


The nation s reluctance to embrace new light bulb technology as wholeheartedly as we embrace other technological advances may be due to the fact that alternatives to the incandescent lighting are not better in every regard. For example, CFLs are certainly more efficient then incandescent bulbs, producing more light with less energy, but while the brightness of the CFL light is comparable to incandescent, the quality of the light emitted by CFLs is not. CFLs also contain mercury, making them potentially dangerous if they break and are not disposed of properly. Halogen bulbs don t contain mercury, but they cost more than CFLs and don t last as long. And the newest bulbs on the block, the LEDs, come close to matching the quality of incandescent light but can cost as much as $60 a piece. All of the new energy-efficient bulbs are more expensive than traditional incandescent bulbs, but they pay for themselves through reduced energy costs and longer life spans over time. Of course, that s provided you don t break the bulb before you even screw it in.

New energy-efficient standards

By all measures, the traditional incandescent bulb is a dinosaur. But their affordability and ease of use have made consumers reluctant to part with them. However, in the coming years, theses dinosaurs are headed for extinction. In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which included new higher efficiency standards for basic light bulbs. Beginning in January 2012, the traditional incandescent bulbs you use now will start to be phased out. Consumer lighting needs will be met with energy-efficient light bulbs, including CFLs, halogens, and LEDs.

Lumens versus watts

Making the switch will require some effort, and we ll need to learn more about our lighting choices. U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson Jen Stutsman says a good place to start is with the package. We encourage consumers to begin familiarizing themselves with the term lumens, she says. Lumens are a measure of how much light you get from a specific bulb. This differs from the term watts, which measures the amount of energy a light bulb uses. In most cases, you ll see a lumens measure on light bulb packaging today. Beginning in summer 2011, all manufacturers will also be required to use a new lighting label that provides easy-to-understand information for consumers about the lumens, efficiency, and characteristics of a particular type of light bulb. Consumers will also need to learn how to handle and dispose of energy-efficient bulbs. Fortunately, most home centers and hardware stores have knowledgeable personnel who can help you make the right choice for your needs.

On the horizon

EISA lighting standards will help make America more efficient and lead to reductions in carbon pollution. For consumers, this means lower energy bills. For businesses, this means lower costs, making them more competitive. For the environment, EISA brings in enormous benefits. Over 30 years, these new standards are expected to save the energy that would be produced by more than 1,000 500-megawatt power plants. With the advent of EISA little more than a year away, manufacturers are stepping up to the plate with better, cheaper, safer, and even more efficient light bulbs. GE recently unveiled a prototype of an LED bulb that employs jet engine cooling technology, and the advent of a more efficient incandescent is looming on the horizon. To find out more about energy-efficient bulbs, visit Also, check with your local and state power authorities about rebate programs to help offset the cost of purchasing energy-efficient light bulbs. How do you feel about using energy-efficient light bulbs? Send your thoughts on the matter

What you need to know about new light bulb standards

The change in lighting from the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act will be phased in starting from January 2012 to January 2014. It will occur in three phases: