Congress’s Incandescent Bulb Ban Is No Ban

By Craig DiLouie, LC

What you need to know:

  • From 2012-2014, energy standards take effect targeting incandescent lamps
  • 100W lamps are affected 1/1/12, 75W lamps 1/1/13, 40-60W lamps 1/1/14
  • A number of halogen lamps comply providing nearly equivalent performance
  • CFLs and LED lamps offer the longest-life, highest-efficiency options

Incandescent Bulb BanIn January 2012, the first phase of energy standards for the incandescent lamp (or light bulb) took effect, effectively eliminating common household general-service 100W lamps.  In California, these standards have taken effect one year earlier than the federal standards.

On January 1, 2013, 75W lamps are targeted, and on January 1, 2014, 40W and 60W lamps are targeted. Unless these wattage lamps become about 30% more efficient than those currently available today they will not be allowed to be manufactured or imported in the United States.

The result is the virtual elimination of most common household lamps used in American homes, putting millions of sockets up for grabs.  Most specialty types of incandescents such as appliance bulbs, 3-ways, and rough service types will still be available.  Those with intermediate and candelabra bases will still be available but will have wattage limits.

The media has promoted a narrative that the Federal government is “banning the bulb,” and forcing people to use compact fluorescent lamps. This is not true. The incandescent light source has not been banned, only asked to become more efficient.

Consider that the average incandescent lamp produces far more heat than usable light. In fact, only about 10 percent of an incandescent’s electrical input is useful light output. The rest is dissipated as heat.

As today’s 40-100W incandescent lamps are removed from the market, consumers will have several choices of  light sources to fill their sockets.

One offering is the energy-saving halogen incandescent screw-in lamp, which offers about 30% energy savings while providing the same high color rendering, easy dimming, and a similar shape as today’s incandescent  bulbs. Examples include the Philips Halogená Energy Saver, Sylvania Halogen SuperSaver, GE and Bulbrite’s A19 lamps, and TCP’s Sustainabulb.

For higher energy savings—up to about 75%—consider compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs. These use only about 25% of the energy of an incandescent while offering an average rated life of 6,000 – 10,000 hours, up to 10 times longer than the average incandescent lamp. They now offer good color rendition and are available in warm and cool light color appearance. However, they do not start instantly, and only those types indicated as being suitable for dimming can be  used with a dimmer control.  There are trace amounts of mercury in CFLs.  These bulbs should be handled with care and recycled at end of life in the same manner as other household hazardous waste (rechargeable batteries, computer monitors, etc.).

A third option is the LED (Light Emitting Diode) replacement lamp. These products, now available to replace incandescent wattages as high as 100W for energy savings as high as about 80%, offer a long service life as high as 25,000 hours. They are significantly more expensive than either halogen incandescents or CFLs but the extra cost is more than recovered due to energy savings and extremely long life.  However, as LEDs are a young technology, let the buyer beware. It is a good idea to try out a few products before making any real commitment, and  look for LED (and CFL) lamps bearing the ENERGY STAR rating. An LED replacement bulb that is ENERGY STAR qualified provides confidence that the product performs according to published ratings and meets the Energy Star requirements for good color, long life, dimmability, and a minimum 3-year warranty.

To help consumers navigate their choices of lamps, the Federal Trade Commission created a Lighting Facts label for all lamp packaging. These labels provide an at-a-glance view of key metrics, emphasizing light output (lumens) in addition to watts, to help consumers evaluate and compare options.

A brief, instructive guide can also help in making choices. Titled Lighting Options for your Home, the heavily illustrated, consumer-friendly booklet can be downloaded free at www.nlb.org, website of the National Lighting Bureau. The guide is published by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and its enLIGHTenAmerica initiative, both of which are National Lighting Bureau sponsors.