Changes in the Way We Light Our Homes

Lightbulb changes

The Green Scene
By Shelley Swenson 

Oh the far reaching effects of our government.  Were you aware of the Energy Independence and Security Act which became law in 2007?  The law mandated new efficiency standards to be set for appliances which included new energy-efficiency standards for general service incandescent light bulbs.  BUT on January 1 of this year, the day set by Congress for the 100-watt bulb to become more energy efficient, enforcement of the new law was delayed until October 2012. 

What does this mean for the consumer?  It means that the standard 100-watt light bulb was to become obsolete and its lower-wattage cousins were soon to follow.  The law’s ban on standard 75-watt bulbs takes effect January 1, 2013 and a year later for standard 40- and 60-watt bulbs.  Shelves have been stocked with high-efficiency choices but the stores can sell the banned bulbs until their inventory is exhausted.  The new bulbs will require more money up front.  The purchase of the new light bulbs is more like an investment, with the need to balance higher up-front costs against longer-term electricity savings.  Some of the newest high-efficiency bulbs cost more than $20 each and are designed to last more than 20 years.

“The light bulb is moving from a 60-cent commodity that you throw into your grocery cart to an investment just like a refrigerator or major appliance,” said Terry McGowan, Director of Engineering for the American Lighting Association, an industry trade group. “It cost more money and you expect it to do more, and if you move, you might even take it with you.”

Not all the bulbs available to consumers will be banned.  Thousands of specialty bulbs, including 100-watt incandescence designed to stand up to rough treatment, are exempt from the manufacturing ban.  Other exempted bulbs include three-way bulbs and flame-shaped lamps for chandeliers.

Why Change?  The shortcoming of our present bulbs is that only 10 percent of the energy is converted to light; the rest lost as heat.  ENERGY STAR qualified light bulbs pay for themselves in about 6 months.  Then they start paying you back.  Change one bulb and save $40 or more over the lifetime of the bulb.  Consider the savings when you note that an average household has approximately 30 light fixtures.  Research indicates that if every American home replaces just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $500 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.

The Act of 2007 aims to save consumer nearly $6 billion annually on electricity costs by 2015.

How to shop for the new bulbs?  For consumers, a trip to the store for bulbs will likely be more confusing and costly because of the array of new, longer-lasting options.  New labels offer guidance on lumens, or light output, and long-term cost savings on electricity.

The most useful new vocabulary word for many is “lumens,” a measure of the amount of light a bulb produces.  An existing 100-watt bulb gives about 1,600 lumens.  The new light bulb label will have a new “Lighting Facts “section that lists brightness in lumens, so you can compare.

If you are looking to replace a 100-watt bulb, for example, look for a bulb with 1,600 lumens.  The choice might be a compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb, which uses up to 75 percent less energy.  A second option looks like a traditional bulb but has a halogen core that uses 23 percent less energy.  Another emerging contender is the light-emitting diode, or LED, bulb that fits into a standard socket.  They are energy efficient and long lasting, but cost more than $20 each.  LEDs don’t offer an equivalent to the 100-watt standard bulb, but one is being developed.

There is a chart posted on our website call How to Choose the right bulb.  It shows the fixtures and then offers suggestions for a replacement bulb.  I would encourage you to utilize it.  Call me with your additional questions or for a copy of the chart!

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