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Is there really going to be a ban on incandescent light bulbs?

14 January 2011

MYTHThe government is trying to prevent me from buying incandescent light bulbs!

FACTWe will always be able to buy incandescents in one form or another.  The law going into effect January 1, 2012 is not a ban – it is instituting a new standard for the efficiency of light bulbs.  Some incandescent light bulbs will fade away into memory, but not all of them.

These new lighting efficiency standards were signed into law by President Bush as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007.   The law is using a new measurement for light bulbs: lumens per watt.  Like miles per gallon ratings for cars, the lumens per watt measurements measures the efficiency of a bulb producing light per watt of electric power required to operate the bulb.  The higher the lumens per watt, the less you pay day-t0-day to light your home.

A 100 watt incandescent produces about 17 lumens per watt.  It’s like the traditional first car – something old, cheap and typically dies after a few years.  Compact fluorescents produce over 60 lumens per watt and last up to 10 times longer than incandescents, making them more like the Hondas of lighting: more expensive up front, but with higher mileage and meant to last with the proper use.  LEDs (light emitting diodes) produce a whopping 75 lumens per watt and can last up to 70 times longer than an incandescent, but they’re more like a concept car right now: pretty on paper, but with some significant real world issues and ridiculously expensive to boot.

LED

Incandescent

Compact Fluorescent

So, because of the Energy Independence and Security Act, starting January 1, 2012 American companies will stop making and importing 100 watt light bulbs.  You will be able to buy incandescent light bulbs after January 1, 2012. 75, 60 and 40 watt incandescents will remain on the shelves until January 1, 2014,  as well as a variety of specialty bulbs including three-ways, colored lamps, plant lights and appliances lights.  Manufacturers are also working on making incandescents that have higher luments per watt capacity.  So no worries – there will always be a large variety of light bulbs for American consumers!  As far as purchasing compact fluorescents, remember: always purchase EnergyStar-rated bulbs and install them in compliance with the packaging to get the best performance.

:: Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Subtitle B – Lighting Energy Efficiency)

31 Comments leave one →
  1. Paladin permalink
    14 January 2011 12:55 pm

    as well as a variety of specialty bulbs including three-ways, colored lamps, plant lights and appliances lights.

    ^ this is your problem. CFL’s are designed to replace general purpose lamps, the main ones that light up rooms.

    Get this straight. THEY DON’T WORK in almost half of the intended applications and THEY DON’T last. There’s hundreds of reports of people saying that incans are OUTLASTING CFL two to one.

    If there is no ban, why are bulbs disappearing from shelves? You admitted by default that bulbs are being removed, by how is this not a ban?

    • 14 January 2011 1:06 pm

      Paladin: I understand your frustration – I’ve had CFLs that didn’t work or burned out quicker than I expected. There is a wide range of quality in CFLs, as with most products. That’s why I recommend people ONLY purchase EnergyStar-rated bulbs and use them as directed by the packaging. I speak to thousands of Minnesotans a year about energy efficiency, so I’ve talked to hundreds of people who had bad experiences – and most often they were caused by cheap bulbs installed incorrectly.

      Secondly, CFLs are not the end all, be all of lighting technology – they’re a temporary solution until LED bulbs become better and more cost effective for residents. This isn’t a ban because incandescent light bulbs can be manufactured to meet stricter lumens-per-watt requirements. Incandescents, in one form or another, will be in stores for Americans for decades to come. Thank you for visiting the blog!

  2. Paladin permalink
    14 January 2011 7:29 pm

    But Neely, it’s not just that. I’ve managed to set the things on fire with a test rig, using a ceramic socket, off the shelf dimmer and a plug. I put a 2 amp fuse in line with the bulb to protect the house circuit. I dim the CFL bulb about 20% and within about eight minutes, the base was smoldering. It finally went fully engaged and THE TWO AMP FUSE NEVER POPPED. This was a none dimmer bulb, and a very easy mistake to make.

    There are millions of houses that were built in the 60′s and 70′s with a popular whole house dimmer system called X10. These consist of touch pads in each room, with a 24 volt control system. The touch pads control the light. To be blunt, these people are now completely screwed.

    I’m sorry but because of the way these bulbs are built (with electronics in the base,) CFL’s will NEVER be able to be fully dimmable, it’s nature of the beast and just simple behavior of electricity and current.

    You do realize that Phillips, GE, Toshiba (Japan,China) have all or about to discontinue making incans, the only Manufacture will be Sylvania.

    I’ve heard this over and over about the “don’t buy cheap bulbs or the only good bulbs are on the internet” Okay, that’s well and good, but noone takes into account human behaviour and just simple economics.

    First, most are not going to be ordering bulbs off the internet, (I’ve just started ordering incans off the internet as the ban draws closer, and plus I need 300 watt large base for an old industrial lamp I’m restoring) and two, they are going to buy from where they know. (Home Depot, etc) and these retailers carry the midrange bulbs only. So essentially, it’s pricing poorer people out of the better bulbs and they spend more money on lighting.

    • 15 January 2011 8:12 pm

      Paladin: Your concern with dimmable switches is warranted; many consumers are unaware that it takes the installation of special dimmable light switches for CFLs as well as the use of dimmable CFLs to make the bulbs function properly. I can understand how you would be alarmed when the base of the bulb smoldered when you used it improperly. However, the base smoking is not an indication of the bulb “setting on fire” – rather, it is a sign that the circuitry of the bulb is failing because it was being used improperly and the the arc contained in a fluorescent light raised the temperature of the plastic near one end of the tube, causing melting and smoke (here is an article from the Star Tribune that goes into detail). This is actually a very common sign of the end of the useful life of a CFL (like the small “popping” noise that incandescents sometimes make when they burn out). The use of dimmable bulbs with CFL dimmer switches increases the range of dimming and lengthens the lifespan of the bulb. I think that CFLs manufacturers could do a WAY better job about advertising the proper use of their product, which is why I write about issues like this on my blog (and give free presentations and trainings for communities across Minnesota about energy efficiency).

      As for buying the proper bulbs, the highest rated CFLs by both Consumer Reports and Popular Mechanics is Home Depot’s in-store brand, which is EnergyStar-rated and often packaged in sets of four for bulk pricing (once branded as N:Vision, now sold as EcoSmart). Many hardware stores also have promotions in October where they sell EnergyStar-rated CFLs in a variety of lumens/watts for $1 each.

  3. 5 July 2011 6:27 am

    bery good pricing (once branded as N:Vision, now sold as EcoSmar

  4. 4 September 2011 11:54 pm

    Do the cfl’s all not turn on right away? I crashed into a wall in my house due to forgetting that I need to wait a few. Kind of ridiculous. Do they sell any decorative ones that will look nice in my decorative light fixtures? Or are they all those ugly curly q things?! Personally I’d rather pay double for the current type and still have an option/control of how to light my house. Guess I’ll start stocking up now.

    • 6 September 2011 9:00 am

      Jay – I know what you mean! Some CFLs take up to 1 minute to come to full brightness, although I typically see that with more decorative bulbs. Modern Energy Star-rated CFLs are made with quick start ballasts, so they come to full brightness much faster than their predecessors. As far as finding decorative CFLs, they come in many different shapes and sizes – not just the pigs tail! You can find CFLs that are bathroom globes, indoor and outdoor flood lights, dimmable, 3-way, and candelabra base. I recommend going to a bigger box store for more specialty types. If you are Minnesota resident, Xcel Energy also sells CFLs wholesale on their website, including some of the specialty ones. It’s most important to purchase CFLs that are Energy Star-rated, since those bulbs have been quality tested for light quality and lifetime (the Home Depot brand is the highest rated by Consumer Reports and Popular Mechanics). Even if you don’t use CFLs, don’t worry – incandescents aren’t going anywhere, and there is no need to stock up.

      • 5 October 2011 10:51 pm

        I just found this site because I, too am concerned about incandescents going bye-bye. I just installed a dimmer switch in my apartment hallway, AND I have many 3-way lights and 3-way adapters, which allow me to use a 60 watt IND. bulb on three settings. I would hate to not be able to use these gadgets anymore. I’m happy and relieved to read that incandescents are still going to be around. I’d gladly pay more just to have them in my storage closet.

      • 6 October 2011 8:20 am

        Cassyashton – I’m glad I could provide more information! No worries, you will always be able to find incandescent bulbs that will fit your dimmable and 3-way lights.

      • Paladin permalink
        6 October 2011 4:04 pm

        Neely,

        Be careful. There’s some systems that use a touchpad installed into the wall that controls a 24 volt relay that controls the bulb. These systems are completely incompatible with CFL’s. This sounds like what she’s got. In fact, I’ve already mentioned it.

        Also, there’s a provision in EISA that if the sales of 3 way and shatter resistant go up, they to will be included.

        Also, my Aunt and Uncle are building a brand new house, they have recessed lights with CFL floods, and there’s at least 100 if not more of these bulbs throughout the house. They have NOT reduced startup times by any stretch of the imagination. One room took over three minutes to get to full brightness.

      • 7 October 2011 8:24 am

        Paladin: It’s true, conventional dimmer switches are typically not compatible with compact fluorescent light bulbs. Homeowners who are interested in using dimmable CFLs should install dimmer switches specifically manufactured to be used with CFLs, although of course it is always an option to use incandescents or other bulbs instead.

        As far as the bulbs installed in your Aunt and Uncle’s home, it is true that some CFLs have a very long start up time. Luckily, not all CFLs are created equal and there are many different kinds and qualities on the market right now. Do you know the brand and age of the bulbs, and if they are Energy Star rated? Most often I find that bulbs with longer start up times are older, or are not Energy Star rated.

      • Paladin permalink
        7 October 2011 8:57 am

        They are no name contractor grade, that’s all I can really tell you I did see the boxes, the manufacture date was this year.

        It’s true, conventional dimmer switches are typically not compatible with compact fluorescent light bulbs.

        ^at the cost of a complete retrofit. What I’m trying to say is that the type of system that the OP was talking about, is THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE HOUSE. Each room has it’s own touchpad with a central control box in the attic. This would not a simple rewire job, but a complete, total replacement.

  5. Pat permalink
    2 November 2011 11:32 am

    Is anyone not concerned about mercury that is present in all of these CFL lamps and in ALL fluorescent lamps? What about the rare-earth minerals used in the electronics and in the gas mixtures of the CFL’s and now in the LED lighting? Aren’t we trading dependence on foreign oil for dependence on foreign RARE (and expensive) materials and the added concern that mercury presents? I work for a large university, as an electrician, and I know first hand the issues that this whole “green” movement have created. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe we need to find ways to conserve, recycle, and reuse and that we need to encourage companies to develop better electrical devices, but there are times I listen to the claims that are being made and rules that are supposed to be making us a greener country and I wonder if these people EVER consider the entire picture or if they only look at things from the view of what saves energy NOW? About the only thing really “green” about much of the “green” energy stuff is the green that the manufacturers take from the consumer in the name of energy savings. Here’s a lighting example: We just built a large administration building with LEED certification (a benchmark of “green” building) in California (a state with many “green” motivated building codes). The building uses the latest trend in linear fluorescent lamps, the T5 lamp and includes “energy saving” daylighting controls (where electronic controls adjust the brightness of each lamp in the building to use sunlight as the primary source of interior light during the day. Sounds like a great way to save tons of electricity, and lots of money, right? Not so! First, we are paying a premium for the T5 lamps (almost double the price of T8 lamps) with no increase in lamp life. Second, before the electronic controls can be turned on (and whenever lamps are changed) we have to run the new lamps at 100% brightness, continuously for at least 100 hours or risk reducing lamp life by 50% or damaging the EXPENSIVE dimming ballasts. That’s at least 50 hours of WASTED roughly every 2 years (re-lamping cycle). A quick comparison between the ENTIRE system of an incandescent lamp verses a fluorescent lamp and you start to see that the manufacturing process for the incandescent is simple and requires less energy and fewer rare materials than the fluorescent and when it comes to recycling, the incandescent is far simpler, safer and requires less energy…The incandescent system consists of a glass globe, filled with an inert gas, a filament made from abundant materials, fitted with a metal base. The remainder of the incandescent lamp system is a ceramic socket with metal contacts. All pieces of this system can be recycled easily and locally into many other products and without the risk of releasing hazardous material should a lamp be broken. Fluorescent on the other hand has a phosphorous coated glass (expensive and dangerous material), containing a mixture of potentially dangerous gasses (expensive and rare materials) and a small portion of mercury (hazardous material). The remainder of the fluorescent system contains electronic components for the ballast and controls which contain rare metals (gold, silver), plastics, hazardous and/or toxic chemicals, metal, glass, and other materials all of which require extensive processing, separating, and purifying processes just to make them safe to dispose of, let alone reuse and all of which must be done at one of a very few plants equipped for these processes (shipping used materials 1000′s of miles to process)….not really an environmentally friendly or energy saving process, is it?
    Then there is the issue of the handful of employees who can’t work under fluorescent light because of the headaches they get (they still flicker just at a faster speed) or the one employee who is actually ALLERGIC to fluorescent light….I know, you are questioning the ability to be allergic to lights, I will admit I thought it was a joke until I did some research (England even has a medical prescription that they give to these people so they can buy incandescent lamps) and found that research indicates that many people have skin that is sensitive to fluorescent light and that some people can become violently ill if exposed. Our employee has to wear dark clothing that covers their entire body surface and dark sunglasses when they are in buildings lit by fluorescent light.

    Let’s get serious….”Green”, as our government and big business define it is NOT really about saving energy, reducing waste, recycling or preserving our natural resources as they would lead you to believe, if that was the case they would spend as much time and energy promoting the simple, inexpensive and really energy saving things that will really make the biggest impact. Things like: Turning off lights that you don’t need, not buying the biggest car, TV set, refrigerator and such if you really only need something small, not driving everywhere when you could walk the 2 blocks instead, promoting energy saving building design over trendy gadgets that you can add to your poorly designed / built building, at great expense, to offset some of the wasted energy (geo-thermal heat, solar panels, complicated control systems)…..

    • 3 November 2011 11:02 am

      Pat – I appreciate your concern over the use of mercury and rare metals with compact and tube fluorescent lighting, which I have blogged about before here and here. I also agree that fluorescent lighting is not the most efficient option – it is a temporary technology until LEDs get their feet under them and improve light quality, color and cost.

      However, when it comes to issues of mercury, the #1 source of mercury pollution in the country is coal plants – in fact, coal plants in Minnesota alone emitted 1,664 pounds of mercury into the air in 2009, which is the equivalent to 302 million CFLs. Because incandescent bulbs use 75% more energy than ENERGY STAR-rated CFLs (90% of which is wasted as heat), they create more mercury pollution through their use than CFLs do, even accounting for the 3 or 4mg of mercury in each CFL. As far as life cycle analyses, I haven’t seen any real concrete studies – if you have links you can send me, I would appreciate it so I can do some more research.

      Do you know where people can recycle incandescents? I haven’t been able to locate anyone in Minnesota that will take and reclaim the bulbs; as far as I have heard, it is very difficult to harvest any usable metals/materials from burnt out incandescents. In Minnesota, most hardware stores and all Lowes, Home Depot and Menards take used CFLs for free, which are then recycled locally by Green Lights Recycling in Blaine, reducing the energy needed for shipping. They are able to convert CFLs and flourescent tubes into reusable commodity grade goods, including glass, metal and mercury – and recycle the boxes and plastic used in shipping as well.

      And, as you point out, there are many different ways to be “green” and reduce energy waste. While CFLs are being widely adopted, they are certainly not required, and there are many practical low-and-no cost ways that American families can reduce wasted energy – in fact, my website has many resources about those very actions!

      • Paladin permalink
        3 November 2011 11:41 am

        Neely,

        CFL cost are expected to rise 40% over the next year because of Rare Earth Materials, these are required to make the lights work and China now has a strangehold on these materials.

        There’s some quiet talk about a possible worldwide tungsten shortage, which might actually be the drive behind the change over. All of the major mining corporations and materials handlers are talking about it. Aside from the profit issue, this is making more and more sense.

        As for recycling incans, there’s no need to, the materials are completely safe. However, the problem on recycling CFL’s are those who live far away from population hubs, rural areas that either burn their trash or bury it.

        Pat definitely hit it dead on some of the issues with these lamps and the whole Green movement.

  6. Jack Ferman permalink
    15 November 2011 12:04 am

    An issue that concerns me that I did not see defended here is the relative brightness of the CFL bulb after approximately 1/3 to 1/2 life of the bulb. The ones that I have purchased became very dim at about that time. I have replaced working CFL bulbs for this reason alone. I personally found the need to replace one size larger (installing with a 20wt CFL 75 wt incand in a fixture that would normally be fine with a 60wt incand when the bulb is new.

    I find it necessary to save packaging for warranty purposes with the CFL (what a waste of time). I normally purchased the 8000 hr GE bulbs, not the cheap stuff mentioned. One more thought, did I mention the buzzing? I chose to replace a couple of the noisy ones.

    Yes I have stocked up with the old. I will gladly convert when the product warrants it.
    Jack Ferman

  7. gbs permalink
    30 December 2011 11:56 am

    I just ordered a case of 50-100-150 GE 97494 bulbs off Amazon.
    Its Friday Dec 30. They won’t ship until early January at the earliest.
    Lawyer time.. Will they be able to ship banned bulbs I payed for in 2011?

    • 30 December 2011 12:30 pm

      Actually, the title “light bulb ban” is a misnomer – the new standards coming into effect in January merely require a higher lumens-per-watt standard for lights manufactured/sold in the United States. This will not effect your order, and you will be able to purchase three-way bulbs that produce the same amount of light in incandescent, fluorescent and LED versions online and in stores in 2012. The incandescent versions will just use less wattage to produce the same amount of lumens (visible light). Let me know if you have any additional questions!

    • Paladin permalink
      30 December 2011 3:33 pm

      GBS.

      Yes, they will still ship the bulbs that you ordered, and any stock that’s left of 100 watts.

      One thing that Neely keeps leaving out is that there is a provision within EISA that states that if sales of the three way bulbs spike in response, they too will included in the ban.

  8. TRoy permalink
    26 January 2012 7:31 pm

    CFL bulbs are a waste of money, especially when the home owner has electric heat. Incandescent bulbs are cheaper and provide heat to the home in the winter when your lights are on the most. Do not waste your money on CFL bulbs, electric heat is 100% efficient. It does not matter if it is from a light bulb or your base board heater.

    • 27 January 2012 10:18 am

      Troy – it depends on where you live, but in Minnesota electricity is much more expensive than natural gas. Because light bulbs are typically placed at ceiling level, it is difficult to get proper distribution of heat (see this earlier post). Of course, CFLs are not a requirement for energy efficiency – but because they use 75% less electricity and last 7-10x longer than incandescents, they can help American families save a lot of money.

      • Sas Simon Martin Reynolds permalink
        31 January 2012 2:41 pm

        Thanks to you all,from a British reader. These comments are also of help as I have a 24 year old car & LED “fog” lites seem to be a good way to lite the very twisty narrow roads [near to the car] round here. We are animal lovers & the more warning we get of frogs, toads, rabbits etc the better. Another thing, my old altenator set up is tired / old & it likes less wattage. As for the “main” lites, I don’t think 1 can get cheap / focusable LED lites yet. I am on incapacity & my partner has been made redundant so money is also very much an issue for us. Once again, many thanks. Sas.

  9. Lisa Jones permalink
    16 February 2012 6:54 am

    We live in an antique house (1892) that has lots of chandeliers and candelabra-type fixtures. Only a couple of light fixtures take standard bulbs. Will we still be able to purchase the candelabra-style bulbs that look like fake flames with both standard and mini-bases? We need them in both 60 watts and 40 watts.

    • 16 February 2012 8:14 am

      Lisa – no worries, specialty bulbs like the candelabra type you are describing are excluded from the new lighting standards, so you will be able to find the same bulbs on the shelves.

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