As the clock struck midnight on Dec. 31, 2013, chimes rang for a new year while a death knell tolled for two of the most popular old-school light bulbs on the market. Under the final phase of federally mandated legislation signed by President George W. Bush in 2007, as of this past Wednesday, traditional 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs, also known as the standard A19 bulb/lamp, will no longer be produced and imported.
For advocates of energy efficiency, this is decidedly good news as it requires consumers to use more efficient options, such as compact fluorescents and LEDs. The legislation, included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), phased out 75- and 100-watt incandescents in January 2012 adn January 2013, respectively, and was designed to encourage more efficient technologies. As previously reported by our sister magazine, Architectural Lighting, it's not necessarily a ban, as many news outlets are reporting. Rather, the legislation establishes a higher efficiency standard along with baselines for lamp lifetimes and was designed as "technology neutral," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meaning that "any type of bulb can be sold as long as it meets the efficiency requirements." The catch is that no conventional incandescent lamp can meet the criteria. Hence, it's time to say bye-bye to your traditional incandescents.
The potential for energy savings is large: As of 2011, the EPA estimated that 3 of the 4 billion light bulb sockets in the U.S. were still using standard incandescent technology, which the agency says is only 10 percent efficient, with 90 percent of the electricity consumed being lost as heat. Then there's the cost savings: The Department of Energy has estimated that the more efficient light sources now required could products a savings of nearly $6 billion in household electricity costs in 2015 alone.
Sounds great, right? However, not all consumers are cheering the final phase: Osram Sylvania's recent 6th Annual Socket Survey found that 30 percent of consumers were stubbornly planning to stockpile the not-so-efficient traditional incandescents rather than buy more-efficient options. And then there are the conservative pundits who are not only encouraging stockpiling but are essentially claiming, "Give me incandescents, or give me death!," declaring that the phase out as an infringement on American freedom.
According to the EPA, however, the phase out is not that big of a deal and the largest change will be in how consumers shop for lamps from here on out, as they'll need to focus on lumens, not watts. While watts tell you how much power a lamp uses, lumens tell you how much light a lamp provides. More lumens equals more light, but thanks to newer technology, not necessarily more watts. The EPA suggests that those looking to replace 60-watt incandescents should look for Energy Star-qualified lamps that provide 800 lumens and use only 13 to 15 watts, and replacing 40-watt incandescents with Energy Star-qualified lamps that use 9 to 13 watts and produce 450 lumens.
One last thing: While the incandescent phase out may not be in its final phase, the efficiency legislation is not. A second part of the EISA will require most light bulbs to be 60 to 70 percent more efficient than a standard incandescent by the year 2020.