UNDERSTANDING THE RULES
While the new law effectively phases out the traditional light bulb, it stops short of banning it. Instead, the Department of Energy has set efficiency standards for all light bulbs, and today’s standard incandescents can’t meet those levels. New, high-efficacy halogen bulbs—a form of incandescent—can, however. They’re not as efficient as CFLs, but they emit the same warm light as their outlawed cousins and are easier to dim than stubborn CFLs, most of which can dim only so much before snuffing out completely.
Under the new rules, all light bulbs will burn 25% to 30% less energy than traditional products do today. By 2020, all bulbs will be 70% more efficient.
CFLs already are 70% more efficient than traditional incandescents. High-efficacy halogen bulbs are about 30% more efficient, so they’re a viable choice for now, but won’t be in 2020 unless manufacturers find a way to upgrade them.
Super-efficient, long-lasting LEDs fill the bill, as they are about 90% more efficient than incandescents, but they’re so new and so expensive that few home builders and remodelers are ready to recommend them to their clients. Still, Soares of Philips Lighting believes builders will gravitate to a mixture of energy-efficient halogens, CFLs, and LEDs.
READING THE LABEL
Like the nutrition label on packaged food, a Federal Trade Commission-mandated new label on light bulbs will tell consumers all about the bulbs they buy.
A Lighting Facts label on the back will repeat the information about brightness and energy cost, and add facts about the bulb’s life expectancy; light appearance—whether the light it shines is “warm” or “cool”— wattage, or the amount of energy the bulb uses; and whether the bulb contains mercury.
The simplest solution, he suggests, is to install a traditional fixture and screw an energy-saving bulb into it—halogen, CFLs, or LEDs clustered together within a bulb-shaped lamp. Indeed, traditional fixtures give the homeowner the most flexibility because they accept a variety of screw-base light bulbs. “The builders who are still holding onto the basic 16-pack of incandescents will go to halogen,” Soares predicts. “Builders who are already using CFLs will go to LED. In the end, there will be plenty of solutions on the shelf.”
And that might spur a change in the way pros light their homes.
“Home builders tend to put some CFL products in the house already,” notes McGowan, “so it isn’t going to be a dramatic change. But it is something they’ll have to pay attention to. They will have to because that’s what will be on the shelf.”
That could be a good thing, suggests lighting designer Glenn Heimiller, a principal of the Cambridge, Mass., firm Lam Partners and chairman of the International Association of Lighting Designers’ Energy and Sustainability Committee. “If they want to install energy-efficient lighting, they shouldn’t worry about the loss of the incandescent A lamp,” he says. “What you will see is a mix of all kinds of different light sources if you’re doing a good design.”
Soares agrees. Cost-conscious home builders and remodelers too often opted for inexpensive incandescents simply because of the price, he says. With those cut-rate relics out of the picture, he predicts, pros might concentrate more on supplying light bulbs that are most appropriate for the fixtures, the room they’re in, and the homeowner’s lifestyle.
A label on the front will contain information on brightness—or lumen output—and the estimated cost to burn the bulb for one year.
Still, builders, manufacturers, lighting designers, and industry observers agree that LEDs are the next big thing in lighting--with or without legislation to force builders and consumers in their direction.
"We're taking a product line that was a disposable product line and now we're turning it into a more durable good," says Soares, who notes that LEDs can last for 25,000-plus hours--and some predict they'll burn twice that long.
When their high price tag shrinks, the high-tech, high-efficient lights are likely to change the way the world lights its buildings.
Many residential LEDs today are packaged within a traditional-looking housing with medium screws bases so they can replace traditional incandescent bulbs in standard fixtures. But before long, says McGowan, they won't look anything like light bulbs--because they're not light bulbs. "It will be a fixture that lights up inside, but you won't see any light bulb in it--just chips and surfaces and points of light," he says. "It will look very different."
Printed directly on the bulb will be the lumen output and whether the bulb contains mercury.
But the look isn't the real difference the gradual gravitation toward LEDs will make.
McGowan predicts that LED lighting will change the way Americans wire their homes. LEDs don't need the high-voltage wiring in today's houses. So low-voltage sockets, wires connectors, and fixtures will take its place.
He foresees a time when walls themselves might be electrically conductive so light fixtures won't need wiring at all.
"I don't know what home builders are going to do until we see these things," McGowan says. "But it's very clear this is going to open up a whole realm of possibilities for putting light where we want it and where we don't have it now."
Sharon O'Malley is a freelance writer in College Park, Md. This article appeared in Building Products magazine.