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Light Bulb Shopping Guide for Representative Barton

Jim Presswood

Posted July 11, 2011

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The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this week on Representative Joe Barton’s BULB Act (H.R. 2417), which would repeal the national energy efficiency standards for light bulbs enacted in 2007.  In his rush to roll back energy efficiency standards, Rep. Barton has gotten his facts mixed up.  He seems to think that the new standards ban incandescent light bulbs. They don’t.  He also seems to have the mistaken belief that new, efficient bulbs are a bad deal for consumers. 

Representative Barton spends a lot of time around the Washington D.C. area, which is where I also live.  So I decided to do some shopping this past weekend to help him find the efficient light bulbs and start saving money.  Hopefully this shopping guide will help him get his facts straight. 

Efficient incandescent bulbs meet the new standards. 

Rep. Barton said in an interview he gave last month on energyNow! that he wants to repeal the standards because they are a ban on incandescent light bulbs, which would require consumers to purchase higher priced compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) that take a long time to pay for themselves through efficiency savings. 

The incandescent bulb, however, is not banned – it’s just getting better.  Incandescent bulbs meeting the standards that go into effect this January are already available in stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot.  These bulbs look, illuminate and turn on like the traditional incandescent bulbs that have changed little over the past 125 years.  But they are 28-33 percent more efficient.  Below are pictures of several of the 72 watt (W) efficient incandescent bulbs, which produce light equivalent to conventional 100W incandescent bulbs.  You can buy these efficient light bulbs in stores now.

3 light bulb packages_LARGE.JPG

Efficient incandescent bulb nets $1.69 in savings. 

During my shopping trip, I found a Philips 72W efficient incandescent bulb for $1.50 at Home Depot.[1]  The 100W bulb was cheaper – it was just 31 cents. [2]  Both bulbs are rated to last 1000 hours, or about 18 months at 2 hours per day.  But, the electricity I’ll save with the more efficient bulb covers my extra up front cost in just seven months. [3]  For the remaining 11 months the product operates, I’m making money.  Altogether, I figured my total cost (bulb plus electricity) with the conventional bulb is $10.59 while my total cost for the efficient incandescent is just $8.90.  The bottom line: I make $1.69 by going with the efficient incandescent.  This is a great deal for consumers, and looks even better when you consider that more efficient bulbs mean decreased need for power plants, which emit air pollution that harms people’s health and the environment. 

Savings from CFLs are even greater. 

Even though the new standards do not require anyone to buy a CFL, consumers who make that choice will save even more money.  Rep. Barton believes that CFLs are so high-priced that it takes buyers a long time to recoup the additional up-front cost through lower energy bills.  In a Politico story last week, he said: 

"I bought a 60 watt CFL [compact fluorescent light] bulb last night at Giant for $6 and I bought four 60-watt incandescents for 37.5 cents a piece, four for a buck and a half,” Barton said. “It takes a long time to make up efficiency when it's an 18 to 1 outlay up front."

Rep. Barton needs to check the prices at Giant again and his math. 

I found a 13W CFL (equivalent to a 60W incandescent bulb) for $2.11 at a Giant in Northern Virginia last weekend.[4]  Home Depot in Northern Virginia has even better prices – they sell a 14W Ecosmart CFL (equivalent to 60W) that lasts 10,000 hours for $1.46.[5]  As with the efficient incandescents, CFLs cost more than the 31-cent conventional incandescent, but they pay back their extra cost through lower electric bills even more quickly.  It takes just 2 months to pay back the extra up-front cost of the 14W Ecosmart CFL, which is certainly not “a long time to make up efficiency.”[6]  CFLs also last much longer than regular light bulbs (6,000 to 10,000 hours vs. 1,000 hours).  My total cost (bulb plus electricity) for 10,000 hours of light with the 14W Ecosmart CFL would be $15.85.  My total cost (bulbs plus electricity) with conventional light bulbs would be $64.78.  So, my net savings are almost $50 with the CFL.

But don’t take it from an amateur shopper like me.  The expert shoppers at Consumers Union, which publishes Consumers Reports magazine, found very similar results, which are described here.

National savings add up.

Of course, the costs and savings from a single light bulb are not big dollars.  But, with more than 4 billion sockets in the U.S., the savings from the new standards really add up for the nation.  Once the light bulb efficiency standards are fully implemented, consumers will save more than $12 billion per year (including more than $1 billion in Rep. Barton’s home state of Texas.)  An average household will save $85, which is like getting one month of electricity free, every year. 

If Rep. Barton’s attempt to repeal these standards is rebuffed, all light bulb shoppers are going to be saving money and that’s good news for our economy, health, and environment.


*Thanks to Andrew deLaski of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project for his assistance with this blog. 



[1] 2-pack of Philips 72W incandescent bulbs at Home Depot for $2,99, which is $1.50 per bulb.

[2] 8-pack of Sylvania 100W incandescent bulbs at Lowes for $2.48, which is $0.31 per bulb.

[3] Formula to determine payback period: (price of 72W bulb – price of 100W bulb)/((cents per kWh electric rate * average usage of bulb * 0.10kW) – (cents per kWh electric rate * average usage of bulb *0.072kW)).  Inputs for formula: average Virginia electric rate of $10.28 per kWh (Electric Power Monthly, Energy Information Administration, Table 5.6.A. (June 2011)); average usage of bulb of 693.5 hours (“U.S. Lighting Market Characterization,” Navigant study commissioned by U.S. Dept. of Energy, p.40, Table 5-10 (2002)).  Completed payback formula: ($1.5-$0.31)/(0.1028kWh*693.5hours per year *0.10kW) – (0.1028kWh*693.5hours per year*0.072kW) = 0.595 years *12 mos. per year = 7 months.  

[4] 3-pack of Smart Living 13W CFLs (60W equivalent) for $6.37, which is $2.12 per bulb.

[5] 4-pack of Ecosmart 14W CFLs (60W equivalent) for $5.85, which is $1.46 per bulb.

[6] Completed payback formula: ($1.46-$0.31)/(0.1028kWh*693.5 hours per year *0.10kW) – (0.1028kWh*693.5 hours per year*0.014kW) = 0.187 years *12 mos. per year = 2.24 months.

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peter dublinJul 12 2011 11:05 AM

If the new light bulbs are so Great,
if the savings are so Great,
then why don't people choose them then?

Why do you assume that people are fools,
so that their alternative choices have to be banned?

You don't keep buying a product just because it's cheap:
And simple incandescents have usage advantages, yes, even compared to those Halogen-type alternatives, as explained in other recent NRDC posts, alternatives which incidentally will be banned before 2020 anyway
(see other comment).

Moreover, the Halogen-type alternatives
have existed for some time already,
and are unpopular with both politicians and consumers because they only give marginal savings for a much higher price tag.

If everyone takes up your "Offer"
to keep buying incandescents, the energy savings willl be even less than you at NRDC keep saying - you can't have it both ways.

Turning it around:
People will buý expensive products if they are good enough, and marketed properly
(Energizer bunny batteries, washing up liquids, "Cost more to buy but save you in the long run!")
Instead, profit-seeking manufacturers
achieve bans on popular but (as Philips/Osram executives admit) unprofitable cheap products to shift the profitable expensive alternatives, including the ones you assist them with above.

on the basis that the bulbs are great,
surveys show that most households indeed buy some energy saving alternatives - they don't necessarily want ALL their bulbs to be that way, and as for cost,
some rooms and lighting situations are rarely used
- not warranting the expensive kind, whose usage savings are typically just calculated for main lighting usage.

"Switch all your lights and save money"
is like saying "Eat only bananas and save money"
- Halogen types are as said not always equivalent, and are in post-ban EU only available in specialty stores and in smaller ranges - again, because the profits are not as great and the cost/saving ratio prohibitive.

The TAX alternative:
Finally, if you reject all the above,
if you REALLY still have to push sales of all those "Great" bulbs on otherwise unwilling consumers,
TAX cheap incandescents and cross-finance energy-saving CFL/LED (and maybe Halogen) bulbs to make them cheaper to buy.
Government saves/gains money,
consumers keep choice, and are not just hit by taxes
1.5 -2 billlion current annual sales shows the potential for cash-strapped Federal/State Governments.
And that is just light bulbs - add in cars, buildings etc in these Budget crisis times, helping finance all the subsidies that you NRDC folk like.
No-one likes taxes, but they are better than regulations, for all sides.

Essay on Market Competition and Taxation as Regulation alternatives, using Light Bulbs as practical example

peter dublinJul 12 2011 11:41 AM

Yes it is a ban...
( more on )

RE "Rep. Barton has gotten his facts mixed up. He seems to think that the new standards ban incandescent light bulbs."

It is a ban, and it is a ban on incandescents:
Certainly , it's defined as energy usage standards,
but it's energy usage standards
that incandescent bulbs can't meet,
in a longer perspective
(and if they could, would be unlikely to be made and profitably sold, compared to profitable CFL/LEDs)

You have to take the Energy Act as a Whole.

First Phase starting 2012, yes, allowed
Second Phase of the Energy Act, by 2020 at the latest, all those New Incandescent types are banned,
because they do not achieve 45 Lumens per Watt.

The Second Phase sees a review procedure for tightening regulations..

Second Phase,

—If the Secretary fails to complete a
rulemaking in accordance with clauses (i) through (iv)
or if the final rule [ thus produced]
does not produce savings that are greater than or equal to the
savings from a minimum efficacy standard of 45 lumens per watt,
effective beginning January 1, 2020, the Secretary shall prohibit the
sale of any general service lamp that does not meet a minimum efficacy
standard of 45 lumens per watt. "

So it will be 45 lumens per watt by 2020 at the latest,
which no incandescent on the market and no sellable incandescent is near to being able to achieve

Sure, pigs might fly,
but given the profit-motive behind pushing CFL/LED sales around the world, that is unlikely.

So all politicians waving Halogens around and saying
"Hey folks, this is not a ban, you can use these"
are maybe not lying, but they are certainly not telling the whole truth either.

Maybe you believe
the Energy Information Administration at
the Department of Energy:

“The second tier of efficiency improvements becomes effective in 2020, essentially requiring general service bulbs to be as efficient as
today’s CFLs"

Note also
what the Act also says in section 321:

“Instructs the Secretary of Energy to report to Congress on the time frame for commercialization of lighting to REPLACE INCANDESCENT AND HALOGEN INCANDESCENT lamp technology”

- which if nothing else shows the REAL intent all along

Regulation review along with updates on all US state repeal bills and the Canadian Government's ban delay proposal

jeremyJul 12 2011 02:49 PM

the only reason senator joe barton wants this bill passed is not for consumers rights but because all his largest campaign contributor comes from electric utility companies who dont want to lose money when people buy more efficient appliances.

Kirsten KorosecJul 12 2011 08:28 PM


Just a heads up that I linked to your blog in my recent analysis on the light bulb wars. Thanks for the store-comparison coverage with the special focus on D.C.

Also, an apology: I inadvertently and unintentionally garbled a sentence as I described the bulb pricing you wrote about, which lead one reader to explode in the comments section. It's already been fixed in the post and I addressed it separately in a response to the reader.

Kirsten Korosec
Carbon Based - the business of energy
BNET/CBS Interactive

Silvio MarcacciJul 12 2011 09:17 PM

Thanks very much for mentioning energyNOW! in your post.

We're glad to see our show is helping advance the energy debate. Hope you found the rest of our energy efficient lighting episode interesting.

W HJul 13 2011 02:28 PM

You apparently think that we have every light bulb in our house for 2 hours per day. Using your numbers... if I have this 100 watt light in a linen closet that is on 6 minutes per day it will take over 11 years for the initial cost difference to be made up. Wouldn't this bulb cost difference be better spent elsewhere.

Why can't I choose where I want Hi Eff bulbs and where I don't?

peter dublinJul 14 2011 04:09 PM


You raise yet another among all the deceptions used to defend the regulations...

Only MAIN lighting is used in calculating running cost savings and blared out in campaigns to consumers:

An American 45-light household has plenty of situations where cheap short-lasting bulbs work out much cheaper to run with occasional use
- apart from the additional cost of losing expensive bulbs, breakages etc

The issue is further covered here, among many other usage saving deceptions:

Comments are closed for this post.


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