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New Energy-Saving Bulbs Are Coming -- Here's How You Find the Right Ones for Your Home

Noah Horowitz

Posted December 12, 2011

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Come January 1st, a new light bulb standard goes into effect that gradually phase out the 125-year-old inefficient incandescent bulbs. The old 100W bulb as we used to know it will go away in 2012 and be replaced by more efficient incandescent bulbs as well as other energy saving bulbs such as CFLs and LEDs. The old 75W incandescents will be phased out in 2013 and the 60 and 40W bulbs in 2014.

Back in 2007 these standards were signed into law by President Bush with broad bipartisan support and will require new bulbs to be roughly 30% more energy efficient. These standards have huge benefits and will cut our nation’s electric bill by approximately $13 billion/year and eliminate the need for 30 large power plants.

Well guess what, January 1, 2012 is around the corner and there continues to be a lot of misinformation out there. Let me be clear: Consumers will continue to have an array of lighting choices, including new and improved incandescent bulbs. In an attempt to help consumers better prepare for this new standard and find the right energy saving bulbs for their home, I put together in David Letterman style list of the “Top-5 Tips on How to Select the Right Energy Saving Bulbs.” So here it goes:

Tip number 5 for consumers to find the right energy saving bulbs is … Buy the bulb that gives off the amount of light you need.

In the past we all bought bulbs based on the amount of power it used.  We all got the call — “bring me home a pack of 100W bulbs from the hardware store.” While consumers were basing their bulb purchase on the amount of power it used, in reality they were trying to buy a certain amount of light and chose between the 40, 60, 75, or 100W incandescent bulb. Given the range of efficiencies the new bulbs provide, buying a bulb solely on the amount of power it uses no longer makes sense and  we’ll have to shift to buying lumens. For example, a typical 60W light bulb produces around 800 lumens. The CFL that produces 800 lumens only uses 15W.  To help consumers during this transition, bulb packages will likely contain a claim like “as bright as a 60W bulb” or “15W = 60W” to indicate the bulb is a suitable replacement for your old 60W incandescent bulb.

See chart below:chart: buyers' guide to energy-efficient lightbulbs

Number 4: Buy the quality of light you are used to.

Most consumers are most familiar with and used to bulbs that are marketed as “warm white.”  CFLs and LEDs come in many flavors, some offer light that is similar to the slightly yellowish glow a “warm white” incandescent bulb provides while others offer “cooler” white light that is blueish/white in color. While numerous surveys show that more than 80% of consumers who use CFLs state that they are very happy with them, the reason that some are dissatisfied is likely because they bought the wrong one. When shopping for a CFL or LED, be sure to look for one marketed as warm white. Those marketed as cool white or day light have much different light color, which only a small minority of consumers prefer.

Number 3:  Not all bulbs are dimmable.

Most of the sockets in our home are not dimmable. Those sockets that are hooked up to a dimmer require a dimmable bulb.  Please note, the typical CFL bulb does NOT dim and may fail prematurely if installed in a dimming circuit. For dimmable applications, use LEDs, the new energy saving incandescents or a CFL labeled as dimmable.

Number 2:  Downlights are different.

An increasingly popular type of fixture in our home are the circular downlights in our ceilings, also known as recessed cans.  These are intended to use directional type bulbs designed to shine the light downwards.  As such do NOT put in a regular pear shaped bulb or a spiral CFL bulb inside the recessed can.  They will not shine the light where you want it.  Instead select an LED, CFL or halogen reflector or flood light.

And tip number 1 for consumers looking for new energy saving light bulbs...   Energy efficient bulbs save a lot of money!  To make sure you get a good one only buy those with the ENERGY STAR label on them.

A typical CFL bulb will save a consumer $30 to $50 over its 6 year lifetime. LEDs are rated to last up to 25 years and will thus save consumers more than a hundred dollars over its lifetime.  The best bang for your buck today are CFLs as they typically cost less than $5 and can often be purchased in a multi-pack for less than $2  a bulb. Over time LED pricing will come down and become more affordable for the average consumer.

Also not all CFLs and LEDs are created equally. ENERGY STAR labeled products must meet detailed performance requirements and are subjected to independent testing to help ensure the super efficient bulb you are buying not only saves energy, but is also as bright as the bulb it claims to replace and  does not fail prematurely.

Now here are some of the best places to go for more info:

  • Sylvania Lighting has put together a great online guide that shows a photo of the old bulb you used to have and photos of the new bulb choices.
  • NRDC has published a light bulb buying guide that includes information on the cost and savings from each type of bulb.
  • A great light bulb finder smartphone app is available from the folks at Eco Hatchery.  It helps a consumer select the right type of light bulb for a given application.  It also provides the ability to directly order the bulbs, although the prices are much higher than those found at a big box retailer.
  • DOE also has some great information on its website

For those of you who have any questions about the new lighting standards and/or the legislation, the following link provides everything you’d ever want to know about the new law, including blogs from experts, facts sheets, videos, buying guides and other helpful consumer information:

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George PepperDec 13 2011 04:10 AM

Thanks for the advice. I was unaware that not all bulbs were dimmable

Paul RussellDec 14 2011 09:53 AM

Good article and generally, clear, concise points that the average consumer should understand.
However; it does not address the hazardous aspects of CFLs.
Most consumers do not realize that in most jurisdictions CFLs are classified as Hazardous Waste because they contain Mercury and other toxic substances.
We ban children's toys and other items that contain Mercury and yet in many areas, we can obtain rebates for CFLs!

peter dublinDec 14 2011 04:59 PM

Useful charts - thanks!

I would however say that energy saving,
is not the ONLY reason for preferring any product!

Unfortunately energy usage standards compromise product charactristics, on incandescents or anything else (buildings, cars, etc) .

The more complex halogens (and similar incandescents) cost
much more with different light quality and marginal savings, which is
why they are not popular either with consumers or politicians and
there are no publicly subsidised "Halogen replacement programs" (like
with CFLs).

And - they will be banned too.

The EISA intention to REPLACE incandescent technology is already made clear in the text:
Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007/Title III/Subtitle B/Section 321
"The Secretary of Energy shall report to Congress on the time frame for commercialization of lighting to REPLACE incandescent and halogen incandescent lamp technology"

As also seen,
All known general service incandescents will be banned on the 45 lumen
per Watt EISA end-regulation kicking after 2014, and by 2020 at the latest (backstop rule)
Touted halogens typically reach just 25 lumens per Watt.

A simple safe cheap way to make bright broad-spectrum lighting is
thereby effectively put to an end.

Even if less energy using incandescents are still “allowed to be made”,
the profit-seeking manufacturers who lobbied for the ban would be
unlikely to pursdue further improvements
of for them unprofitable technology.
In Europe, promised Philips incandescent Ecosaver improvements were
quietly shelved, once the ban was achieved.

The whole rationale for the regulations,
is to save on electricity, coal use and CO2 emissions.
But light bulbs don't burn coal or release CO2 gas.
Electricity savings are comparatively small - and to reduce electricity use,
the coal, electricity from coal, or any electricity, could simply be taxed
(and pay for home subsidy insulation of poorer homes, power plant emission reduction etc)

Particularly ironic that 100 Watt bulbs are first to be banned:
Since low cost brightness is particularly hard with the main pushed CFL or LED alternatives,
and the heat given off is not necessarily wasted:
Overall, just 1-2 % grid electricity saved
(Dept of Energy etc data
with much better alternatives in generation, grid distibution and
other consumption savings (wasted usage rather than consumer choice) , as described.

CFL "power factor" alone means twice the energy use at the power plant to what your home meter suggests,
but consumers eventually have to pay for that too in their bills
Dept Energy and Sylvania references:

power plants being compensated (subsidies, regulator permission to raise bill rates) for any expected reduced sales,
eg California, Ohio etc
- on top of paying more for the bulbs,
many of which in average 45 light USA homes won't be used much

Heads they win -
tails you lose.

Fred KrohnDec 14 2011 06:36 PM

We should scrap the 'ban' and let the consumers choose between various types of bulb on his or her own. Regular incandescents are appropriate in some applications; halide lamps, CFLs, and LED array bulbs have their best application in different settings. Having all types available would prevent the heavy-handed-government complaint and be much more effective than a ban; look at the 'toilet revolt' over the 'water saving' toilet scam.

Donna WaltmanDec 15 2011 01:22 PM

Does anyone really believe that consumers will take the CFL bulbs to hazmat recycling areas? I'd bet any amount of money that most of them will end up in trash cans and ultimately public landfills, where their mercury will leach into the ground water. This is a much greater hazard to the public health than the small amount of pollution caused by incandescent bulb manufacture and use.

Scharmel RousselDec 15 2011 05:58 PM

The mercury in CFL bulbs is tiny - less than the amount in old common thermometers. I take all used lightbulbs to the collection box just inside the doors at Home Depot - no hassle. I have been using CFL bulbs and LEDs for years with great satisfaction. I record dates of installation to make sure they are lasting as long as expected. If you are worried about mercury poisoning, work on stopping power plants that burn coal.

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