Replacing that old lightbulb is getting trickier

Consumers now must choose from a dizzying array of new technologies, as federal energy-efficiency standards are phased in.

By Bruce Kennedy May 3, 2013 9:11AM

Image: Flourescent lightbulbs (© Ted Dayton Photography/Beateworks/Corbis)Not too long ago, our choices for electric lighting in the home were pretty basic: incandescent or fluorescent. But over the past several years, consumers have found themselves facing a whole new series of decisions when they head to the store for a replacement lightbulb.

The Department of Energy (DOE) says lighting makes up about 14% of all electricity used in buildings and around 10% of power for homes. It also notes that 90% of the electricity used by incandescent bulbs is wasted, ending up as heat rather than light.

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, the DOE has established new efficiency standards for buildings, vehicles and energy-using products, including lightbulbs.

While EISA doesn't ban incandescent lightbulbs, the DOE's new minimum efficiency standards means many of the old-school bulbs that Americans have used for generations will no longer meet the new requirements.

And EISA has also helped create a dizzying new selection of products for home lighting, including the curly compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL) (pictured), incandescent halogen lights and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. LED sales are growing -- even though LED bulbs still cost significantly more than their CFL counterparts.

And all this new technology will also come with new labeling standards. Much like you can now count calories on food products, consumers will be able to consider a lightbulb by its lumens, a measure of brightness and light output.

The new Federal Trade Commission-required labeling on packaging will also let you know the estimated yearly cost of the lightbulbs you might be purchasing, along with their expected lifespan and energy consumption. It will also provide information about "light appearance," that is, the kind of light produced -- from warm to cold.

The new EISA standards, which the government began phasing in early last year, are expected to save U.S. households close to $6 billion annually by 2015.

But some potential consumers are staying away from the newfangled bulbs, apparently due to ideology. A new study suggests American political conservatives, many of whom question climate change, will avoid buying the new bulbs if they're labeled as good for the environment.

"I think we've shown the negative consequences of environmental messaging," Dena Gromet, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, told National Geographic.

"In particular, you can lose significant portions of people who would otherwise be interested in these products when you use that environmental labeling."

More on moneyNOW

May 3, 2013 10:17AM
You left out trying to dispose of your old bulbs. Some of these new environmentally friendly bulbs are very toxic, you can't just throw your burnt-out bulbs in the trash anymore.
May 3, 2013 10:42AM

A re-post from another blogger -- worth a post on every msn story


Jeff, maybe you missed Congress’ latest change to the STOCK Act. Are you sitting down? They just, very quietly, gutted the law that was supposed to stop insider trading… seriously.

On April 11, Congress voted to eliminate the transparency provisions that would have made not just their trades, but the trades of everyone close to elected officials (staffers, aides, lobbyists) available to the general public. You know – the part that mattered. It also delayed until next year the requirement to post financial disclosure forms online. The vote was unanimous. It all went down in a matter of seconds. And Obama signed it into law on April 15.
These people are crooks. They write laws to protect their criminal activity. And so far, they are untouchable.
May 3, 2013 1:00PM
these insane light bubs cost $6 per bulb, last slightly longer, give off an erie wortless light and do not fit inside fixtures nor work with dimmer switches.  they are toxic to the environment and i throw mine out in the regular trash like everything else. 
May 3, 2013 2:04PM
How many senators does it take to change a light bulb?..........................61
May 3, 2013 2:02PM
Another law from congress that they did not read. All the new bulbs are made outside of the USA borders. Congress is our worst enemy
May 3, 2013 1:45PM
Every one of these super expensive  "better" high efficiency bulbs that I've bought has lasted less than 1/2 the time they advertise.......try returning them for a free replacement if you want to get really passed off.
May 3, 2013 10:19AM
There's another thing too to consider.  The new bulbs generally are not 'sleep friendly'.  One of the reasons why your sleep quality may be poor is that the new bulbs emit the blue light part of full spectrum lighting.  This interferes with the production of melatonin which helps you sleep.  I believe the incandescent bulbs emit the least amount of blue light.  So use those bulbs in your bedrooms or any room where you spend the last few hours of the day before you go to bed.
May 3, 2013 1:42PM

Just more govt. intrusion....ramming stuff down our throats, whether we like or want it, doesn't matter.  The KINGDOM of D.C. has spoken and ALL MUST obey!

May 3, 2013 2:43PM
I don't like the light given off by the new bulbs. They are either too dim or too bright. Have yet to find any in the middle.
May 3, 2013 10:48AM
Another article the Sierra Club and fellow envirozealots can take credit for.
May 3, 2013 3:56PM
If they gave me choice to buy the old style bulbs or the new fangled stuff then I would properly dispose of whatever I chose to buy. Since they are forcing usage, I'll just continue to throw them in the trash, the same way I did all my other bulbs and not give a rip as my personal way to protest these ridiculous choice thieves. STOP TELLING US HOW TO LIVE!!!!!!
May 3, 2013 3:46PM

The new CFLs don't last as long as the packaging states.  I live in a neighborhood that has train tracks roughly 4 blocks away and the vibration from the passing trains shortens the life of the bulb and they don't work well in ceiling fan fixtures.  The one problem no one wants to mention is that the base of the bulb is a starter / balast system just like the old flourescent bulbs.  I have had 4 of the new CFL bases burn out.


Disposal is another matter because of the high mercury content, very few of the bulbs are disposed of as required.  Most end up in the landfills  to further pollute the environment the reduction of energy was supposed to protect.  The bulbs are all made overseas because of GE's interests there and EPA regulations on mercury hazards.

May 3, 2013 4:30PM
the bulbs are as bright as the people running our country
May 3, 2013 3:46PM
The fluorescent "curly" bulbs are costly, and currently, many fail prematurely.  (Cheap, overseas sourced, and sold by major brands)
LED Bulbs have potential, but may suffer from early failure as well, mainly due to poor design and production. From an electrical safety viewpoint, the chance of having line voltage present on metal housings is quite high. (Lamp, non polarized plug, etc.)
May 3, 2013 4:30PM

Lighting/Electrical Engineer here:  hopefully this can clear up some confusion as many of these comments are a bit uninformed.

Here's a few tips based on what is most and least important to you.  If the environment is your thing, do what you think is best.  If it's not, base your decision on your own economic/visual considerations...Regardless of what you do now, eventually these will all end up at LED...eventually.   It's potential for efficiency/cost/quality is just being developed and it's almost a clear winner in these categories already.  The high quality LED equipment is far superior to the cheap stuff now, so if you are going to pay the premium for being an early adopter, please consider the better stuff as that will not enforce the cheapest products getting market share they really don't deserve.

 In general, CFL's are the cheapest in lifetime costs, but have the most downsides.  Incandescent are next in terms of cost, however LED's will soon overtake them being cheaper over the lamp's lifetime, and with fewer downsides than CFL, making incandescent the most expensive option, but with the least downsides in terms of light quality/disposal/environment impact.  Figure these rules of thumb assuming 5 hours of use a day.  Once LED's cost less than this, you'll save more money in 2 years than you would buying Incandescents:

60W equivalent LED:  $14  (pretty high quality LED's are currently at or below this level in my area)

75W equivalent LED:  $17  (not there yet)

100W equivalent LED:  $22  (Definitely not there yet)


Other Pro's of each: 

Incandescent.  color rendering is the best (color is 2700K), dimming is best, and disposal is the easiest.  Shortest life.

Halogen:   Again, color rendering is as good as incandescent (color is a little cooler, closer to 3000K), diming is again the best, with easy disposal. Slightly more life.

CFL:  Worst color rendering (even full spectrum/daylight equivalent have terrible color rendering properties), however the cheapest option.  Dimming is not an option, adn disposal is annoying and contains mercury so can be an issue if they break. Long life.

LED:  Decent color rendering from name brands, but not quite there compared to Incandescent.  Dimming is pretty standard, but doesn't get to as low a level at lowest settings.   No mercury, however still requires taking to a store or elsewhere for disposal/recycling.  Longest life.

May 3, 2013 4:35PM
The Qulaity on the new halogen bulbs is pretty pathetic as well. they dont last even a year now. In my house i bought 7 years ago, the old light bulbs are still working fine and the few halogens i put, I have replaced so many times. Poor quality form China is not being controlled.
May 3, 2013 3:42PM
Read an article in new york times two years ago about the best and lest expensive bulbs to buy.
Brand was TCP 60 watt and can be bought at Home Depot !!!
Have been using for the past two years and replaced only 2 that burned out in entire house.
The color is the same as a regular 60 watt bulb (old style) and the cost is very inexpensive.
Buy a Contractor  12 pack for about $10.00 ttl cost.

May 3, 2013 6:49PM
The heat from incandescent bulbs is not always wasted.  In fact, older building designs often included lights at the ends of hallways so there wouldn't be a cold pocket in the corner.  Nevertheless, I feel much better when I forget and leave two 14W bulbs burning in my basement instead of two 60W bulbs!
May 3, 2013 5:12PM

 I thought capitalism embraced the tenets of open markets where competition determined the winners and losers, not mandates. These “new” light bulbs are not new technology at all, so why didn’t these products win acceptance in the market place when we actually had free markets? How insane is it to spend 50 years removing Lead and Mercury from the household in all sorts of products, water, cosmetics, fish, thermometers, paint, pipes, etc., only to add it back in the form of billions and billions of light bulbs.

May 3, 2013 6:58PM
I hate them all, they look terrible, sometime noisy and environment friendly my a$$. More from big brother telling me what is good for me....and worst MADE IN CHINA need to say more...
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