Advanced Incandescents Shine through the Light Bulb Ban

There are a number of misconceptions about the incandescent light bulb phase-out that will commence January 1, 2012. First, the bipartisan Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007 doesn’t outlaw the most common household light bulbs, or lamps as they are called in the industry. It merely expands previous laws that require increased energy efficiency in lighting and other products.

Second is the perception that the only alternative are expensive, mercury-riddled compact fluorescent lamps that provide cold light compared to our cozy incandescents.

In truth, the EISA standard requires that lamps producing about 2000 lumens of light (the realm of the common 100W incandescent) consume not more than 72W using any technology – incandescent or fluorescent; LEDs or lightning bugs. Similar requirements for 75W, 60W, and 40W lamps will go into effect in 2013 and 2014.

According to Michelle McMullen, vice president of vendor relations at Bellacor.com, “Consumers typically refer to bulbs by their wattage, which measures the amount of electricity needed to generate light for that bulb; instead of the lumens, which describes the amount of light the bulb will generate. Consumers will begin to see lumens listed prominently on packaging to help them understand the light they can expect to get from the particular bulb.”

Through 2011, lamp manufacturers are continuing to produce the 100W incandescent lamps and they will still be sold in stores in 2012. And if someone were to wave a wand and magically make incandescent lamp technology more efficient, they could continue to be manufactured and sold.

In fact, lamp manufacturers worked this magic long ago and are already producing incandescent lamps using higher-efficiency halogen technology, which meets the EISA requirements in most cases. “The halogen gas helps strengthen the filament and therefore, sustains the performance of the filament. Since it is still an incandescent lamp, it has the same warm white light, is fully dimmable, and provides the same nice, omni-directional light as your standard incandescent – it just saves more energy,” said Donille Massa, director of marketing at Bulbrite. Halogen technology is available in a tremendous variety of common and specialty lamp types.

Halogen lamps in packages marked “100W replacement” may produce somewhat less light than their incandescent equivalent, but often this is completely acceptable. Halogens are also more expensive than standard incandescents, but one-third less wattage means they use less electricity to operate. The dollar or so extra up-front cost can be paid back in electricity cost savings within a year, depending on how much you pay for electricity and how many hours the lamp is on.

Federal efficiency requirements for reflector lamps went into effect some 15 years ago, and EISA will include many more reflector lamp types and wattages beginning July 2012. Further, new rulemaking will raise the efficiency requirements beyond even halogen technology, leaving only a few advanced halogen-IR products on the market. At this price range ($10-$15) many consumers may choose compact fluorescent reflector lamps instead, or even cutting-edge LED technology.

“You’d have to buy two halogen-IRs to last as long as one CFL at about the same price. And the CFLs use maybe a third of the watts,” according to Hugh Prosser, buyer for Lamps Plus. For a cold-weather outdoor floodlight, Prosser recommends upgrading to wet-location-rated LED technology. “I have LEDs in my kitchen,” he said. “They’re rated at 40 times the life of the old incandescents, and the energy savings is 80-90 percent, easy.”

But these advanced technologies do have drawbacks. Look for more on the pros, the cons, and the scoop on mercury hazards in our next article.