Spotlight on light bulbs
Here's a rundown on your main choices for bulbs.
• CFLs: or compact fluorescent light bulbs, are sometimes called twisty or spiral bulbs. The earliest bulbs turned people off with their little light and slowness to come on, but they now come on instantly and produce a light quality equal to incandescent.
Pluses: They're fairly cheap, about $1.25 to $2.50 each for a 60-watt-equivalent bulb. They last a long time, about nine years with normal use. They burn cooler than traditional incandescent bulbs and use much less energy.
Minuses: They can take a minute or more to reach full brightness, so they're not the best choice for stairways or other places where instant brightness is important. Some CFLs can't be used outdoors, in enclosed fixtures or with dimmers. And CFLs contain mercury, albeit a tiny amount.
• LED: These bulbs, illuminated by light-emitting diodes, until recently were pretty much limited, but recent improvements in price and quality make them worth a look.
Pluses: They last so long you may never have to replace them. Energy Star LED lights are guaranteed to last 25,000 hours, which translates to almost 23 years with normal use. They're also slightly more energy-efficient than CFLs, using 10 watts of electricity to produce the light of an old-style 60-watt bulb. What's more, they're cool to the touch.
Minuses: They're still fairly expensive. You can find some bulbs for $10, but brighter bulbs are still in the $30 to $40 range.
• Halogen bulbs: Really a type of incandescent bulb, except the filament is enclosed in a capsule filled with halogen gas under high pressure, allowing the filament to burn hotter with less energy, making the bulb more efficient.
Pluses: They look and perform pretty much the same as old-style incandescent bulbs, but with less electricity. They come on instantly, can be dimmed, produce a familiar warm light and can be used anywhere old-style incandescent bulbs could.
Minuses: They're more expensive and don't give you nearly the savings on your electricity bill or the longevity as the other two. The bulbs also burn hot.
Say goodbye to the old-style light bulb.
On Wednesday, it became illegal to manufacture or import 60- and 40-watt incandescent bulbs because of federally mandated efficiency standards signed into law in 2007 by then-President George W. Bush.
In earlier stages, 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs were phased out, but the ban on 60- and 40-watt bulbs will affect consumers more because of their popularity for residential lighting, experts said.
That means the sort of general-service light bulb we've used for more than a century can no longer be made in or imported into the United States.
It may not be noticeable until a few months into the new year when those light bulbs are sold out, worn out and not replaced, but before that, businesses expect to educate consumers unaware of the new change.
What does that mean for you?
On the plus side, it means more choices and smaller electric bills. On the minus side, it means an end to dirt-cheap light bulbs and grab-and-go bulb shopping. Now you need to read labels.
The new lighting standards, part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, were intended to make light bulbs more efficient and reduce the amount of energy needed to power them. They've done that, but they've also left some consumers confused in the face of all the choices in the lighting aisle.
"You're used to buying that 60-watt bulb and knowing what it looks like and everything else," said Cordell Blackmon, manager of the Batteries + Bulbs store in Ohio. Now, he said, customers who buy bulbs in haste often bring them back when they find the bulbs don't meet their expectations.
Buying the right bulb requires more attention than it used to, Blackmon said. But with a little education and guidance, he said, his customers end up with what they need.
The Jan. 1 phaseout of old-style 40- and 60-watt bulbs is the third step in the change to more efficient forms of lighting. The first step, in 2012, targeted 100-watt bulbs and was followed in 2013 by the elimination of traditional 75-watt bulbs.
Although the lighting law has commonly been called a ban on incandescent light bulbs, lighting experts say that's inaccurate. The law doesn't ban incandescent bulbs but only requires them to be more energy-efficient.
What's more, the law doesn't affect all incandescent light bulbs, just general-service bulbs — pear-shaped bulbs with a medium base, the kind that for years were used most commonly in the home. A whole lot of bulbs are exempt, including three-way bulbs, 150-watt bulbs and bulbs with narrower candelabra bases that are often used in chandeliers.
The law may be frustrating some consumers, but many lighting specialists and sustainability advocates cheer the innovations it has spurred. The lighting standards "have led to more lighting innovation over the past five years than we saw during the 100-plus years since Edison invented the light bulb," Noah Horowitz, director of the National Resources Defense Council's Center for Energy Efficiency, wrote in his blog.
Now consumers have essentially three choices: compact fluorescent light bulbs, LED bulbs and halogen bulbs.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are long-lasting and stingy on energy use, and relatively inexpensive. But they have features some people don't like, including the inclusion of a tiny amount of mercury.
LED bulbs are illuminated by light-emitting diodes. They last for decades and use even less energy than CFLs, but they're still fairly expensive.
Halogen bulbs are the most like the old familiar incandescent bulbs. They don't save nearly as much electricity or last as long as the others, but they're probably the best choice for people who really don't want to change, said Terry McGowan, director of engineering for the American Lighting Association.
Consumers will pay more upfront for LED and CFL bulbs, but the new technologies will save homeowners about 85 percent and 75 percent, respectively, on their energy bills. In addition, LED bulbs can last up to 23 years, and CFL bulbs last about nine years.