So-Called ‘Light Bulb Ban’ In Effect: What Types of Bulbs Are Ok to Use?

[Update: December 30, 2013] The new year rang in big changes in the way you light your home. As of Jan. 1, 2014, federal legislation has restricted the manufacture or import of conventional 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs in the United States. While some are calling it a “light bulb ban,” the law itself doesn’t ban the use or sale of incandescents; it requires manufacturers to create more energy-efficient versions of the traditional pear-shaped bulbs, which does keep the door open to the future sales of incandescents.

Have you been using incandescent bulbs in your home? If you haven’t made the switch to energy-saving light bulbs yet, don’t worry. Like you, I knew that switching to more efficient versions could result in significant energy savings, but I wasn’t sure where to get started. Between wattage ratings, lumen ratings and coloration, I felt overwhelmed just looking at the light bulb aisle! Good news: Even if you’re like me, picking the brightest, most efficient bulb is actually pretty easy. Follow these tips to get started.

Does switching to energy-efficient bulbs make a difference?

Absolutely! Just swapping out 15 incandescent bulbs in your home could save you up to $50 a year, says the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s because a standard incandescent is only 10 percent efficient, the agency says; the other 90 percent of the electricity it uses is lost as heat.

What are my lighting choices?

CFLs, LEDs and halogens (also called “energy-efficient incandescents”) are the three major categories of energy-efficient light bulbs, and they are commonly found in home improvement stores.

What should I know about halogen lights?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, halogens are 25 percent more energy efficient than conventional incandescents, and can last up to three times longer. These bulbs come in multiple shapes and sizes and many can be used with dimmers.  Halogens don’t have a ‘warm up’ time; they’re at full brightness the instant you turn them on.

What should I know about CFL light bulbs?

Compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, are 75 percent more energy efficient than conventional incandescent bulbs and they last 10 times longer, the Energy Department says. CFLs are just like the fluorescent “shop lights” you may already have in your garage – they’re just a different shape. These bulbs come in a range of colors and, while most people think of the “open” curly shape of early models, CFLs now come in “closed” versions that mimic the pear shape of conventional incandescents. Not all CFLs are dimmable, so if that’s a feature you’re looking for, be sure to check the package. Also, you should know that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, so they need to be recycled properly to prevent the release of mercury into the environment.

What should I know about LED light bulbs?

LEDs are 75 percent more energy efficient than conventional incandescent bulbs and they last up to 25 times longer, the Department of Energy says. Unlike CFL bulbs, which take time to “warm up” when they switch on, LEDs turn on instantly. But, as with CFLs, you’ll need to check the package if you’re looking for a dimmable option. LEDs are expensive relative to incandescents, but the Department of Energy says “they still save money because they last a long time and have very low energy use.”  We should see a dip in prices, though. Because the technology is seeing lots of innovation,  LED prices are expected to come down in the future.

How can I compare light bulb types? How do I shop for bulbs now?

With incandescents, we were used to shopping by “watts,” which is a measure of energy consumption. But wattage only told us how much energy the bulb used, not how much light it gave off. Now, the Department of Energy says, you’ll have to shift your focus from watts to lumens, which is a measure of light output. More lumens indicate more light. For example, your bedside lamp at home may currently use 60-watt incandescent bulbs. This means that the fixture provides a light output of about 800 lumens with an incandescent. You can enjoy this same light output (800 lumens) with a CFL that uses less than 15 watts. (Note: Bulb labels will still note the wattage, but you should compare them based on the lumens to get your desired brightness)

What about color? Don’t CFLs emit a harsh, bright light?

CFLs actually emit a wide range of light. Some bulbs do provide a “cool” bluish-white light that feels bright, while others offer a “warmer” yellowish-white light that’s closer to the light emitted by traditional incandescent bulbs. When shopping for bulbs, look for the informational label on the packaging. Structured like a nutritional label found on food products, the “lighting facts” label provides a scale that includes the light appearance (how warm or cool the light appears).

My old incandescent bulbs haven’t burned out. Should I wait until they do or replace them now?

No need to wait. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it makes sense to replace your incandescent light bulbs now makes sense because you can begin enjoying the energy savings right away. You might save your old incandescent bulbs for use in a closet, the Energy Department says, where they would only be used for minutes at a time.

Where do I go for more information? Are there any incandescents that are exempt?

The Department of Energy has lots of information on the various light bulb types and their intended uses. Check out for details on your potential savings too. You can also view the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 for all the legal details, including a list of incandescent bulbs that are exempt from the restriction (they include appliance lights, black lights, bug lamps, 3-way incandescents, and more; see p. 83).

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