Are Incandescent Bulbs Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

by EVstudio AEP on February 19, 2010

Hi, Lisa. I’ve heard that incandescent bulbs have been outlawed by the government.  Should I stock up now?  – Mike in Boulder

Hi, Mike.

It’s a great question with a complicated answer.  In December of 2007, former President Bush signed the Energy Independence Act of 2007 into law. This act establishes efficacy standards for general service lamps (bulbs). Phased changes beginning in 2012 will require general service lamps to produce roughly 25% more lumens per watt (LPW) than they do today.

These standards will affect the typical general service incandescent lamp. Clear, frosted, soft white, and daylight lamps are included, but specialty colors and shapes are not.  Changes are phased:

  1. 1/1/2012: 100W light output must be achieved with 72W or less.
  2. 1/1/2013: 75W light output must be achieved with 53W or less.
  3. 1/1/2014: 60W light output must be achieved with 43W or less.
  4. 1/1/2014: 40W light output must be achieved with 29W or less.

Does this mean that we should all rush to McGuckin Hardware to buy out the remaining incandescent bulbs or we’re relegated to a life without lovely, warm golden light?  Many lamp manufacturers have already scaled back manufacturing of products that do not meet the first wave of standards, making 100W lamps harder to find. However, you CAN find lamps that meet new efficacy standards.  Adding halogen inside an encapsulation that looks like an incandescent lamp made of thick glass, manufacturers are using 72W to emit the same amount of light as a 100W lamp.

Many compact fluorescent lamps, as well as some LED lamps, meet the standards already.  The standards require a minimum CRI of 80 (color rendering index, which we discussed last week) and a minimum of 1000 hour lamp life.

The standards do not apply to special lamps, such as 3-way lamps, appliance lamps, rough service or shatterproof lamps, marine lamps, and a few other specialty types.  Beginning this year the DOE is monitoring sales of these products to make sure that these are not being purchased in lieu of general service lamps via a loophole that circumvents the standards.

While many incandescent bulbs will no longer be available starting in 2012, lamp manufacturers have already accommodated many of the efficacy standards. There may be a thriving black market for the incandescent bulb as we know it today, but the lighting industry is working very hard to produce sources that are innovative, have good light quality, are dimmable, and save energy.

Stay tuned.

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