Light bulbs: Making the switch from incandescent

  • Article by: SUSAN SALISBURY , Cox Newspapers
  • Updated: January 16, 2013 - 6:19 PM

Traditional 75-watt light bulb is the latest to go.

If you're still confused about which light bulb to buy as a replacement for the familiar incandescent bulb that's being phased out, you're not alone.

"A lot of people are still surprised as to what is going on. There's still some confusion," reports Pedro Villagran, manager of Light Bulbs Unlimited in West Palm Beach, Fla. "People are complaining the government is telling them what bulbs to buy."

As of Sept. 30, it became illegal to import or manufacture the traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb. But stores can still sell what they have on the shelves, and some still have them in stock. Using incandescents is not illegal.

On Jan. 1, the same federal energy legislation passed in 2007 now covers a manufacturing and import ban on 75-watt incandescent bulbs. The law requires most bulbs to be 30 percent more efficient.

On Jan. 1, 2014, the most widely sold wattage bulb --the 60-watt -- will be on the way out, along with the 40-watt bulb.

"The 60-watt, that may be a real shocker there," Villagran said.

Villagran said the change goes beyond the standard reading-lamp bulb to other types of bulbs, such as those for recessed lighting and different types of reflector bulbs.

"People are bringing in bulbs that have not been made for a while. They say, 'What do I do now?' Bulbs are still available. They can only get it a lot less bright. The bulb is only 45 watts. It used to be 75 watts."

So, what are the choices other than incandescents if they are still on the store shelves?

The more energy-efficient bulbs are compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), which are the "squiggly" kind, halogen bulbs and LEDs (light-emitting diodes). The traditional bulbs are cheaper at 60 cents or so. CFLs are $3 or less per bulb, and halogens range from $4 to $6. LEDs are $20 to $70 a bulb. The more energy-efficient bulbs last longer than traditional bulbs.

Certainly it can't be too tough for people who have figured out how to use computers, cellphones and other devices to learn a new way of thinking about light bulbs.

Cathy Choi, president of Bulbrite, a 40-year-old family-owned lighting manufacturer and distributor based in Moonachie, N.J., says figuring out which bulb to buy is not as complicated as it might seem. But, Choi, who chairs the American Lighting Association Education Foundation Board, agrees that consumers are confused.

Instead of thinking about watts, the focus should be on light output or brightness. Check the package for the number of lumens. The incandescent bulb has a lumens range of 10 to 15 per watt. A 100-watt bulb has 1,000 to 1,500 lumens. An equivalent 72-watt halogen bulb has 1,490 lumens, which means it provides the same amount of brightness as the 100-watt incandescent.

Consider where the bulb will be used. It's all about selecting the right bulb for the right place.

"If you are using it in your table lamp for reading, I would not suggest a compact fluorescent," Choi said. "The way it produces light is not what the consumer is used to. I would suggest a 72-watt halogen replacement. The halogen replacement looks like the bulb you are used to. The way it is made is a little bit different."

But for a spot such as the laundry room, the CFL will probably do, Choi said. The packaging will state that the bulb consumes 23 watts but provides the same light output as a 100-watt incandescent.

The halogen is the least efficient of the three choices, but is closest to what people are used to seeing. It's the most popular of newer choices, Choi said. Bulbrite's Halogen A19 bulbs are almost an exact replica of the traditional incandescent.

Concerns about highly toxic mercury contained in CFLs make them less appealing. Such bulbs are supposed to be disposed of at a specific site, not just thrown into a garbage can. If a bulb breaks, special steps must be taken to clean it up, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Manufacturers have come out with a domed CFL that resembles a traditional bulb's shape.

LEDs are much more expensive than CFLs but last longer, Choi said.

"The LEDs cost more because they are a new technology. Twenty years ago, when the compact fluorescent was new, it was priced similarly. Someday the LED will be dominant," Choi said.

Choi says the law is a win-win for consumers, who save on energy costs and help the environment by using less electricity.

"Ultimately, we are able to produce a better product for the consumer. If I can give you the same amount of light in 71 watts, you are saving 28 percent energy. Over the life of the lamp, you are buying fewer bulbs," Choi said.

"People struggle with, how can I do my part? Maybe you can't afford to drive a Prius, but you can do it as easy as switching a light bulb," Choi said. "If you don't want to give up the look, go to the halogen."

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