The nation’s new lightbulb rules start taking effect Sunday. What exactly do they require, and what’s their likely impact, since Congress barred funds to enforce the efficiency standards?
Here are some answers:
Q: What’s included in the new standards?
A: The standards require lightbulbs be at least 25% more efficient and carry labels on the front and back of packages to explain their brightness, annual operating costs, and expected life span. The labels apply to all lightbulbs made or imported after Jan. 1, but the efficiency standards apply only to traditional 100-watt incandescents on that day. The efficiency rules will begin applying to the old-fashioned 75-watt bulb in January 2013 and 40- and 60-watt bulbs in January 2014. Retailers can sell leftover bulbs as long as they weren’t made or imported after their deadline.
Q: What’s wrong with the old bulbs?
A: The incandescent that Thomas Alva Edison invented is notoriously inefficient. It wastes 90% of its energy as heat rather than light, which is why it’s so hot when in use.
In 2007, the U.S. Congress passed the bipartisan Energy Independence and Security Act, requiring lightbulbs to use at least 25% less electricity for the amount of lumens, or light, produced. For example, a bulb that yields 1,600 lumens (typical in a 100-watt bulb) can now use only 72 watts or less of power.
Q: Do the standards ban all incandescents?
A: No. Edison’s bulbs won’t meet the rules, but the halogen incandescent will. So, too, will the CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) and the LED (light-emitting diode), each of which is at least 75% more efficient than the traditional incandescent. Also, the rules don’t apply to less commonly used incandescents such as appliance, three-way, and colored bulbs.
Q: Why did Congress ban enforcement?
A: On Capitol Hill, a group of mostly GOP lawmakers opposed the standards as an infringement on individual rights. They sought to repeal them but failed to gain enough support. Earlier this month, they attached a measure to a massive one-year spending bill that bars the Department of Energy from enforcing the efficiency standard through September 2012. The bill does not apply to the Federal Trade Commission, which will enforce the labeling rules, says FTC lawyer Hampton Newsome.
Q: Will the more efficient bulbs cost more?
A: They’ll cost more to buy but will save money in the long run by using less energy. For example, at Home Depot, a 72-watt EcoVantage halogen incandescent costs about $1.50 to buy (if bought in a two-pack) but $8.67 annually to use. Its brightness equals the 100-watt traditional bulb, which costs less to buy but $12.05 annually to use.
A 23-watt EcoSmart CFL, which produces as much light as the old 100-watt incandescent, costs about $4 to buy (if bought in a two-pack) but $2.77 annually to use and lasts up to 13 times longer. LEDs tend to cost even more to buy but less to operate.
Q: Do these efficient alternatives have a yellowish light?
A: Not necessarily. The back of each light bulb package will list the “light appearance,” or color,
of the bulb, measured on a temperature scale known as Kelvin (K). Lower Kelvin numbers mean the light is more yellow, while higher numbers mean it’s whiter or bluer.
The traditional incandescent, which gives off a warm and almost yellowish light, has a temperature of 2,700 to 3,000K — similar to most halogens. Newer CFLs have a wider range, from warm (2,700K) to cold (6,500K). LED temperatures range from 3,300K to 5,000K.
Q: What’s all this talk about lumens?
A: Lumens, which will be listed on the front of a light bulb’s package, are a measure of a bulb’sbrightness. In contrast, a bulb’s wattage is a measure of its energy use. The more lumens, the brighter the light. The old 100-watt incandescent yields about 1,600 lumens, while the 40-watt bulb provides about 450 lumens
Q: Do all the new bulbs contain mercury? How dangerous is that?
A: Halogens and LEDs don’t contain mercury, but CFLs have trace amounts (an average 4 milligrams per bulb; older thermometers have about 500 milligrams). No mercury is released unless the bulb breaks, but if that happens, consumers need to take special precautions in cleaning up and disposing of the bulbs. The Environmental Protection Agency offers cleanup tips: http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html#instructions.
“The concerns are overblown,” says Ed Crawford, CEO of Philips Lighting North America. “There’s more mercury in a plate of sushi than a CFL,” he says, arguing that’s why the U.S. government warns people not to eat too much tuna.
Q: Are more efficient bulbs dimmable?
A: Halogens and LEDs can be dimmed, but many cheaper CFLs cannot.
Q: What’s the light bulb of the future?
A: Crawford sees CFLs as a “transitional product” and LEDs as the “predominant light source” of the future. He says LEDs are dimmable, mercury-free, the most efficient, and the longest-lasting (up to 25 years). His company, which already sees exponential growth in LED sales, predicts they’ll account for half of the lighting market by 2020.
Yet, LEDs remain the most expensive. A single Philips Ambient 12-watt LED (produces as much light as the old 60-watt incandescent) costs about $25 at Home Depot. Manufacturers say the costs will fall as more LEDs are produced. Crawford says LEDs will be viewed less as lightbulbs and more as durable goods akin to an air conditioner.
(c) Copyright 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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