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If you’ve been following the whole compact fluorescent craze, you’ve probably heard about a bill designed to slowly force manufacturers to make light bulbs more efficient. It’s a serious issue — considering that each and every person in modern nations has at least a couple of these burning a few hours a day, this is fertile ground for big worldwide energy savings. But it could be a serious pain in the ass, too. The law’s “higher standards” have pretty much set the stage for traditional incandescent bulbs to become unavailable over the next decade, but CFLs (and LEDs) haven’t yet reached fully comparable price levels.

Whatever your politics, I’m guessing you can see how this could become a charged issue, especially in times of governmental (and personal) financial duress.

This week CNNMoney ran an article giving us a taste of the battle that’s forming around this legislation — and the possibility of voting it out before it takes effect. You can head over there via the link below to read about the politics, but honestly that part of it doesn’t interest me much. What does interest me are the arguments for and against the law.

CNNMoney points out that the the NRDC (who has their own motivations, I suppose) believes that even with the higher prices of more efficient bulbs, “Americans would save a total of $12 billion a year by 2020 if the standards are left in place due to lower electricity bills.” Less energy used equals less pollution, too. Opponents, though, note that the mercury content of CFLs might offset some of the pollution benefits of the bulb’s more efficient use of power, and let’s face it: these bulbs aren’t cheap.

A quick trip to the local big box’s website shows that a “100W equivalent” CFL bulb runs about $3.50 ($7 for two) whereas a 100W “soft white multipurpose incandescent” bulb costs just $0.34 ($8 for 24). A “60W equivalent” LED bulb runs a whopping $40.

I haven’t done the math yet, but I’m guessing you’d probably come out ahead on the CFLs, though the ones I found were the twist-type, which don’t work (for me, anyway, visually-speaking) in exposed installations. And that’s assuming that you don’t break one early by other means. The LEDs are cool. I tested one for Popular Science a few years ago, and the one I got in for test is still burning in a lamp here in the house. It’s cool to the touch all the time, which is nice. But not $40 vs. $0.34 nice, at least in my opinion.

So what do you think? (About the lights, not the politics, thank you. I’m sure your party is the best. You don’t need to tell me here.) Have you already made this swap at your house? Do you think it’s a good idea to take the old bulbs off the market? Let us know in comments.

(Thanks, Jeff Kubina, for the great CC-licensed photo.)

Light Bulb Ban Riles Up Lawmakers [CNNMoney]


41 Responses to Incandescent Bulbs Might Live On

  1. Fong says:

    LED’s are far from being viable just yet but a new bill may push more funding into research to make it happen.

    As for CFL’s, my biggest beef with them is the inconsistent performance between and even within manufacturers. Putting in 5 identical bulbs purchased at the same time from the same place gives me 5 different warm up times and lifespans, none of which have yet to rival incandescents despite the higher price.

    With anything manufactured, the bill will force volumes to go up and prices to come down. In the meantime, there will always be a gray market online somewhere for our beloved incandescents.

  2. Lev Ramder says:

    Skip the CFLs go right to LEDs where they make sense. I’m putting in LEDs as fast as they’re appropriate. Under cabinet in the kitchen, main light in office, TV room floor lamps, front stoop lamp, etc. I haven’t done a strict cost/benefit analysis but my year over year electric usage has dropped and this is part of the plan. I’ve got several Qnuru lamps and like them a lot.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Incandescents have one major advantage – their spectrum is much, much closer to the spectrum of the Sun, so they reproduce colors much better, so any place where you work with small and/or colorful things, read, etc is much better if lit by an incandescent bulb.

    CFLs have their places and uses, they are a bit cheaper in the long run if you count in the price of the electricity consumed, but both CFLs and LEDs (which also have just a few narrow peaks in their spectrum, and also reproduce colors quite badly) could not fully replace an incandescent. Politics, as usual, is not related to real life in any meaningful way 🙁

  4. JJ says:

    Biggest problems with the CFLs is the high levels of mercury pollution.

  5. Jeff says:

    I’m with Fong on the CFL issue. I have bought them on a number of occasions because of the claims that the higher cost will be offset by their lower cost/hr and longer life, and yet I’ve had very few of them that have lasted anywhere near their 5 year lifespan. I’ve taken to using a permanent marker to write the installation date on the base of the bulb so that when it blows, I can see exactly how long it really lasted… :-/

  6. Cameron Watt says:

    I use incandescent lamps as heaters for things like pipes and gas regulators; fluorescent lamps don’t throw out enough waste heat for that!

  7. Paul says:

    My biggest problem with CFLs is the fact that they say they last 5-8 years an I’ve yet to have one last longer than 1 year. I’m sure there are some good makers out there but in my experience the electronics fail before the bulb does. I’d much rather have the option to buy whatever i choose. I’d probably have some lights that get long usage on CFLs and short use/dimmed/outdoor on other types of bulbs.

    Regulators are also trying to to eliminate the fluorescent T12 in favor of more efficient T8 and T5 designs. T12 prices have risen significantly over the past 5 years. This isn’t such a big deal for most homeowners as you probably have a limited number of them at home, though there are quite a few in garages! But businesses that use fluorescent lighting will need to spend big money up front to change out ballasts for high frequency newer bulbs. Why not just let people choose to use more energy if they wish, we are the ones paying our bill…

  8. Paul says:

    One more comment.

    Some usages of bulbs just don’t do well with CFL type bulbs. I have a fishing cabin in the woods, the only power we have is from a portable generator, the power is not very clean and CFL bulbs just won’t do. I’m sure there are many other places CFLs work poorly.

    A sub $1 incandescent bulb will run fairly well at varied frequency and voltage their requirements are very basic. If you don’t have AC power substitute DC power, the same incandescent bulb will still light up.

  9. Phil says:

    CFL ballasts also do not love being turned on and off a lot- many are marked as not for PIR purposes. For that, LEDs will be a much better option.

    If you need heating all the time you need light, incandescents are not a bad option. But if you are warm enough to need air conditioning, then they’re fighting you.

    LEDs or LED arrays powerful enough to swap out for room bulbs will definitely get pretty hot, and most have big ol’ heatsinks on them. What they don’t do, is produce tons of infra-red, so they don’t heat up what they’re pointing at, which can be a big win in certain applications.

    As for the poor colour reproduction, you can spend a little extra and get high CRI models with a good spectrum. If the new LEDs are good enough for the film industry (who hated them, quite rightly, at first), they’ll be good enough for most of us.

  10. Toolfreak says:

    The price argument only holds water when you are talking full retail, no discounts whatsoever. I picked up enough GE-branded CFLs for the whole house and then some a few weeks ago for 75% off at Target when they were being replaced with the “2x longer” bulbs that are rated for 800 hours instead of 400. But some of the bulbs I bought had stickers over the 400 rating that said 600. Not bad for ~$1-2/bulb.

    Incandescents will always have their proper applications, but the debate when it comes to bulbs is really nothing more than people finding something to get upset about and politicians taking advantage of how people get when they feel strongly about something. The law phasing out the old bulbs is definitely invasive, but if you REALLY look, it just phases out 100W bulbs. It’s not like it forbids anyone from selling or using any incandescent bulbs at all or something.

    LEDs and other more efficient sources are the future. They definitely aren’t perfect right now, but eventually they’ll be the best option, with the most light for the lowest cost.

    Incandescent bulbs do have a pleasing light, but they mostly generate heat. If you need heat, or heat and light, they’re great. If you just want light with no heat, or want as much of the energy you’re putting in to go towards light as possible, they suck. I’m sure there will always be some people who are going to cling to the incandescent bulbs, if for no other reason than because of the planned phase out. But those are the same people who are using their VCRs and gigantic rear projection TVs because DVDs and HDTVs are too modern and gimmicky for them.

  11. John Seiffer says:

    There is a better LED bulb coming to market. http://www.gizmag.com/worlds-first-100-watt-equivalent-led-replacement-bulb/18659/

    The problem with LEDs is the heat (not much by comparison with an incandescent but enough internally to harm the LED). This company says they’ve found a way to deal with that cheaply. They are developing it in warm and cool colors too.

    I have no ties to the company – just curiosity.

  12. Juan says:

    I am writing from Argentina, here for a month, do not allow the sale of incandescent bulbs. Since the power consumption increased dramatically over the past couple of years, and perhaps also by pressure from the companies that provide bulbs.
    The fact that the values ​​of the bulbs are similar to those you say are in the U.S., although wages are not. Here besides the CFLs and LED bulbs (unattainable for the price), also are selling halogen bulbs, which cost less than CFLs and say they save 30% electricity.


    We will see in a while, if the power consumption decreases, the replacement will be made ​​of incandescent lamps. Although I think it will be noted by the increased demand that occurs during development of the economy.

  13. Peter Wells says:

    Let the consumer decide.

  14. Coach James says:

    The ban does not affect just 100W bulbs, it bans all incandescent bulbs with the 40W the last to go in 2013.

    I still use incandescent bulbs in several of my fixtures because the CFL’s do not last as long. I have had many go bad as quickly as 2 or 3 months. Plus I have a more difficult time seeing fine detail when the light is from a CFL.

  15. aaron says:

    toolfreak OTM. thank you.

  16. ThatOneGuy says:

    Doesn’t bother me. I already stocked up on incandescent bulbs when I they started to ban them around here and Walmart and Target put them on clearance. However, I can’t fathom how people can’t realize people gave their lives to give us freedom and we now let big government dictate every facet of our lives.

  17. Jim Crowell says:

    We replaced everything but the outside lights (front, back, basement, shed) with CFLs five or more years ago. Not only has it saved on the electric bill but the AC costs as well — notably there is more cost savings with reducing the excess heat produced due to our HVAC being a heat pump. I have replaced three in that period (two burned out, one broke due to lamp falling over) and our power supply is far from perfectly conditioned. YMMV, but I was raised with task lighting and turning out the lights in unused areas was enforced so we are not a household that is “all lit up like Christmas” at night.

    Notably there was a decrease in cats sitting on the arms of furniture under lampshades. I do not understand the kerfluffle over an obsolescent product that is at best 10% efficient in converting electricity to light.

    Incandescent bulbs are not banned. Those that meet the efficiency standards are on the market and will continue to be sold. Philips EcoVantage, Sylvania Super Saver and GE are three products I have seen that rate 72W but put out as many lumens as traditional 100W bulbs with he same color spectrum. I’ve seen low-end cost savings analysis between traditional and efficient incandescents as a bit over $1.50 per bulb over a year.

    • Ben Granucci says:

      Exactly. It is only the traditional type of light bulb that is being phased out. The “halogena” type with a higher efficiency halogen lamp inside the bulb will still be around.

      As for the price difference, there are definite deals to be found on CFLs. A pack of 4 60w equivalent twist-style at Costco near me runs $4-5 IIRC, though if I take a short drive across the state line where the utility has a subsidy agreement, I pay $1 per pack. As for LEDs, I purchased 1 at Lowes a few months back for about $10. The light output is surprisingly good (this from somebody who works with lighting as a profession). That said, the power usage is such a small difference from the CFLs that I use everywhere else that I really can’t justify the 4000% difference in price over a few watts.

  18. PutnamEco says:

    Peter Wells says:
    Let the consumer decide.

    Unfortunately the consumer has proven time and again that they do NOT chose what is good for society as a whole.

  19. K!P says:

    i still think that in a lot of aplications the heat generated by the easy to produce old school light bulbs is not necessary a bad thing. Most of the time i have lights on (wintertime) i also have the heater running, without the added heat from light bulbs it will just sty on longer. CFL’s are hard to produce (energy wise), have to warm up (most are even less efficient than normal light bulbs if they are only on for a few seconds to minutes even), and even harder on trashing them.Because of the mercury, you really NEED to recycle them, but even with the best recycling schemes some will fall trough the cracks.

    In the EU higher wattage bulbs are already banned. One enterprising company continues to sell them as HEAT bulbs.

    LED’s are the way to go, but they still need developing, the lifetime on the things is a great plus! In addition they dont break easy when dropped and release mercury rich gas.

  20. K!P says:

    Forgot to add: if you have airco running bulbs are a BIG no ofcourse, you use even more energy when cooling the (in this case) exces heat again.

    Also: my apologies for any spelling mistakes, English is not my best language.

  21. Rich says:

    I’m all for lower energy use, but I don’t know if the mercury problems and the manufacturing costs are worth it. I’d say that half of the CFLs I’ve used have had lifespans lower than the equivalent incandescent. I realize that the best case CFL lifespan is supposed to be far longer, but I haven’t always seen that.

    I think a big problem right now for both CFLs and LEDs is that fixtures aren’t designed for them. For example, a lot of CFLs are not supposed to be installed upside down as in a porch light fixture, but most of the fixtures still hold them upside down. CFLS and LEDs seem to be adversely affected by heat to a greater degree (electronics need to be cool), and the fixtures don’t always let them cool.

    It almost seems that because of the heat issues (and to some degree the dimming issues), it’s time for another bulb standard. Fixture manufacturers that design explicitly for the new bulbs could use the new bulb connector.

  22. DoItRite says:

    Missing form this debate is how much heat that incandescent emit. Virtually 100 percent of the energy used by either bulb is released as heat into the structure being lighted. (even light is absorbed into surfaces and returned as heat energy)

    Most homes have dozens of accent lights, can lights and multi-bulb fixtures that emit heat that in turn must be removed by air conditioning systems, using yet more energy. This is a moot issue in winter months when the heat is not actually “wasted” – but even then it is usually the most costly form of heat available.

  23. MR P says:

    It will ease the power grid by lowering the kilowatts used but the rate will go up to compensate for lost revenue. I do not believe the numbers they spit out on savings they always twist the cost analysts to make there point.

    Many fixtures do not accept CFL replacement bulbs although many companies claim the cfl it a par38 I purchased five different ones and non of them would fit. I had to modify 50 fixtures for the “CFL par38” to fit.

    I do like to save money and be more energy efficient. But i don’t like the fact that they will remove a product from the market that has its need for dimming, special fixtures, instant on for chasing lights, heat applications, remote rarely used areas, or in cold places where cfl will not start. I am sure there are many other niche uses that the new bulbs don’t work and will now be a challenge to find the bulb or costly and time consuming to find another way.

  24. jonnyp says:

    Any body driving a 100 yr old car on their daily commute.How about a 10 yr old PC or a 5 yr old cell phone.

  25. old as dirt says:

    Just don’t break the CFL .They have mercury in them and the mercury can turn your room into a hazardous waste site.A woman broke one in her bedroom and they want over $2000 to clean it up.Can’t vacuum it up then you have mercury dust.

  26. Dave says:

    Jonnyp, I’ve had the same cell phone since 2002 and I am not looking forward to the day it stops working.

  27. WalterS says:

    I am in favor of the CFL bulbs/LED bulb changeover, but I hope they can work out the kinks (well covered by others).
    HOWEVER–I have several incandescent bulbs (60 & 100 watts) that have lasted 18 years and change, with fairly frequent use.
    When our house was built the builder sent us to pick out fixtures at a lighting company, and they talked us into buying all the bulbs from them. I wanted to go to KMart or Wallyworld and save money, but they swore their bulbs would last longer & offset the increased cost. Their bulbs are all rated at 130 volts and (they said) they would handle power fluctuations better. It looks like they were right.

  28. rg says:

    I’m glad to hear the federal government in the United States has apparently solved all the other less important problems facing your country, and is now free to concentrate on the most grave issue facing our generation — deciding what type of lightbulbs you are allowed to use.

  29. Mike47 says:

    Anybody care about Liberty and Freedom anymore, or is it all about social change and “going green”? I for one would rather have the choice of costs and technologies, and let the free market operate to provide the most popular items at the lowest cost. I may like LED’s, but what right do I (or my government) have to tell my neighbor he can’t get incandescents anymore for his home?

    “Unfortunately the consumer has proven time and again that they do NOT chose what is good for society as a whole.” That’s downright scary thinking in a free country. Is that the thinking YOU want making decisions for YOUR lifesyle? Not me, bro.

    • PutnamEco says:

      Mike47 says:“Unfortunately the consumer has proven time and again that they do NOT chose what is good for society as a whole.” That’s downright scary thinking in a free country. Is that the thinking YOU want making decisions for YOUR lifesyle? Not me, bro.

      I quess since people are so inclined to do what is right and good for society and the world we can just elimnate all those silly rules and laws and live happily ever after in freedom and liberty and everyone will take responsibility to make sure everything works out OK for everyone, without the need for any government.

      Go to work, send your kids to school, follow fashion, act normal, walk on the pavement, watch t.v., save for your old age, obey the law. Repeat after me: I am free


  30. (Sorry about the aborted comment.)

    One thing I’ve not seen noted is the deleterious effect that any sort of florescent light has on migraine suffers. For some, they are exceeding painful to see during a migraine, and for a few they will actually trigger one. I had to work with one yesterday; I kept the big overhead florescents turned off all day. Going out in the bright sun wasn’t half so painful as the florescent lights in my office.

  31. Jules says:

    All of those crying out that this is a restriction on freedom need to decide if fighting wars and expending thousands of human lives in the process and spending untold sums for our protection and purchase of foreign energy is really worth your “right” to burn inefficient bulbs.

  32. Jerry says:

    Wow! A lot of talk on this one. Without extolling the virtues of any type of lighting – that’s been well done above – and refrain from my preferences. About 3 or 4 years ago my power provider regularly dent coupons with the bills for free CFL bulbs at HD. I gathered up coupons that others did not want and soon had a house full of those CFL’s. About a month after they stopped sending the coupons, they got a rate increase approval because there was less revenue because of the bulbs. I noticed what I would call a “very slight” decrease in my power bill before the increase and now I pay more than before the CFL’s.

    • russ says:

      Jerry, good point. The same happens with water where I live in the southeast. You save and save and they increase the water/sewer rates because they are not getting as much revenue.
      I don’t like the CFLs due to the mercury. I find it hard to believe how they can push CFLs as green or environmentally friendly. Mercury damages the brain, liver, and lungs. Now where are those anti-smoking groups when you need them. No CFLs in restaurants or bars!!!!

  33. Adam says:

    The free market and electricity are not exactly old friends. Whatever your feelings about bulbs we can’t pretend that this is some kind of move away from free and fair competition.

  34. Jerry Vandesic says:

    JJ: “Biggest problems with the CFLs is the high levels of mercury pollution.”

    Unfortunately no. When you factor in the mercury polution generated by the increased power usage by incandescents, CFLs are a clear winner. In thinking about problems like this, you need to look at the big picture.

  35. paganjoe says:

    What about the pollution caused by production of LEDs? My impression has been higher tech = higher pollution (eg; Prius vs Hummer carbon footprint)

  36. Ted says:

    I’ve seen studies that show with the increased manufacturing cost in terms of energy and carbon emmissions, along with poor real-world usage by consumers (turning the lights on/off quickly/repeatedly), there is very little actual energy savings with CFLs (not to mention the mercury pollution problem).

    Also, it’s not so much that my party is the best, it’s just that the other party is a bunch of freakin idiots.

  37. J.R. says:

    I have run the math, and LED still sucks. Based upon my own monthly usage, and local electric rates; payback from incandescent to LED is about 5-10 years for a $45 LED bulb. I could agree to switch slowly to LED at that rate.

    However; I switched over CFL years ago and the payback time exceeds the expected life of the LED’s. That makes converting to LED a bad idea $$, until the prices come down.

    Side note: I only buy CFL’s when the hardware stores have them at a pack for $1-2 (about $0.40-0.50 each) – I currently have several back up packs. CFL’s are quite often almost as cheap as incandescent, you just have to look around.

  38. Squidwelder says:

    To be perfectly honest, I prefer florescent bulbs for the simple fact that there’s no filament to break if I shake it too hard. But that’s not to say that in a pinch I won’t buy an incandescent. Their extremely low price makes them exactly what I need when it’s between paydays and one of the bulbs burns out. I can drop a buck and get two at the dollar store. I’ve had no experience with LED bulbs though, aside from in flashlights.

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