New Light Bulb Efficiency Guidelines

New Light Bulb Efficiency Guidelines

There has been much discussion in the media lately (including a fair amount of misinformation) regarding the phase-out of traditional incandescent light bulbs in the United States.  Read on to separate the reality from the hype, and to learn more about efficient lighting technologies that will save energy and cut your power bills.

What Exactly Are These New Guidelines For Light Bulbs?
Well, first of all, they’re not really new – they’re provisions of 2007’s Energy Independence and Security Act, but they’re just now beginning to take effect.  They aren’t requiring any overnight changes either – the regulations call for a gradual phase-out of the most inefficient bulbs between 2012 and 2014.  The 2012 restrictions will begin by phasing out old-style 100-watt incandescent bulbs, and by 2014 they will limit 40-watt bulbs.

It’s worth noting that the guidelines will NOT actually ban incandescent bulbs – they simply require that any bulb (incandescent, fluorescent, or any other type) meet an improved level of energy efficiency.  Also, specialty bulbs like those for appliances and floodlights will generally be exempt from the restrictions.

Out With Watts, In With Lumens
Wattage used to be the simplest standard for judging a light bulb’s brightness, but no more.  Alternative lighting sources like LEDs and fluorescent bulbs produce light while using far less power, and even incandescent bulbs have improved in their efficiency.  So it’s time to stop comparing apples and oranges, and instead focus on a consistent measure of how much light is being produced:  lumens.

Lumens offer a standardized measure of light output, and as manufacturers begin to list lumens instead of wattages on bulb packaging, consumers will be able to more accurately compare the performance of different products regardless of their energy usage.

New Labels Will Make It Easier To Compare Lighting Products
New Labels Will Make It Easier To Compare Lighting Products (image: FTC)

New Federal Trade Commission guidelines for light bulb packaging will further assist buyers:  by mid-2011 other information in addition to lumen output will also be clearly labeled, including annual energy costs and a bulb’s typical lifespan.

What Will Replace Old Incandescents?
There are a number of technologies on the market that will let consumers meet the new EISA guidelines, and save money as well:

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs)

GE Energy Smart Compact=

Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) offer substantial energy savings, and they are fairly inexpensive.  The quality of light they provide has improved markedly in recent years as well.  Their biggest drawback is their mercury content, which means that broken bulbs must be carefully cleaned up and CFLs must be properly disposed of when they burn out.

MetaEfficient’s Pick:  Check out GE’s Energy Smart compact fluorescent bulbs, available in a range of models including Bright Daylight ($8.20 for two) and Soft White ($19.16 for six).

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

Zetalux LED Light Bulb
Zetalux LED Light Bulb

Bulbs that use solid-state light emitting diodes (LEDs) are continuing to evolve and improve.  Although they are still relatively expensive, they are the longest lasting and most energy-efficient bulbs available, and they contain no toxic materials.  For more details, check out this recent MetaEfficient post about LED lighting.

MetaEfficient’s Pick:  The EarthLED Zetalux LED Light Bulb was recently profiled in this article.  It’s available for $30.60 at Amazon.

Electron Stimulated Luminescence (ESLs)

Electron Stimulated Luminescence (ESL) Bulb By Vu1
Electron Stimulated Luminescence (ESL) Bulb By Vu1

Electron Stimulated Luminescence is the new kid on the lighting block.  Phosphors within a glass bulb are electrified to emit visible light, and the result is a light source that’s up to 70% more efficient that incandescent bulbs while using no toxic chemicals like mercury.  This recent MetaEfficient article about ESL bulbs takes a closer look at the new technology.

MetaEfficient’s Pick:  Right now, the only ESL bulbs on the market are produced by Vu1 Corporation.  You can learn more or place an order at the Vu1 website.

Better Incandescent Bulbs

Halogena Light Bulb From Philips
Halogena Light Bulb From Philips

Although they still can’t match the performance of some other technologies, some next-generation incandescent bulbs are far more energy efficient than those of a few years ago (thanks largely to redesigned filament components).  For example, the Halogena line from Philips claims 30% better efficiency and three times longer life compared to traditional incandescent bulbs.

MetaEfficient’s Pick:  The Philips Halogena Light Bulb is available from Amazon ($16.99 for a 2-pack).

Which new types of energy efficient lighting are you using in your home?  Leave a comment below and let us know.

5 thoughts on “New Light Bulb Efficiency Guidelines”

    1. Indeed, the UC-Irvine/UC-Davis study that just came out did reveal some potentially hazardous materials in LED lights, however that study focused primarily on colored holiday lights as opposed to LED light bulbs. Additionally, the LEDs contained no mercury (which is a particular problem for CFLs), and LEDs’ durability means they are much less likely to break and spill any substances inside.

      Good point though… even though LEDs are still a great choice thanks to their energy efficiency, it seems they may still contain some undesirable materials (as is the case with most electronics).

      1. Incandescent bulbs consume six times as much energy as LED. What about the tons of coal burned every day to create the electrical energy neede to run inneficient electric sources. (60 % of US electric is coal based) The newest LED lights will use 8.5 watts to replace a 60 watt lamp,Not to mention the tons of energy needed to reproduce the replacement lamps 50,000 hrs for LED and 1,000 hours for 60 watt inc, We are talking 50 light bulbs vs one LED. How much tungston, copper, lead solder at the base etc,etc is found in these 50 incandescent light bulbs? I think we are comparing apples to water-melons here,

  1. I’m wondering when the Cree XML lightbulbs will be available. The actual led converts up to 3 amps and (only) up to 3.3 volts into up to 950 lumens (that’s 100 lumens per watt efficiency). At a lower .35 amps (and at just 2.75 volts) it will put out an astonishing 160 lumens per watt efficiency! Cree appears to be a U.S. company but China is already selling the XML for around $10 each.
    It shouldn’t take to long before they come down in price such that a 110 or 220 volt conversion (in a light bulb base) would offer almost twice the efficiency of the CFL.

  2. I really like the new label but believe they should add a recycling fee for any type of bulb that requires special handling. Without that, most of the bulb that contain mercury will (and do) end up in our landfills. IMHO, it ought to be high enough to intice the customer to properly dispose of their dead bulbs, or for schools and youth programs to run recycling drives.

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