Standard home light bulbs are moving to the 21st century with new standards and technology designed to help you save money, shrink your carbon footprint and reduce the need for energy nationwide.
By 2014, 100-watt, 75-watt, 60-watt and 40-watt light bulbs must produce the same amount of light, measured in lumens, while using 30 percent less energy. It’s part of the energy Independence and Security Act passed by Congress in 2007 to reduce national energy use.
The design of the basic incandescent bulb (called a lamp in the industry) has changed little since Thomas Edison’s invention of the bulb in 1879. Incandescent bulbs are made of glass, filled with an inert gas—usually argon—and contain a filament suspended between two poles. When electrons along the filament heat up, light is created.
These inefficient bulbs convert only 10 percent of the electricity used into visible light with the remaining 90 percent released as heat, according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Star program. A standard 100-watt incandescent light bulb produces 17.5 lumens per watt and lasts 750 hours.
New light bulb technology, available now and in development, leaps past the 20th century and into the new millennium with bulbs that will save you money because they’re more energy efficient and last longer.
New requirements don’t actually ban incandescent light bulbs, but rather require them to meet the new efficiency standards, says Joe Howley, manager of industry relations and environmental marketing for GE. "The old technology that dates back some hundred years can not meet the new efficiency levels," Howley says. "Therefore, more advanced technology must be brought to the market."
The new standards require light bulbs to produce the same amount of light using 30 percent less energy. By 2012, 100-watt incandescent light bulbs must meet the standard. By 2013, 75-watt bulbs must meet the requirement. By 2014, 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs must meet that standard. By 2020, the Department of Energy is expected to set even higher efficiency limits, GE predicts. By 2012 three types of light bulb – halogens, CFLs and LEDs — will be more widely available for home and commercial use, Howley says. Some are available now. "We’re seeing a lot of changes in these products and they’re happening every month or so," says Terry McGowan, director of engineering and technology for the American Lighting Association. McGowan says, "What I’m seeing recently is very different from what I saw six months ago. Manufacturers are jumping over themselves getting these new products out there."
Halogens Offer a Better Incandescent
In the next few years, the new standards will see halogen lights replace standard incandescent bulbs. Halogens are a slightly more efficient incandescent light bulb — converting 11-12 percent of the electricity used into visible light, McGowan says. Compared to the 17.5 lumens of a standard incandescent, a halogen bulb produces 18 to 20 lumens per watt "Halogens are a better way to make an incandescent lamp," McGowan says. "It’s a tweaking of the incandescent technology that squeezes out a little more light for every watt."
Standard incandescent bulbs are encased in glass, but halogen bulbs generate too much heat — enough to break the glass. Instead, halogen bulbs are encased in quartz. Halogen lights get their name from the trace of halogen gas that is added to the inert gas inside. The filaments in halogen lights last longer than those in standard incandescent lights.
These bulbs are up to 30 percent more efficient, as the standard requires, while producing the same light as an old-style incandescent, Howley says. For example, a 100-watt incandescent bulb could be replaced with a 72-watt halogen bulb.
Why choose a halogen? For the color quality, McGowan says. "There are plenty of people who don’t like the (still) bluish cast of CFLs," he says. "(Current) LED color quality is not as good as incandescent, not even as good as CFLs in my view."
CFLs Offer More Efficiency
Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are much more efficient than incandescent, producing 70 lumens per watt. A 26-watt CFL produces the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb, Howley says.
If you tried CFLs in the past and didn’t like them, experts such as Howley advise giving them another chance. Today’s CFLs are available in more colors with more consistent color quality similar to standard incandescent bulbs. New CFLs are smaller, lighter and will fit in most fixtures. Even better, when you hit the switch you get light right away and full brightness in about a minute compared to old CFLs that blinked two or three times and took three to four minutes to warm up to full brightness. Today’s CFLs also last longer: 8,000 hours compared to 6,000 hours. Many are being designed to work on a dimmer — a feature missing from first-generation CFLs. CFLs can also come with a money-back guarantee. If you buy an Energy Star-rated CFL and don’t like it, you can get your money back as per the Energy Star agreement, McGowan says.
LEDs Show Promise
The newest technology is long-lasting LEDs (light-emitting diode) bulbs. An LED bulb will last 17 years –- buy one while your baby is still in diapers and you won’t have to replace it until he leaves for college, Howley says. LED bulbs also offer great potential in efficiency, design, and lifespan. Current LED bulbs are about as efficient as CFLs. But future LEDs could be much more efficient.
In eight or 10 years, you may see LEDs that are 20 times more efficient, says Joseph Rey-Barreau, a Kentucky architect and lighting designer and associate professor of interior design at the University of Kentucky. "LEDs have the potential to increase their efficiency at an incredible rate," Rey-Barreau says. Great home applications for LEDs include under-cabinet lights, landscape lighting, and perimeter lighting under a high ceiling, he says.
Current costs may give consumers sticker shock. Prices for LED bulbs range from $15 to $50, McGowan and Howley say. Unless you’re an early innovator anxious to try the newest technology, sit tight on buying LEDs for now, McGowan advises. "LEDs are full of promise," he says. "Right now that promise is expensive to achieve." But keep checking. "The lumens per watt has been going up ahead of schedule and the price has been going down," McGowan says.
One reason to buy LEDs now: If you have a 20- to 30-foot ceiling requiring a scaffold or tall ladder (that you may have to buy or rent) to change the bulb, you’ll want a bulb that won’t need to be replaced frequently. Replace the existing bulb with an LED and you’re good to go for up to 20 years, McGowan says.
When you think about the cost of light bulbs, it’s important to consider not only the cost of the individual bulb but also how often the bulb will need to be replaced and what the energy costs are. Today’s 60-watt incandescent light bulb costs just 50 cents and will last for about 1,000 hours of use or five years, according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Star website. Over five years, that bulb will cost you $39.92 in energy use – for a total cost over five years of $42.92.
Compare that to a 13-watt CFL bulb producing the same amount of light. That CFL bulb costs $3, but lasts for five years and uses $8.65 a year in energy for a total cost over five years of $11.65. "If you go with CFLs, you’ll clearly be ahead," Howley says.
A Halogen bulb will cost about $3 more than a standard incandescent bulb, and will offer about $3 in energy savings over the lifetime of the bulb, Howley says. "You’ll end up in a neutral position or maybe even a little bit ahead depending on what your electric rate is," he says.
In the meantime, don’t throw out your incandescent light bulbs. Keep an eye on the shelves in your favorite home improvement stores but don’t stock up on today’s technology because tomorrow’s light bulbs will be even better.
Credit: Renovate Your World