BEAM: Bought Any Light Bulbs Lately?

Nothing explains the new federal light bulb law better than a headline on a story appearing in the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal. It said, “New lighting standards end of an era for dirt-cheap bulbs.”

Actually, the law isn’t new. It was enacted in 2007, but is being implemented in stages.

Supporters of the law call the familiar incandescent bulbs we have used for over a century inefficient, saying they waste up to 90 percent of electricity as heat instead of light. The act says new bulbs are required to be more energy efficient.

When the law was passed, consumers were told it would reduce their energy bills by $13 billion per year, or $100 per household. It is also supposed to save 30 power plants worth of electricity annually once its provisions are fully implemented.

To say the changes haven’t been well-received would be a tremendous understatement. Conservative radio talk show hosts and some newspapers have been attacking the law since it phased out the familiar 100-watt incandescent light bulbs in 2012. The 75-watt bulb came next, and Jan. 1 marked the phase-out of 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs.

Typical of the backlash is this comment from a New York Post editorial: “We don’t deny that incandescents give out more heat than light. But so does meddling government. If you build a better light bulb — at a good price — consumers will come to it of their own accord.”

Congress obviously got the message because it passed a budget bill last week that bars the U.S. Department of Energy from spending money to enforce the federal rules that set tougher standards for light bulbs. However, USA Today said critics, including environmentalists, and many in the lighting industry say the ban is a nuisance and won’t stop the bulb changeovers.

Whatever happens, the odds are we will eventually have to start thinking about what kind of bulbs we need to buy to replace our old favorites.

For starters, it should be noted the law is taking aim only at what are called general service bulbs — 100, 75, 60 and 40-watt sizes. Among those it doesn’t affect are 3-way bulbs, colored lights, bug lights, oven and refrigerator bulbs, heavy-duty bulbs and some others.

Consumers have three choices in more efficient bulbs.

Energy-saving halogens, which are 25 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs. They have been available for some time. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) that contain a fluorescent tube and ballast in a single unit. A 23- to 30-watt CFL provides the same amount of light as a traditional 100-watt bulb, but consumes about 75 percent less energy. The longest lasting light-emitting diode (LED) bulb with 16 to 20 watts that uses a semiconductor for its light source. One chart I found compared the comparable prices for the 60-watt incandescent bulbs we have been buying. The old style 60-watt bulb cost $1.25 per bulb. The CFL bulb would be 14-watt and costs $3.95. The LED would be 10-watt and costs $35.95. Those prices may not be exact.

The total cost for 50,000 hours of the LED (its projected lifespan) would be $85.75. The CFL lifespan would be 10,000 hours, and its total cost for 50,000 hours would be $89.75. The 60-watt incandescent we have been using lasts 1,200 hours and its total cost for 50,000 hours would be $352.50.

If those figures are reliable, the savings with the LEDs appear to be worth their costs. However, how many of us have ever timed the lifespan of any of our light bulbs? I suppose we just have to take the manufacturers’ word on that score.

Determining which bulb gives the best light gets rather complicated. We will have to get used to buying them by comparing their lumens, which measure how much light a bulb produces.

If you are replacing a 100-watt bulb, look for one with 1600 to 1800 lumens. A 75-watt bulb replacement would be 1100 to 1300 lumens, a 60-watt, 300 to 900 lumens, and a 40-watt, 450 lumens.

As one light bulb store manager told the Akron newspaper, buying the right light bulb is going to require more attention than it used to. We may have to begin by working with those who own, manage or work in electrical stores.

Some consumers have tried to get ahead of the game by stocking up on the old incandescent bulbs, but even those will run out some day.

Manufacturers have apparently bought into provisions of the light bulb law, according to Franz Matzner of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. He said the latest move by Congress won’t slow the changes because light bulb makers are going to obey the 2007 law.

If I haven’t lost you by now, keep in mind that manufacturers are required to use labels on their light bulbs that provide easy-to-understand information about lumens, cost to operate and other information. Many of us in the older generation have managed to cope with smart phones and computers, so maybe we can learn once again how to buy light bulbs.

Time definitely marches on, despite our protests and howling.

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