By now, most of you have probably heard about the incandescent light bulb phase-out starting this year (likely as a result of the ridiculous political bickering about the lighting legislation in the count-down to the end of 2011). However, a quick survey of your friends will reveal that few of us actually understand what it entails. The law is merely a way to encourage consumers to purchase more energy-efficient light bulbs – such as LEDs – that will save money and energy, both resources that we could all use more of at the moment. If you’re still unclear about what the incandescent phase-out means in terms of what kinds of light bulbs you’ll be able to find at stores in the coming years, or how you can switch to LED light bulbs while still maintaining the same quality and quantity of light supplied by your old incandescents, read on as we spell it out for you in our easy guide. And though we will be seeing less and less of Thomas Edison‘s most famous invention over the next few years, we think that even Mr. Edison would be swapping his incandescent bulbs for LEDs if he were alive today!
NOT A BAN – A PHASE-OUT
Despite what some Republicans have been claiming, the Energy Independence and Security Act does not ban incandescent light bulbs. Instead, it mandates that new light bulbs sold in stores be at least 25% more efficient than current models, and have labels on the front and back of packages to explain their brightness, annual operating costs and expected life span. Yes, that does mean that many incandescents will not make the cut as the energy standards get more stringent, but the legislation will give a huge boost to the U.S.’s energy efficiency and cut strain on our national grid.
THE PHASE-OUT TIMELINE FOR THE COMMON INCANDESCENT BULB
It’s called a phase-out for a reason. Only 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be cleared off of store shelves in 2012 (If these bulbs remain unsold, they can remain on shelves but retailers will not be able to restock/re-order these types of bulbs.) Then in 2013, the phase-out will apply to 75-watt incandescent bulbs and finally in 2014, the 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent bulbs will phased out. Other incandescent bulbs, like candles, decorative and reflector bulbs will also be affected.
IF YOU WANT TO KEEP USING INCANDESCENTS, YOU CAN
If, for some reason, you love using energy-guzzling incandescent bulbs and want to continue using them, no law is going to stop you. In other words, no lighting police is going to come to your home and check in on what kind of bulbs you’re using. You’ll have a harder time finding incandescent bulbs in stores as time goes on and you’ll be wasting money and energy (traditional incandescent bulbs lose 90% of their energy as heat rather than light), but if you prefer to use incandescents and rack up a crazy energy bill, you will still be able find the energy-guzzlers in select stores for years into the future.
Infographic by Jill Fehrenbacher
If that last point hit close to home for you, you’re not alone. Many people are under the (false) impression that energy-efficient bulbs cast a “sickly” glow and just don’t have a warm ambiance. That might have been true in the past with certain types of compact fluorescent bulbs (which often have a greenish hue), but nowadays, there are many new high tech options for LED light bulbs that successfully mimic the brightness, amber color temperature and warm “feel” of your favorite filament bulb. Flip to the next page to see our recommendations on how to find the perfect LED replacement bulbs for your specific home lighting needs.
Lead image light bulb pic from Shutterstock
HOW TO DECIDE BETWEEN CFLS AND LEDS
When replacing an incandescent bulb, you basically have two options to choose from – CFLs (compact fluorescent lamp) and LEDs (light-emitting diode). In the past, CFL bulbs were more widely used, because they were cheaper, but nowadays, the price of LED bulbs has come down substantially, and the quality of light has improved drastically through new technological innovations. Despite still being more expensive, LED bulbs have many advantages over CFL bulbs that make that price tag well worth it; they consume less energy and last much much longer than CFLs (up to 20 years!), so any extra money you pay up front is recouped on your energy bill, and when you don’t have to purchase new bulbs every year. On average, an LED light bulb is roughly 3 or 4 times more expensive than a CFL but think about it this way – if you install an LED lamp in your new baby’s bedroom today, you most likely won’t have to buy a new one until after they go off to college! LED lightbulbs also don’t have any mercury in them – unlike CFLs, which can create a hazardous waste site if you accidentally break one in your house. Finally, LED bulbs can be used with dimmers – unlike most CFL bulbs.
One of the lamps above uses an incandescent and the other uses a Philips LED. Can you tell the difference?
HOW TO FIND GOOD REPLACEMENTS FOR YOUR INCANDESCENTS
Taking a stroll down the lighting aisle of a store to find incandescent bulb replacements can be intimidating because there are so many shapes and sizes, and the vocabulary on the packaging can be confusing. But pinpointing a few specific points about what you’re looking for can make this task a lot easier. The first thing to ask yourself is what type of light bulb are you looking to replace – a standard A-shaped lamp bulb, a floodlight, a “candle” in a chandelier or something else like a landscape light or a night light? Most of the time, LED versions of all of these types of bulbs closely resemble their incandescent counterparts in size (though the shape might be slightly different), so it’s a good idea to bring the bulb (or “lamp,” if you want to use the term lighting professionals use) with you to the store so you can actually hold it up to your prospective replacement and make sure the bases are the same size.
Infographic by Jill Fehrenbacher
LIGHT BULB TYPES
Here are some of the most common examples of incandescent and halogen bulbs, and the LED replacements that are designed to mimic them: For a table lamp or other fixture that uses a 60-watt incandescent bulb, you can replace it with a Philips 12.5 W AmbientLED A19 to save approximately $130 in energy costs over the lifespan of the bulb. For a chandelier or other 25-watt candelabra-style bulb, try replacing it with a Philips 3.5W DecoLED Candle for an approximate savings of $59.13 in energy costs over the lifespan of the bulb. Another common energy-sucking bulb, the standard 50-watt PAR20 halogen bulb (commonly used in recessed ceiling lights) can be replaced with the Philips 7W AmbientLED PAR20 for an approximate savings of $118.25 in energy costs over the lifespan of the bulb.
For other types of incandescent and halogen bulb replacement options, check out this handy-dandy chart:
LIGHT BULB “COLOR TEMPERATURE”
The next thing to check for is the “light appearance,” or color temperature of the light bulb you’re replacing, which is measured on the Kelvin (K) temperature scale. The higher the Kelvin number is, the more blueish white the light will be and the lower it is, the more yellowish it will be. Most light bulbs will be labeled with the type of light appearance they emit (soft, white, bright, warm, daylight) – although those words are often vague and hard to understand, so you’re better off just looking specifically at the Kelvins. The traditional incandescent, which gives off a warm yellowish light, has a temperature of 2,700 to 3,000K — similar to most halogens. Newer CFLs have a wider range, from warm (3,000K) to cold (6,500K). LED bulb temperatures can range from 2,700K to 5,000K, and while previous generations of light-emitting diodes tended to have a very blueish light, there are now LED replacement bulbs on the market (such as Philips’ AmbientLED line) which mimic the color temperature and “feel” of incandescent bulbs exactly – producing warm white light. Since light emitting diodes inherently shine blue, the way the Philips AmbientLED bulbs do this is through their patented orangey-yellow lens casing surrounding the LEDs (see below diagram).
BRIGHTNESS – LUMENS, LUX & CANDELAS
Once you have considered light bulb type and color temperature, you’ll also want to consider light bulb brightness, which is measured in lumens for LEDs and incandescent bulbs (weirdly, halogen bulbs tend to be measured in “candelas“) A bulb’s lumen measurements are always displayed on its packaging, so you can easily find out how bright the bulb you’re buying is.
Many people still confuse wattage (a measure of electrical energy used) with lighting brightness – but in this day and age of low-energy LED and CFL lightbulbs, don’t be confused by wattage. A traditional 60W incandescent bulb shines at about 800 lumens – the exact same brightness as a Philips’ 12.5W LED bulb or a 14W CFL bulb.
One of the most asked questions regarding LED bulbs is whether or not they work with dimmers, and the answer is yes (most CFLs do not)! So if you have dimmers and want to continue using them, go ahead and choose an LED bulb.
HOW TO SWAP OUT YOUR BULBS
How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb? Usually just one, but if you’re using a ladder, you might want to have a friend steady it for you. Once you have your more energy-efficient replacements for your incandescents, simply unscrew your old bulbs, and screw in your new LEDs or CFLs. You might want to save the packaging from your new bulbs to wrap around your old bulbs when you discard them.
HOW TO RECYCLE YOUR OLD BULBS
Unfortunately, at the moment, most cities do not recycle incandescent light bulbs so the best way to dispose of your old bulb is to package them up in the box your new bulb came in (this will help keep it from shattering) and simply discard it in your regular garbage. No matter how tempting it is, don’t throw your light bulbs in the recycle bin.
HOW TO RECYCLE CFL BULBS
As you learned in our charts on the previous pages of this article, CFLs are different from incandescents and LEDs in that they contain mercury, a material that can be harmful to humans if the liquid is touched, or vapors are inhaled. While CFLs only contain a minuscule amount of mercury, it’s important to dispose of them properly so as not to allow the vapor to escape into your house, or the substance to enter our waste streams and water supply. The best way to recycle your CFL bulbs is to take them to a local in-store recycling program (see a list of participating retailers here) or send them in via an easy mail-back service like the ones listed here.
WHAT TO DO IF A CFL BREAKS IN YOUR HOME
Since we’ve mention that CFL bulbs contain mercury, you might be worried about what to do if one of them breaks in your home. The good news is that CFLs contain only a tiny amount of mercury and they are not likely to present a significant risk to you or your family, but to be on the safe side, it’s important to still take the proper steps to clean them up and dispose of them quickly and carefully.
When a bulb breaks, it’s probably your immediate instinct to start picking up the pieces of glass, but in the case of a CFL, the first thing you should do is get everyone (including pets) out of the room and ventilate it as well as you can. Open all of the windows and shut off your central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
After 15 minutes or so of ventilation, you can start the cleanup. If you have gloves and a mask, it’s a good idea to put them on. DO NOT use a vacuum cleaner, broom or anything else that might flick the shards around the room. Instead, use a piece of hard paper or cardboard to slowly scoop up the glass fragments and powder and place them into glass jar with a metal lid. Then, use sticky tape to pick the remaining small glass fragments and powder. Lastly, use a damp paper towel to wipe the area clean and dispose of it in the glass jar. If you still see tiny particles around, you can use your vacuum cleaner only on the area where the bulb broke and then immediately clean out the contents and place them in the glass jar or a sealed plastic bag. Then wipe and clean the inside of the vacuum bag or canister. When you feel you’ve removed all of the pieces of bulb, immediately place the glass jar or bags containing the waste in an outdoor trash container, and don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly! For a more detailed list of these instructions, visit epa.gov.
Since there isn’t much you can do in terms of recycling incandescent bulbs, why not get crafty and creative and upcycle them into cute vases (like this one shown above) or terrariums (like this one below). Bam – instant unique birthday or holiday present that says you are awesome, and you really care!
Last but not least, you can always hold on to your old incandescent bulb if it isn’t completely dead, since incandescents will be like rare antiques in a few years (okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement). You might even be able to sell it on eBay some day!