The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has just announced a new labeling program for light bulbs that will help consumers compare the wide range of products available. Although CFL and LED bulbs have been available for a while now, they offer a bewildering number of choices and have vastly different performance and quality issues. The program consists of two labels — the front label gives the product’s brightness, energy cost, life expectancy, light appearance (from “warm” to “cool” light), and wattage. The back label will add an energy-star label if the product qualifies, and a mercury warning if needed.
For a long time the lighting standard has been the 60 watt incandescent light bulb, so manufactures often label their CFL or LED bulbs as “equivalent to” that bulb, and they use it as a basis to calculate energy cost savings. This has always been a problem, because there has never been a third party testing to confirm claims — and because it simply doesn’t matter. The real important figures are how many lumens a bulb has, its light output per watt, and its color.
Comparing modern lighting technologies to the hundred-year-old light bulb is a little like comparing a Model-T to a Prius — they both get you there, but in a very different way. Due to roll out in mid 2011, the lighting labels are similar to food nutrition labels insofar as they are designed to give you basic information so that you can easily compare products.
Lumens are the most important rating that consumers will need to be aware of. Obviously lighting can be much more complex than what a simple label can accommodate — other considerations include the Color Rending Index (CRI), cold weather performance, dimmablity, light spread, and Lifecycle Cost Analysis (LCA). The new label program will hopefully help wean consumers away from the poor standard that is the incandescent light bulb — a product that is a pitiful 5% efficient!