The standard light bulb may no longer be the right image of a good idea since incandescents will be phased out by next year.
The replacement - for the item, if not the image - is one of two choices: compact fluorescents or LEDs. Both alternatives bring issues of likeability and affordability when compared to each other and to their old-style comfy cousin.
Light bulb ban
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 calls for roughly 25 percent greater efficiency for light bulbs, requiring a phased-in ban on manufacturing and importing incandescent bulbs. Starting in 2012, 100-watt incandescent bulbs were replaced by 72-watt bulb equivalents, followed this year with 75-watt traditional bulbs being replaced by 53-watt bulb equivalents, and in 2014 with 60-watt and 40-watt ones being replaced by 43-watt and 29-watt equivalents, respectively.
Traditional incandescent bulbs are fast being replaced by equivalent high-efficiency choices. LEDs have come into their own in just the past year in particular.
Incandescents. Not much about the traditional incandescent bulb has changed since Thomas Edison developed the first commercially practical one using a carbon filament. Modern ones use a tungsten filament surrounded by various inert gases. The filament heats the gases to a mega 4,000 degrees F. Think about that. The bulb releases 90 percent of its energy as heat. Since lighting is supposed to be its job, is it any wonder an incandescent is inefficient?
Since, until recently, incandescents were the only kid on the block, their purchase prices have been very low. They are, however, inefficient in another way — they burn out quickly. Still, the light they emit tends to be warm and with a yellow hue, characteristics to which we’ve all become accustomed, a benchmark for other forms of light.
CFLs. It was just a few years ago that these spiral-style, compact fluorescent light bulbs began to become commonplace. Instead of a heated filament, an electric current runs through a tube filled with argon and a bit of mercury vapor inside a CFL. This creates invisible light that reacts with a phosphor coating to emit visible light.
Early CFLs took a while for that reaction to take place, a warm up time we weren’t used to. Newer CFLs have improved considerably on that score, as well as overcoming other issues. Initial inconsistent light quality has improved considerably, as has their design or “look.” More recent models are also dimmable. Finally, overall, the idea that initial higher cost is offset by longer life is better understood as well.
LEDs.The most recent most-improved players on the market, light-emitting-diode lamps are composed of two conjoined sections of a semiconductor material which is energized, as the result of which electrons move across the diode and emit photons, i.e., light.
These bulbs have pretty much everything going for them today — cool to the touch, long life spans, energy efficiency, reliability, and pleasingly warm light (gone are the days of blueish tones). Continued drawbacks, however, are comparative dimness, or lack of power, and their initial expense.
Savings & Costs
If only the retail price of the three different types of light bulbs available in local stores, such as Ace Hardware or the Home Depot, is the guide, then any incandescents not yet phased out would win every time. However, long-term energy value is key -- bulb life and energy usage.
An average 60-watt incandescent that costs about .75 cents and having a lifespan averaging 1,500 hours translates into an energy cost of about $6.60 per hour. A comparable CFL costs about $6.60 to beginning with, but its bulb life averages 7,000 hours, meaning an energy cost of $1.50 per hour. An equivalent LED starts off at about $27.00, but lasts an extraordinary 37,500 hours for an energy value of about .90 cents an hour.
If every American home replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an energy efficient one, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that enough energy would be saved “to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars.” Further, the DOE estimates that rapid adoption of LED lighting in particular by 2027 could deliver savings of about $265 billion, avoid 40 new power plants, and reduce lighting electricity demand by 33 percent in 2027.
In the changing light bulb marketplace, it’s important to do your homework as improvements of all types continue and price points are still in flux. A simple way to figure out which bulbs are best for various uses is to read the Lighting Facts label on every package. This shows not only shows value — energy used and estimated yearly energy cost — it also provides information about appearance, including brightness in lumens and appearance ranging from warm to cool.
Where to Buy
- Ace Hardware
- Charles of Glen Cove
- Stop & Shop
For additional information about light bulbs, visit http://www.energystar.gov.