Goodbye, Incandescent Light Bulbs

Published: December 30, 2013

The way we light our homes and our offices is changing quickly, as mandated by law. ‘The Shift,’ as it is called in the lighting industry, is the result of the Energy Independence and Security Act, which mandates stricter energy efficiency standards in various consumer and commercial products. Passed in 2007, implementation of the law began in 2012 and is set to enter its final phase on Jan. 1, 2014, a phase that includes the elimination of 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Terry McGowan, the director of engineering and technology at the American Lighting Association, during a roundtable discussion hosted by Lutron Electronics in New York City on Thursday, Dec. 12. “This is the first time that these changes have ever been mandated.”

40W and 60W bulbs represent more than 60% of the bulbs in use in American households, and consumers are likely to be shocked when they realize the soft-light bulbs they’ve been buying their whole lives are no longer in stock – a reality that will likely sink in toward the end of the year when manufacturer stocks diminish.

Commercial users, on the other hand, often deal more with fixtures than screw-in incandescents, and facilities managers are hopefully already on top of these changes. But those who aren’t, said the lighting experts at Lutron’s panel, need to catch up quickly.

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“It’s going to have similar impact in the commercial market. The rules are across the board, it’s not residential rules versus commercial,” said Ethan Biery, Lutron’s lead LED engineer.

Retrofitting kits can help commercial users adapt to the looming change.

“If they want to keep their existing fixture, there’s probably a kit now that will let them upgrade that fixture, whether it uses incandescent or fluorescent, to an LED product of some type,” said McGowan. That’s something that’s usually beyond the consumer – not always, but usually – but the commercial people understand that and we’re seeing a lot of that. It’s a very rapidly growing part of the business.”

In the place of incandescent bulbs will emerge either halogen, compact fluorescent (CFL) or LED bulbs. Most users will opt for halogen bulbs because they look and feel like incandescents, said Jason Byron Teague, an independent lighting consultant. Halogen bulbs are also priced closest to incandescent bulbs. Standard 60W incandescent bulbs cost $0.42, on average, are dimmable, and last up to 1,000 hours. Comparable 43W halogen bulbs have the same lifespan, are also dimmable, and cost between $0.92 and $1.50 a bulb. CFLs range in price between $1.22 and $2.75 and are only dimmable if marked, but offer up to 10,000 hours of life. LED bulbs are the longest lasting, with up to 25,000-hour life spans, but are also only dimmable if marked and cost between $12 and $50 a bulb.

Consumers tend not to like the light given off by CFLs, McGowan said, and LED options are prohibitively expensive.

Teague said LED solutions will continue to improve in quality and lower in price as the technology is improved, and he suggested they could be the most viable long-term solution, given their flexibility and long life spans.

Since not all LED bulbs can be dimmed, those going the LED route – now and in the future – must be sure they install dimmers appropriate to the lamps and bulbs they’re buying, said Biery. Improper pairing can cause lamp or dimmer failure, buzzing, flickering, drop-out or pop-on, and long start times.

Some varieties of incandescent bulbs, such as appliance bulbs under 40W, three-way bulbs and bug lights are exempted from ‘The Shift.’ But the majority of bulbs are on their way out with the change now imminent, and adaptation is inevitable. But those who want to put it off just a few months longer will be able to do so as manufacturers flood the market with their remaining stock of incandescent bulbs, said Stan Mertz, the director of retail operations for Applied Proactive Technologies.

“Retailers are using this phase-out as a way to move product, that’s what they do,” Mertz said.

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Tagged with: Features, Lighting

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