Originally Published: February 3, 2018 6:02 a.m.
Updated as of Saturday, February 3, 2018 12:18 PM
Remember the incandescent light bulb ban from several years ago?
If you do, you might wonder why you can still buy the bulbs.
You might also wonder why they were banned in the first place.
That question has an easy answer:
It’s true — incandescent light bulbs were never actually outlawed.
What really happened
In December 2007, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), a law that mandated about 25 percent greater efficiency for household light bulbs between 40 and 100 watts sold in the U.S. by 2014. (EISA also required a higher mileage standard for vehicles and some other energy-saving moves.)
The EISA effectively killed most — but not all — incandescent bulbs, because they couldn’t be profitably made to meet the new standard. Exempted bulbs included specialty bulbs, three-way bulbs, chandelier bulbs, refrigerator bulbs, and plant grow lights.
Contrary to popular belief, the EISA did not mandate the use of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs); that technology was just the first to replace the old bulbs.
Gary Miller, owner of Prescott’s S&M Electric, said people still have some incandescent bulbs, but they are an endangered species.
“Most people still have those, but at some point, you won’t be able to buy them, because manufacturers will not be producing them anymore,” he said.
That’s because incandescent bulbs now on the market rely on halogen technology to meet the new standard, but those bulbs will be out of compliance in 2020, when an even stricter energy standard goes into effect.
It’s been called EISA Phase II, and most experts agree that incandescent technology will not be able to meet it. Phase II also discontinues the exemptions for many of the bulbs previously allowed, including three‐way bulbs.
David Cobb, owner of Cobb-AZ Electric, said it is just as well, because customers “never” even ask about them anymore.
CFLs to the rescue?
The CFL was the first bulb to replace the old ones, and still is commonplace.
“I don’t care for those at all,” Cobb said.
CFLs contain mercury — a toxic metal that can get into water supplies and poison people — so they must be recycled properly.
Many CFLs don’t work on a dimmer, so they’re not compatible with dimmable fixtures in homes.
If they’re cold, they can take up to 30 seconds to warm up to full intensity.
They’re not “bulb shaped,” which mean they may not fit into older lamps, either aesthetically or physically.
They also cost more, and, although the price has dropped, they’re still not the $1 bulb of a decade ago.
Miller said a major complaint is that “they don’t last as long as they’re supposed to. Of course, that would depend on how much you use them, but even then, they’re not lasting as long as they thought they would.”
And the worst CFL characteristic, for a lot of people: their light has a cooler “color temperature” than incandescent light. It appears bluer to the human eye than that of the bulbs they replaced.
LEDs may win the day
The third type of lighting technology has as its heritage the digital watches of the 1970s, with their glowing red displays.
Today’s light-emitting diodes (LEDs) would seem to be the perfect replacement for the old light bulbs: they’re very energy efficient and can be adjusted to nearly any color, cool or warm. No mercury. And they don’t need to warm up.
They last a long time, too, Cobb said. “LEDs will outlive you.”
But LEDs are expensive. Even though they’ve dropped in price over the last few years, LEDs are about seven times more expensive than a comparable incandescent bulb – and two or three times costlier than CFLs.
Miller said, “They will last a lot longer (than CFLs or old-style bulbs) … they claim 40,000 hours. That’s (for) the top-of-the-line."
Cobb said that, after he installed LEDs at Sacred Heart Church in Prescott, a job that included the parking lot lights, “they were able to save $60,000 a year on their electric bill.”
LEDs are even made to resemble actual bulb-shaped bulbs, or come in a pre-built recessed fixture that might be used in a bathroom.
“We’re putting in two or three hundred of them a week,” Cobb said. “LED has caught up with everybody else and they’re going to take over, if they haven’t already.”
Editor’s Note – The original version of this story contained some incorrect power usage numbers. The amount of electricity bulbs use, no matter the kind, is measured by watts divided by volts, equaling the number of amps it will draw. In the US, volts are 110; the watts of the bulb divided by volts shows how many amps – the amount of electricity it will use. For instance, old 60-watt bulbs (60/110) draw 0.54 amps. How efficient CFLs or LEDs are depends on the same formula. The packaging shows this as well.