The Incandescent Light Bulb Is Now Illegal -- Here's What You Need to Know

The popular light bulbs are illegal to manufacture in or import to the U.S. Find out how to choose the best bulb for you

Some of the most popular light bulbs you can buy -- 40-watt and 60-watt incandescents -- will no longer be made in the U.S.because of their energy inefficiency. As a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the bulbs can no longer be imported or manufactured in the United States as of January 1, 2014. In the past couple of years, 75-watt and 100-watt incandescent bulbs were also phased out.

While you may still be able to find remaining incandescent inventory on store shelves for a while, you’ll eventually have to switch to halogen incandescents, compact flourescents (CFLs), or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Some lament the loss of the warm glow of the old-fashioned bulb, but there’s no contest in terms of the environment: Only about 10 percent of the energy used by traditional incandescent bulbs is converted to light; the rest is lost to heat. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, upgrading 15 incandescent bulbs in your home could save you $50 per year. And, since most of the new bulbs also have longer life spans, you won’t have to replace burned out bulbs as frequently. Be sure to buy the right brightness level in the new bulbs, which are measured in lumens, not watts. The NRDC has a chart showing the light equivalences of various bulbs so you don’t end up with one that is too glaring.

Here’s what the American Lighting Association (ALA) recommends:
-- To replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that gives you 1,600 lumens.
-- To replace a 75-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that gives you 1,100 lumens.
-- To replace a 60-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that gives you 800 lumens.
-- To replace a 40-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that gives you 450 lumens.

Halogen incandescent light bulbs, the cheapest option, are most similar to the old incandescent bulb. This type of light bulb is about 30 percent more energy-efficient and can last up to three times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, according to the ALA.

CFLs are small, curly versions of the tube fluorescent lights and are a little more expensive than halogen bulbs. They are three to four times more efficient and can last six to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, according to the ALA. The rated life of CFLs is typically 9,000 hours compared to 1,000 for traditional incandescents. On the down side, CFLs do contain trace amounts of mercury that have to be recycled at a proper facility and properly cleaned up if a bulb breaks in your home, according to the ALA.

CFLs are often critiqued for their garish light, but choosing the right color can improve the aesthetic in your home. Most people prefer the ones labeled "warm” since the bulbs that are labeled "daylight" are bluish. Also, most CFLs don’t work with dimmer sockets, so check the packaging. According to a recent study by Lutron Electronics, nearly three in four adults currently have dimmers in their homes. CFLs also take time to fully brighten when turned on, but hybrid halogen-CFLs provide instant light by using the halogen first and then switching to the more energy efficient CFL when it has warmed up.

While LEDs are the most expensive, LEDs are more than five times more energy efficient and can last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs—perhaps as long as 20 years—according to the ALA. The rated life of LEDs is 25,000 hours or more, according to the ALA. LED lights also provide near white illumination and are great for directional illumination.

When you buy and replace light bulbs, think of them more like investing in small appliances, recommends the ALA, and take them with you if you move. Whatever light bulb option you choose, buy products with the Energy Star label, which means they meet the Environmental Protection Agency's standards for energy, efficiency, and performance. These bulbs are certified and tested by a third party and will save consumers an average of $6 in electricity costs per year, per bulb. Check out Energy Star’s Choose a Light Guide for more help navigating your options.

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Ellen Sturm Niz is an editor and writer working, parenting, and living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Google+.


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