As you may have noticed, a lot has been going on recently in the relatively small world of the light bulb. Since the start of this year, we’ve seen an uptick in conversation surrounding legislation and changes in technology that affect our day-to-day lives and how we think about our impact on the environment.
A brief history of the legislation on efficiency standards
In 2007 the Energy Independence and Security Act was passed, which, among other mandates, required that 25% greater efficiency for light bulbs be phased in from 2012 to 2014 – excepting specialty bulbs, and those less than 50 watts or more than 150 (such as stage and landscape lighting). These prohibitions essentially ended the manufacturing and importing of most incandescent light bulbs.
On January 1, 2014, following the EISA, 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs could no longer be manufactured in the United States – which consists, according to an expert quoted in a blog post by National Geographic, of “more than 50 percent of the [consumer lighting] market.” Despite, according to an article on CNN.com, a 2014 spending bill that took away money the EPA could have used to enforce these new standards, we can already see the deep impact pro-efficiency legislation has had on consumers.
All big lighting manufacturers, including G.E., Philips, and Osram – according to an illuminating and comprehensive Q&A and radio interview on the subject of selecting the right light bulb, available on WBUR’s website – have already begun to exclusively manufacture energy-saving bulbs. Individuals who oppose these changes have, in turn, taken to buying incandescent bulbs in bulk; while supplies last, we can still purchase them.
Concerns following pro-efficiency legislation
Such incandescent “hoarders” see the higher price tags compact fluorescents and LEDs often carry (one can purchase an incandescent bulb quite cheap these days) and say the EISA and further efforts toward sustainability take away customers’ free will to choose the less-expensive option.
A blog post by the Conservative Heritage Foundation, which warns its readers to rush to the store and stock up before the government takes the product they’ve trusted for years off the shelves for good, reads: “Those families operating from paycheck to paycheck may want to opt for a cheaper light bulb and more food instead of a more expensive light bulb and less food.”
We must remember that “more efficient” alternatives to incandescent bulbs are called that for a reason. CFLs, for instance, use a fourth of the energy of and can last 10 times longer than incandescents. The EPA says if every household replaced one incandescent bulb with an Energy Star-rated CFL or LED, the US would save around $7 million per year in energy costs.
Looking at the situation this way, the long-term benefits of switching to more environmentally and economically sustainable CFLs and LEDs seem to outweigh the deceivingly lower initial cost of incandescent bulbs, and the benefits of feeling good about purchasing the same product our parents couldn’t avoid relying on.
Check out this other great post by National Geographic, which debunks other myths related to CFLs – including assumptions about their mercury content and UV radiation leakage.
Even for those okay with the switch to sustainable – which bulbs to buy?
Not every concern, however, about having all these new options, overwhelming to behold on the shelves of stores that once displayed a simpler array of products, is invalid. Inconsistencies in compact fluorescent bulbs – all claiming, in comparison to incandescents, to last forever – can be confusing and disheartening, especially surrounded by so much negative press. As is the case for any product, some manufacturers will focus primarily on keeping prices down, unfortunately to the sacrifice of quality.
A good way to avoid being dissatisfied is to look for an Energy Star rating. Energy Star bulbs are given an EPA stamp of approval; they must meet the organization’s requirements for performance, which includes passing longevity tests. And if you’re worried your bedroom or office will not look as nice lit up by CFLs, look for a box marked “warm” or “soft” “white light.”
A quote we like, from the Director of the California Lighting Technology Center at UC-Davis Michael Siminovitch, interviewed by WBUR: “There’s a very big difference between something that’s acceptable, and something that’s preferable. I think it’s an important lesson that the efficiency community needs to learn.” There’s still room to grow, so people can become more comfortable keeping up with the changing times.
You can visit our Facebook page often to learn how to make more tolerable ultimately positive changes in the lighting technology that helps you see your world.