The incandescent light bulb has been around since the late 1800s, but the venerable technology’s dominance seems just about over.  On January 1, 2014, in keeping with a law passed by Congress in 2007, the old familiar tungsten-filament 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs can no longer be manufactured in the U.S., because they don’t meet federal energy-efficiency standards.

It’s the last part of a gradual phase-out that began in 2012 with 100-watt bulbs, and progressed last year with discontinuation of the 75-watt variety. But this final stage is the most significant, according to  Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental organization. “The 40s and 60s represent more than 50 percent of the [consumer lighting] market,” he said.

Until the supplies run out, the old bulbs still will be available on store shelves, alongside the electricity-saving alternatives that gradually will replace them, according to Paul Molitor, an assistant vice-president of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, an Arlington, Va.-based industry group.  Those new choices include compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, and updated higher-efficiency versions of the incandescent bulb that use halogen gas to slow down deterioration of the tungsten filament.

The impending demise of the familiar old-fashioned light bulb has generated a backlash among some who see it as taking away consumers’ free choice. (The conservative Heritage Foundation, for example, has proclaimed that “The Government’s Taking Away Your Light Bulbs on Jan. 1.”) But despite that, a recent public-opinion survey commissioned by lighting manufacturer Osram Sylvania indicates that only three in ten consumers intend to hoard supplies of the old bulbs and stick with them. Instead, most people say they’ll switch to one of the newer lighting technologies. About half of Americans will switch to CFLs, while a quarter envision using the newer LEDs. (See related post: “Efficient Light Bulb Study Generates Heated Debate.”)

NEMA spokesman Molitor said that the impending disappearance of conventional low-efficiency incandescent lights isn’t really going to be a big deal to consumers, who already are moving to the new technologies. Prices of 60-watt equivalent compact fluorescent lights, for example, have dropped in price to the point where they’re comparable to the old lower-efficiency conventional incandescent bulbs, and the newer technologies provide the same amount of light—measured in units called lumens—while utilizing fewer watts of electricity.  “Truthfully, most people aren’t really going to notice,” he said.

NRDC’s Horowitz agreed. “These new bulbs look and act the same,” he said. “There’s really no reason to hoard, unless you want to pay a little more on your electric bill.” (See related interactive: “Light Bulb Savings Calculator.”)

Both Molitor and Horowitz expect to see continued growth of LEDs, which emit light by transmitting electricity between two different semiconducting materials, and promise dramatic boosts in both energy efficiency and durability. (A 2012 paper by manufacturer General Electric claimed that its LED bulbs, in addition to using only a quarter of the electricity required by conventional incandescent bulbs, have a lifespan of 22 years, and can “virtually light a child’s bedroom desk lamp from birth through college graduation.”)

Though LEDs are still several times as expensive as the old incandescent bulbs, they’re dropping rapidly in price. “In 2012, they were about $40 apiece, but now you can get ones that cost $10,” Horowitz said. (See related post: “Green Fridays, Smart Lighting and More: How National Geographic Cuts Its Energy Use.“)

LEDs still only make up less than one percent of the consumer lighting market, but “in last half of 2013, sales of LEDs have really blossomed,” Molitor said.

Both experts also saw a continued market for high-efficiency incandescent light bulbs. Incandescent halogen bulbs now provide around 18 lumens per watt—not as efficient as their CFL and LED counterparts, which can achieve 55-100 lumens per watt, but much better than the old 60-watt incandescents at 13-15 lumens per watt. Horowitz predicted that halogen manufacturers eventually may be able to achieve more twice the efficiency than they can get now. “Theoretically, there’s no reason they couldn’t hit 45 lumens per watt,” he said.

What do you think about the phase-out? Vote below and comment.

Comments

  1. Charles McC
    Mars, PA
    April 16, 12:38 pm

    I support the move to energy efficient lighting, but voted against the ban deadline because the CFLs are not long-lived as promised!

    For example, GE initially warranted their CFLs for 7-8 years, as a result, I received two $10 vouchers when I sent 2 bulbs that failed in less than two years back to GE. Now the typical warranty is for a year or two. Go figure!

    It is well known, that a CFL will last a long time, maybe four or five years, if you do not turn it on and off frequently. A perfectly normal use pattern fo r the thrifty person who wants to save money and the planet. But what is the point of an energy efficient bulb, if it fails after the serving for same life as an incandescent bulb in normal use (i.e., turning it on and off frequently) but it costs 3-5 times as much to purchase? If the only way to get the long life from a CFL is to keep it on constantly, you will use up the alleged cost savings by increased electricity consumption that it is allegedly supposed to save!

    If it the CFL really made economic sense by considering both initial purchase cost plus cost of electricity to operate it, people would buy the CFLs voluntarily and eventually push out the incandescent bulbs because they are not cost effective…

  2. Greg
    Colorado
    April 14, 7:34 am

    Incandescent 10 for $10 that’s 40 bulbs. I have had to replace my kitchen light 1 time in 4 years. .25¢ Use 3 to 5 hours a day.

    CFL will not go in that light fixture. so I have 4 in my bathroom light fixture 4 bulbs. 4 for $13 I have replaced them 3 times this year. Disposal cost is $2.25 each. That’s $79 total now. Over 4 years it will cost me $316.

    Now you tell me that those 4 CFL’s that put out less light than my 1 Incandescent light will save me $315.75¢ in power usage? No chance!

    Incandescent disposal Free!

  3. D
    USA
    March 17, 11:18 am

    I have migrated away from the “traditional” lightbulb, but there are still valid uses for them. It turns out that animals in the care of my local Nature Center require the heat from a 60W bulb, to ensure their survival. Modern substitutes just don’t cut it. Sure, there are “Pet Bulbs” that last, maybe(!), two weeks at best. I’ve never had that problem with the “traditional” bulbs. If we chose to take care of other species, then we owe it to them to do what’s right.

  4. RonEl
    Defiance, Oh
    March 7, 11:09 pm

    I have exterior light fixtures that will not fit CFL’s, the glass cover will not fit. So I guess now I’m just supposed to throw away a perfectly good light fixture. I guess that’s similar to the government paying $200 for a hammer or toilet seat.

  5. CHGeographer
    Severn, MD
    March 6, 8:12 pm

    I find it odd that Osram-Sylvania’s quoted numbers of Americans switching don’t seem to agree with the results of the poll seen here, where @50% of folks seem to be annoyed because of the principle at issue here. Further, CFL bulbs indeed are toxic and many jurisdictions require them to be disposed of as hazardous materials. How is this better for the environment? “According to the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers, 98% of CFLs end up in landfills resulting in mercury contamination that can escape into the soil and waterways. Moreover, I have been an EMT-B and have seen the effects of being cut with a broken CFL bulb. This is not pretty. Mercury contamination of tissue in cut wounds can be extremely painful and take a long time to heal. Feel free to google photos. the only options for me are the Halogen bulbs b/c of the temperature of the light, and in some circumstances, LEDS, but the only affordalble ones are the cheaper, bad looking light. Hopefully they will come down in price as there are some that appear very close in temperature (color) to incandescent bulbs. But this is the U.S. and I shouldn’t be forced to make this choice so that Google and other ISP’s can suck power off the grid that would tax a small nuclear power plant. That is the true price of connectivity.

  6. Iain
    USA
    February 4, 1:10 pm

    When the government pays my electric bill every year, they can then tell me which bulbs to use. They haven’t considered that while CFL’s and LED bulbs are efficient, they are also annoying and TOXIC. CFL light is horrible. LED light is just equally annoying. They also haven’t considered the scores of people who have installed solar panels, so “saving energy” is no longer an issue. It seems to be that they should be encouraging use of solar instead of banning a little light bulb! The halogens are decent replacements, but I won’t need them for a while. I’ve stock piled all the regular cheaper incandescent bulbs to last my lifetime.

    This reminds me of when the government said that it was my back yard BBQ that was causing smog. They stopped selling lighter fluid and manufacturers had to reformulate it. It wasn’t my BBQ that was causing the smog, it was the thousands of diesel trucks and jets and manufacturing plants that churn out billions of smog producing garbage. My little back yard BBQ had very little to do with the smog problem. We all know that when the government doesn’t know how to manage anything. These are the same people who pay 500.00 a piece for a 20.00 toilet seat! Yeah, they know what they are doing. Right!

  7. rhkennerly
    virginia beach, ba
    January 7, 10:07 am

    I find it highly annoying that NG and other organizations write articles about the demise of the incandescent bulb but never discuss the alternative.

    Energy use in the US is skyrocketing. Plus, old baseline power plants are wearing out. The last coal fired plant built by Dominion Power (the Wise County Plant) cost $4 Billion dollars of direct costs, but with bond payments will balloon that to a cost of $7 Billion. Now, it is estimated that, without reductions in energy savings, the NE corridor alone will require 17 such new plants by 2050.

    With the demise of energy inefficient incandescent bulbs (and other Energy Star-related savings) we will not have to build even 1/2 that number of new plants, saving rate payers BILLIONS of dollars in rate hikes.

    Why should all ratepayers be penalized with higher rates by those who refuse to accept the demise of incandescent bulbs?

  8. Snowdraegyn
    Canada
    January 7, 6:43 am

    The choice in which type of bulb to use should be based on your ultimate goal. CFL’s and LED’s are very efficient producing light, not heat. I’ve replaced all in my home and can keep all lights in the house turned on, using less energy than what I used to in one room of old incandescents. However, the old bulbs produced more heat than light, making them a good choice for placing near water lines to keep them from freezing, or under the hood of a vehicle to keep frost off the intake manifold/carburetor… Sadly, this may mean the demise of little treats from the Easy Bake Oven… ;’)