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. laura
    January 1, 2014, 10:22 am

    DISGUSTING!!! — Money saving, compact fluorescent light bulbs emit high levels of ultraviolet radiation – rays so strong that they can actually burn the skin and skin cells. (Stony Brook University)
    “The results were that you could actually initiate cell death”, said Marcia Simon, a Professor of Dermatology.
    Exposure to the bulbs could lead to premature aging and skin cancer, according to doctors. “It can also cause skin cancer in the deadliest form, and that’s melanoma,” said Dr. Rebecca Tung.
    “When there is something in your house, you don’t perceive any danger, you wouldn’t get that close to an x-ray in a doctor’s office,” explained Miriam Rafallovich, Professor of Materials Science at Stony Brook.
    So now it turns out these bulbs are also dangerous when they don’t break. The protective phosphor coating inside the glass, which gives the glass its milky white look, can be cracked. The UV rays then can escape to cause damage to those near enough to it. The Stony Brook University study found that all the CFL light bulbs they studied had cracks and imperfect phosphor coating.
    Prolonged exposure at distances of 8 inches or less can cause both skin and retinal damage.

  2. Melody
    New york NY
    January 1, 2014, 9:42 am

    People with lupus cannot use fluorescent bulbs because UV light is harmful to them triggering flare ups of their illness. What about their needs?

  3. Lorena Mitchell
    Manitoba
    January 1, 2014, 9:04 am

    yes Led lights can be dimmed no problem, I Have used LED for 6 years and now use repairable ones that are great

  4. DJ
    January 1, 2014, 1:44 am

    I’ve been noticing for a long time how it’s been getting harder and harder to find any incandescent bulbs and it’s been a real problem. In fact it seemed so ridiculous that I even suspected they may have been rendered illegal to some degree, and now I know. I was not aware of any of this until now, and consider it a disgusting, reprehensible, un-American, anti-American disgrace. Bear in mind that I am a completely nonpartisan person – I don’t care which side of the aisle is for incandescent bulbs; I regard this whole situation as truly deplorable and sad. Moreover, has anyone even noticed that so much of the only ones now available on store shelves contain mercury? Really? Mercury? One of the most dangerous substances there is? Is that some kind of sick joke? Is that really supposed to be an improvement in taking away freedom of choice and the option of sticking with incandescent bulbs? To put it simply – does it even get any more stupid than that? More and more I’m living in a country that is no longer recognizable…

  5. Marice
    December 31, 2013, 11:27 pm

    The new halogen bulbs look absolutely HORRIBLE in my china cabinet. They make my beautiful cream colored china look blue! And surely you have noticed how ugly the white led Christmas lights look! I think I’ll go back to candle or kerosene lamp light. Years ago I read about how the Romanian dictator allowed his people to use only 40 watt bulbs. I felt sorry for them to have to sit around in the dark. To me it would be depressing. And now we here in “free” America are told what kind of light bulbs to use as well! I never would have believed it…..
    .

  6. Kevin
    December 31, 2013, 11:10 pm

    To the person at 12:19

    Some LEDs work with dimmers. I have a set that was cheap
    and likes dimming about 2/3 of the way. Probably could fix that by spending more. But really, I have been replacing dimmers where possible.

    I expect to never replace these bulbs for 15-20 years, If I do I’ll move them elsewhere with no dimming

  7. Victor Brodt
    Minden NV.
    December 31, 2013, 7:56 pm

    To BB timers are an issue, but the LEDs that work with dimmers should work with electronic timers, and motorized switches. Those that are marked -will not work with dimmers may work, but will wear our way too quickly.
    .
    … Above the hope that halogens will get better is nearly ridiculous since they are at best theoretically 45 Lumens per watt, and by the way that is about what the soon to be outlawed T12 comes in at, and the CFLs only do slightly better, they are doomed to die unless they make a major leap in efficiency by at least 2 times. This is because 100 Lumens per watt products are now available in both LED, Plasma, and fluorescent in fact one tube comes in at about 250 Lumens per watt. cf. http://www.amazon.com/Wolrds-Energy-Fluorescent-Lighting-Bighter/dp/B009SERY44
    /ref=as_li_ss_mfw?&linkCode=wey&tag=jackt-20

    …Now stop for a moment and realize, if a product does 50 Lumens per watt then it is possible to replace it with one that get 250 !! This means that it is possible that a light bill that is $1000. could now be only $250-200.
    ….This changes the entire outlook, as 3/4 or better of the energy is saved, over the lifetime this can mean millions for even midsized companies!
    CFLs and others of the same efficiency are a waste; a giant mercury laden waste. Please get informed, I would be glad to help, we are the energy efficiency experts at http://7starsgreen.com/ Free truly money saving info will be posted and more to come, please spread the word this will change your world for the better. The are some great answers that are already here, and more to come.
    Victor Brodt

  8. N. Rhea
    OR
    December 31, 2013, 5:54 pm

    I totally hate LED Christmas tree lights! They give me a headache and feel like they’re burning through my eyes. We replaced them with regular tiny lights.

  9. B B
    WA
    December 31, 2013, 12:19 pm

    These new lights are not compatible for use with timmers. So where does that leave me?

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