Light as we will get to know it

by Lisa Neuberger J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc. A sociate Editor

You’ve heard the scare stories: Stock up on good old-fashioned light bulbs now, because the federal government is banning them. Soon we’ll all have to live and work under the artificial glare of fluorescent lights. Are the gloomsayers right? Is this the end of light as we know it?

Well, in January of this year, the federal government did begin a gradual phaseout of inefficient light bulbs as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) , otherwise known as the “Light Bulb Law.” The new law sets standards of energy efficiency that light bulbs will have to meet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these standards are “technology neutral,” meaning any type of bulb can be sold as long as it can stand up to the new energy requirements.

While the new law doesn’t outright ban any lights, it does make it almost impossible for traditional, incandescent light bulbs to meet the minimum efficiency standards. The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lighting Facts website says that “Once implemented, the Act will essentially eliminate 40W, 60W,

, 75W, and 100W medium screw base incandescent light bulbs.”

The standard won’t be fully implemented until Jan. 1, 2014, when today’s common, screw-in light bulbs must use at least 27 percent less energy than they do now. This year, the law only applies to traditional 100-watt bulbs. That means if you used to buy 100-watt bulbs, now you’ll use 72-watt bulbs. Next year, 75-watt bulbs will be replaced with 53-watt bulbs. By the time 2014 rolls around, you’ll have to buy 29-watt bulbs instead of 40-watt bulbs. But DOE is quick to assure you that you won’t notice any difference, since lighting is becoming so much more efficient.

A second, even tougher part of the law goes into effect in 2020. At that point, light bulbs will need to be 60 to 70 percent more efficient than today’s light bulbs. Retailers may continue to sell non-compliant bulbs after the effective date until they use up their existing inventory.

EPA wants you to “switch” your focus from watts to lumens when shopping for light bulbs. Watts is a measure of the energy output of the light source while lumens are a measure of its brightness. Effi- ciency is measured by the number of lumens per watt (LPW) a bulb provides. A standard 60-watt light bulb provides 13 to 14 lumens per watt.

So when the law is fully implemented, lumens will be a much easier way to gauge a bulb’s brightness than watts. For instance, if you want the brightness equivalent of a 100-watt bulb, you should look for a bulb with 1,600 lumens. Don’t worry; the Federal Trade Commission has developed a consumer label for all new medium screwbase light bulbs that will make it easy to compare the brightness level across a variety of light bulbs.

Government incentives and contests, along with market forces, have spurred manufacturers to develop a wide variety of new lighting products. Consumers can now choose from more efficient standard incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), halogen lighting, and light-emitting diode (LED) lamps. In fact, last year the DOE awarded the first “L Prize,” which was intended to spur lighting manufacturers to develop high-quality, high-efficiency solidstate lighting products. The contest challenged industry to develop replacement technology for a standard 60W lamp. To date, the Philips “Award Winning LED Bulb” is the lone winner of the prize. The bulb is only now coming on the market, but with its hefty price tag ($50 per bulb) it remains to be seen if this technology will be accepted by consumers.

Meanwhile, there is some confusion about whether or not the law is in effect because of a lastminute congressional budget deal in December 2011 that blocked this year’s funding for enforcement of the new law. Long-story short, phase one of the law is under way, with lighting manufacturers working toward meeting the new standards. These companies have invested heavily in new technologies in anticipation of the Light Bulb Law and did not welcome the legislators’ attempts to quash the new standards.

After all the politicking has died down, there doesn’t seem to be much push-back from consumer groups over the new lighting offerings. Most retailers have opted to stock the new bulbs, and the new labeling system has made it easier to make the right lighting choices. However, while the law has quietly gone into effect in the early months of 2012, many political watchers expect it to be back in the spotlight in time for the fall elections.

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Lisa Neuberger is an associate editor for J.J. Keller & Associates Inc., specializing in workplace safety and environmental topics. She is the lead editor for “J. J. Keller’s Environmental Alert, The Compliance Guide for Safety Professionals,” and The Environmental Compliance Manual, a Safety Manager’s Guide, helping employers stay up-to-date on regulatory news and information. She also helps customers with their safety compliance questions and contributes to leading trade magazines. Contact her at, or learn more at

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