Lights out for incandescent light bulbs

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The incandescent light bulb, which has brightened homes ever since Thomas Edison produced the fixture in 1880, is on its way out.


In 2007, lawmakers and President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act, requiring light bulbs to be more efficient. The legislation gave manufacturers nearly five years to increase efficiency in certain light bulbs by at least 25 percent.


That means lights out for the 100-watt incandescent light bulb, which uses too much energy to meet the law’s requirements. As a result, manufacturers have stopped producing them, and most stores no longer carry them on their shelves.


“We still carry some, and we’ll carry them until they’re completely out of the warehouse. But when they’re gone, they’re gone,” said Al Nocki of Bahr Hardware in Canonsburg. “For example, we used to get them from GE, but they no longer have 100-watt bulbs.”


Dimmer incandescent lights – 40- through 70-watts – are still available, but by 2014, they will be held to the same standards. By 2020, screw-in light bulbs will have to be 60 to 70 percent more efficient than today’s bulbs.


The downfall of the incandescent bulb, according to Doug Matthis, an outside salesperson for Cardello Lighting in Canonsburg, is its inefficiency. Only about 5 to 10 percent of the electricity that runs through the bulb actually generates light, and the other 90 to 95 percent escapes into the air as heat.


“They’re not efficient, and they waste a tremendous amount of energy,” said Matthis. “As far as the phase-out, it’s going to be inevitable. You hear all this stuff about people who want to stockpile light bulbs, and customers are concerned about what they’re going to use, but there are fantastic options.”


The alternatives: Many people are switching to more efficient compact fluorescents and the new LED lightbulb, both of which use less energy and have longer lives, and will make a difference in energy bills.


Matthis said another option is a 72-watt halogen bulb, as bright as a 100-watt incandescent and fully dimmable.


According to Matthis, whichever bulb consumers end up choosing depends on a few factors, including the amount of light desired and the cost. When it comes to price, the spiral-shaped compact fluorescent bulbs are comparable to incandescent bulbs. But they last 10 times longer and use about a quarter of the energy.


LED lights “go off the charts when it comes to lamp life,” Matthis said, and many last more than 30,000 hours – more than 12 times longer than incandescents. But the high price tag – a Sylvania LED bulb with a warm light that resembles incandescent costs about $50 – turns off some customers.


John Weidert, owner of Burgettstown Hardware, said he has received complaints from customers about the phase-out, and he believes the alternative light bulbs have problems: Compact fluorescents contain mercury, and LEDs are expensive.


But Mathis believes, among other things, competition will drive the price down.


“Nobody wants to see the 50-cent light bulb disappear. But when you think about all the things that go with it, including environmental impact and energy savings, the incandescent’s alternatives are tremendous. Competition will drive the price down,” said Mathis. “The life of a good LED is off the charts. It costs more up front, but in the long run it will save money for consumers.”


Mathis also believes the newer LEDs and compact fluorescents are very close in color spectrum to the incandescents, a complaint he has heard from homeowners and interior designers since the incandescent phase-out began.


“There’s always going to be a replacement for light bulbs; changes and improvements are inevitable,” said Matthis. “So don’t panic.”


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