Say Good-Bye to Old-Fashioned Light bulbs

Traditional incandescent light bulbs are about to be switched off. The federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set light bulb efficiency standards that will soon prevent the manufacture and importation of most incandescent bulbs. That has created uproar among many fans of traditional bulbs who complain about the cost, harsh tones, possible dangers and other drawbacks of the new bulbs. What you need to know…

THE NEW RULES

Most 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be eliminated starting January 1, 2012, with 75-watt incandescents following in 2013 and 60- and 40-watt bulbs in 2014. An attempt to repeal the law failed this July.

Exceptions: Some specialty bulbs, including three-way bulbs and certain appliance bulbs, are exempt. Also, many types of halogen bulbs, a form of incandescent bulb, are efficient enough to meet the new standards.

BEST COMPACT FLUORESCENTS

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) consume about 75% less electricity than incandescents and, for the moment, are the best replacements for many applications. Still, many consumers have concerns.

Price vs. efficiency. CFLs cost an average of $3 apiece—versus the 50 cents you might spend on an incandescent. But thanks to their longer life and higher energy efficiency, the ¬overall cost to buy and use a CFL bulb for 1,000 hours is around $2, compared with more than $7 for incandescents, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. However, CFLs often fall short of their expected lifespan when they are used only in short bursts rather than the three hours at a time that the estimates assume.

Safety concerns. CFLs contain small amounts of mercury. If a CFL is broken, you may be exposed to mercury, which can cause serious health problems, including possible nerve damage. (For emergency steps if one of these bulbs does break and for advice on how to dispose of the bulbs, go towww.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html.)

Getting the right light. Not all consumers are pleased with CFL bulbs because they may seem too harsh… to not be bright enough… or to be incompatible with dimmer switches. Good news: There now are more options among CFLs that can help overcome these drawbacks. What to consider…

Color temperature. Rather than being limited to a cool bluish light, CFLs now are available in many color temperatures, expressed in degrees Kelvin (K) on their labels, including…

• 2700K CFLs produce a warm yellowish light very similar to that of incandescent bulbs. They are particularly
good for rooms featuring amber or mahogany colors.

• 3500K CFLs make rooms with bright reds or greens look their best.

• 4100K CFLs make rooms with lots of birch or bleached wood look great.

• 5000K and 6500K CFLs produce a bright light similar to daylight—particularly appropriate for rooms full of grays or slate. There is some concern that they could interfere with sleep cycles more than bulbs lower on the color temperature scale, however, so consider not -using bulbs high on the color temperature scale near bedtime if you have trouble falling asleep.

Give yourself a few days to get used to a bulb in an unfamiliar color temperature before deciding whether you like it. Many consumers initially dislike anything other than 2700K because it is not what they’re used to. Westinghouse has a wide selection of CFLs with less common color temperatures (www.WestinghouseLighting.com, click on “Light Bulbs”).

Bulb strength. CFLs use far less electricity to produce the same amount of light, so the wattage figures on their packaging won’t correspond to the familiar 40-, 60- or 100-watt bulb designations. Their labels list the equivalent wattage of an incandescent bulb that the CFL is meant to replace. The label also might mention lumens, a more accurate measure of brightness than power use expressed in watts. Examples: A traditional 100-watt incandescent produces around 1,600 lumens… a 60-watt, around 840 lumens, though in practice there is considerable variation, so one 60-watt bulb might produce 800 lumens…another close to 900.

Dimming ability. Certain specialty CFL bulbs can work well with dimmer switches—but only if you replace your old dimmer switches with ones designed to work with CFL or LED bulbs. These switches typically sell for $20 to $30 in home centers. Effective dimmable CFLs are not yet available above 26 watts, however—the rough equivalent of a 100-watt incandescent. TCP Inc. currently makes some of the most effective and durable dimmable CFLs (www.tcpi.com). Helpful: Dimmable CFL bulbs are more expensive than nondimmable CFLs, so you might want to replace a dimmer with a standard on/off switch.

Fluorescent flicker. Although CFLs flicker, it is so rapid that 95% of people do not notice it. Of course, that’s little comfort to the other 5%, who find it extremely annoying. A few bulb makers offer high power factor (HPF) CFLs that flicker twice as fast as conventional CFLs—too fast to notice—but these cost perhaps twice as much as other CFLs. They are available online at www.Alibaba.com.

Bulb shape. Most CFLs are spiral-shaped, but some consumers don’t like that look, and spiral bulbs don’t work with most clip-on shades. Bulb makers now offer CFLs shaped similar to conventional incandescents as well. Cone-shaped CFLs also are available for recessed fixtures and floodlights. Helpful: One complaint in years past was that CFLs took some time to reach full brightness. Spiral CFLs from leading makers no longer suffer from this delay, but CFLs contained in glass bulbs sometimes do.

LED BULBS

Bulbs based on light-emitting diodes use 90% less electricity than incandescents, making them even more efficient than CFLs. They contain no mercury, don’t flicker, come in dimmable versions and last for many years. Unfortunately, for most household uses, their time has not yet quite arrived. Prices remain steep, ranging from about $15 to $70…they are not yet available for all applications…and in many cases, their color temperature is bluer than many people like. Within a few years, it’s likely that relatively affordable LED bulbs will be available in a wide range of sizes, shapes and strengths. They already make sense in certain situations…

When a 40-, 60- or 75-watt-equivalent bulb is needed in a tough-to-reach location. LED bulbs can last 25,000 hours or more—around four times as long as CFLs and 25 times as long as incandescents. LED bulbs capable of replacing standard bulbs often cost $35 to $50—but their efficiency and ultra long life means that they cost less than half as much as incandescents per hour of use and not much more than CFLs. LED bulbs cannot yet replace 100-watt incandescents, but that’s expected by the end of 2012.

Example: GE’s Energy Smart LED (3000K color temperature, www.GELighting.com) is available as a 40-watt equivalent, with a 60-watt equivalent due out in late November and 75-watt and 100-watt equivalents due in late 2012.

Warning: When you replace a traditional incandescent bulb with an LED bulb, make sure the LED bulb selected is omnidirectional—some LED bulbs cast light only in a particular direction.

LEDs also make sense for directional lighting, such as track lighting, under-cabinet lighting, table lamps, floodlights and spotlights that illuminate art.

HALOGEN BULBS

Halogen bulbs are a type of incandescent that contain halogen gas and special filaments. They’re 10% to 20% more efficient than the standard incandescent—just enough to allow some halogens to remain on the market—and they work with dimmer switches. Although they get hotter than plain incandescents, as long as the bulbs do not come in direct contact with flammable material such as a curtain, they can be used in place of incandescents.

With a typical color temperature of 3000K, halogens are only slightly bluer than standard 2700K incandescents. A few manufacturers are starting to make incandescents available in higher color temperatures as well. Turning a halogen on and off frequently will not shorten its life, so these are appropriate for rooms where lights tend to be used in short bursts, such as bathrooms. Halogens are more expensive than standard incandescents, however, costing perhaps $2 apiece. They do tend to last slightly longer.

Bottom Line/Personal interviewed David Brooks, owner of Just Bulbs, a New York City–based store that stocks more than 36,000 different lightbulbs. Just Bulbs has been in business since 1980. Mr. Brooks’s family has been selling lightbulbs since 1942. www.JustBulbsNYC.com

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