Changing Light

January 27th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

100-watt bulbs are now a thing of the past in California, and soon for the rest of us.

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The Responsibility Project

By January 1, 2012, 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be phased out all across the United States. And as of the beginning of this year, the state of California has prohibited selling 100-watt bulbs produced before December 31, 2010.

In fact, as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, most traditional bulbs will be banned by 2014. This will leave us with halogens, which use 72 watts to produce the same amount of light; compact fluorescent bulbs (or CFL), which use 23 watts; or LED (light-emitting diode), which aren’t yet widely available.

The California Energy Commission predicts the state’s phase-out of 100-watt bulbs will eliminate the sale of 0.5 million 100-watt bulbs a year and save consumers $35.6 million in energy bills. With savings like that, who would complain?

Well, it appears plenty of people don’t like the change. The energy efficient bulbs cost more to buy, but last longer and cost less to operate. Opponents cite the mercury CFLs contain and also complain that they don’t give off as much light or don’t fit into light fixtures. Some legislators have even threatened a repeal of the light-bulb phase-out, citing loss of personal freedoms – and jobs.

But aside from its opponents, it seems that most people don’t actually know about the impending change. According to Osram Sylvania’s latest Socket Survey, only 19 percent of people knew about the 100-watt phase-out; a figure that’s only up 1 percent from a 2009 survey, according to USA Today. IKEA also commissioned a survey of 1,011 people conducted by Harris Interactive, which found that 61 percent of people are not aware of the U.S. legislation. (IKEA claims to be the first retailer to completely eliminate incandescents from its shelves, and now only sells compact fluorescent light bulbs, LEDs and halogen lamps.)

The federal government is hoping the key to acceptance is changing the way people think about energy efficient bulbs, according to this article.  This means a rollout this summer of new labels for the bulbs – like those on packaged foods – with lumens, a measure of brightness, being the number to look for. Instead of 100-watt bulbs, you might look for a 1500-lumen bulb instead. And while early fluorescent users complained of bluish light, you can look for the number 2700K to match the warmth of a traditional incandescent.

Some are speculating that the looming ban – like phase-outs in Europe and Australia – will have consumers hoarding their 100-watt bulbs, or even create a black market for the retro bulbs.

Did you know about the phase-out? And if so, are you planning on hoarding your 100-watt bulbs, Elaine Benes-style, in a closet? Or will you be an early adopter of the energy savers? Weigh in here.