Dimming the Lights on Incandescent Bulbs

There are some things people feel strongly about: the coffee they drink, the state of their college’s basketball team, and surprisingly, what kind of light bulbs they use in their homes.

First victim: 100-watt incandescent bulb

Brace yourself: Starting in January 2012, to meet the requirements of the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007, which was signed into law by former President George W. Bush, some incandescent bulbs will be phased out, starting with the 100-watt incandescent bulb. But, before you go out and start stock-piling incandescent bulbs, be aware that this does not mean all incandescent bulbs will be banned. It just means that “…American companies will stop making and importing 100 watt light bulbs.”  Also, if your favorite store still has the 100-watt incandescent bulbs in stock, you can buy them, but the supply won’t be re-stocked after it empties. You will still be able to buy 76, 60 and 40-watt incandescents until Jan. 1, 2014.

The CLEAN Energy Act requires new energy standards for light bulbs —specifically, lumens per watt, which measures the amount of light produced per watt used to power the bulb. The requirement is that all bulbs use 30 percent less energy. According to the National Lighting Bureau, compact florescent bulbs (CFL), produce about 62.5 lumens per watt, up to four times the lumens an incandescent bulb produces per watt.

Those energy savings translate into pocket savings. Consumer Reports found that the average American would save $57.55 per year by switching to CFLs, noting that one CFL bulb lasts as long as 10 incandescent bulbs. According to Energy Star, a program run by the Environmental Protection Agency, switching to CFLs, or any other non-incandescent bulbs such as LEDs or halogen lights, saves “about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars.”

Issues with CFLs

While there’s little to argue in the way of  savings, there are concerns about the small amounts of mercury found in CFL bulbs. According to Russ Leslie, associate director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the actual amount of mercury found in one bulb is quite small —five milligrams —”just enough to cover a ballpoint pen tip,” he told Popular Mechanics. He concluded that the risks of getting mercury poisoning by a CFL are very slim.

However, if a CFL bulb does break, it will need to be handled in a different way than a normal incandescent: Air out the room by opening a window or door and vacuum up the glass and debris. Wearing gloves, clean the area with a damp paper towel. CFLs cannot be disposed through standard waste pickup but most home improvement stores, Home Depot, Wal-Mart,  or recycling centers have options for CFL disposal. Ask your local store or try searching Earth911.com for your nearest disposal location.

Despite  legislation, CFLs won’t replace every incandescent bulb, including most specialty bulbs — like the refrigerator bulb — three-way bulbs or shatter-resistant bulbs. Energy Star’s website has the full list of exemptions included in the Act.

Flickr photo: aimeewenske

Heads up, Easy-Bake fans

But, if you are an Easy-Bake oven fan, holding onto a few 100-watt incandescent bulbs may be a good idea. Hasbro’s popular children’s toy has long used a 100-watt bulb to “bake” its goodies.  To prepare for the new legislation, Hasbro is developing a new “Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven,” which uses a heating element that is not a light bulb; it is planned for release in fall 2011. In the meantime, Hasbro has also developed “Microwave & Style,” a new toy that cooks treats using a microwave, rather than the Easy-Bake oven.