Two years after the final phaseout of traditional 60 watt incandescent light bulbs and nearly a decade after former President George W. Bush penned what we know as EISA –– the Energy Independence and Security Act –– people are still wondering: “Were incandescent light bulbs actually banned?”
That’s a good question. The answer: yes and no.
Back in December of 2013 and January of 2014, when old 60-watt incandescents were officially phased out, there was a ton of fuss over the so-called “light bulb law.” The media was running wild with the story, with CNN even publishing an obituary for the bulbs. And the public was in a tizzy, angry that the government was taking away their basic 25-cent incandescent bulbs.
But it’s 2016 and we’re still selling incandescent light bulbs here at Regency. Are we breaking the law?
What was banned? Are more light bulb phaseouts ahead?
In spite of some bad reporting a few years back, light bulbs using incandescent lighting technology were not banned by the government. More accurately, save for a few exceptions, any lamp failing to meet the energy standards set by EISA in 2007 could no longer be manufactured. Those lamps were, for the most part, tungsten-filament incandescents.
An FAQs document put out by Energy Star in 2011 explained the new light bulb manufacturing restrictions in this way:
“The standards are technology neutral, which means any type of bulb can be sold as long as it meets the efficiency requirements. Common household light bulbs that traditionally use between 40 and 100 watts will use at least 27% less energy by 2014.”
In layman’s terms, if manufacturers wanted to sell incandescent light bulbs beyond 2013, they would have to muster up more energy-efficient technology. Today’s incandescent lamps are, on average, doubly as efficient as they were when EISA was signed into law, thanks to advancement in halogen technology –– part of the incandescent family. What’s more? Most businesses and households have seen enormous savings in energy year over year, thanks to new, more stringent efficiency standards.
Such advancements in efficiency have incandescents trending in the right direction, as the next hurdle EISA has put in the path of lighting manufacturers is yet ahead. In 2020, light bulbs will need to be 60-70 percent more efficient than the standard incandescent on the shelf while Bush was in the White House. Most, if not all, of today’s compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and LEDs have already well surpassed that efficiency threshold, but halogen-based incandescents still have some catching up to do, despite the advancements that came in the scurry up to 2014.
Does the 2020 standard set by EISA spell the end for incandescents? It’s tough to say for certain, but major price reductions in CFLs and LEDs have come in recent years. And, considering the drastic contrast in efficiency that these newer technologies afford, along with their drastically longer lifetimes, it’s not too hysterical to prophesy of incandescent-less 2020s.
What incandescent bulbs are available today?
The incandescent light bulbs that emerged as a response to the phaseouts of 2012-14 carry similar lumen outputs to their older counterparts for a typical reduction of 30 percent in wattage. As an example, the equivalent of an old 60-watt A19 incandescent uses 43 watts, on average. The equivalent of an 100-watt A19 incandescent, meanwhile, uses 72 watts for the same lumen output.
There are a couple of caveats which should be noted here. For one, some aren’t happy with the color temperature of modern-day halogen-based incandescents, as halogen tends to emit cooler colors than the less-efficient tungsten did. Pre-EISA incandescents might have had a Kelvin temperature of 2400 while today’s incandescents will often have a CCT of 3000+ K.
Secondly, as mentioned above, there are a few exceptions, or loopholes, in the switchover to EISA-standard incandescents. Certain applications –– like heat lamps, for example –– were excluded from needing to meet the new standards, leaving the incandescent light bulbs of old still on the market in a very limited fashion.
Incandescent bulbs vs. CFLs
Compact fluorescents were the first lamps to really barge into the market and gain a foothold against incandescents. They’ve always been much more energy efficient, but have a handful of cons that most businesses and consumers like to weigh into their decision-making process.
Are you looking for LED replacements for pin-based compact flourescents? Or perhaps you're looking into adapters as a CFL to LED retrofit solution?
First, CFLs contain mercury –– a toxic metal which is bad for the environment and people. This means they must be recycled properly. Secondly, a lot of CFLs don’t dim, making them incompatible with dimmable fixtures you might have in your building or home. Thirdly, when compared with an incandescent, the color rendering index (CRI) of a CFL is quite limited. Lastly, these lamps come in a spiral shape, causing a lot of people to opt for a traditional bulb-shaped lamp to preserve certain aesthetics wherever the CFLs themselves are visible.
Learn more about compact fluorescents in our post, 'What are CFL bulbs and where should they be used?'
Comparing average household lamps – Incandescent vs. CFL
|Old incandescent||New (halogen) incandescent||CFL|
|Lumens (light output)||780||780||780|
|Wattage (energy usage)||60||42||10|
|Lumens per watt||13||18.5||78|
Incandescent bulbs vs. LEDs
LEDs continue to carve out a bigger and bigger territory in the lighting world. A significant part of that trend is tied to the technology’s noteworthy drop in price over the last handful of years, making them immensely more competitive. The other part of that? Energy efficiency, of course. The long lifespans of LEDs combined with their incredibly low energy usage rate give them a corner on the energy efficient lighting market. There is simply no comparison to LEDs in terms of energy efficiency alone.
But if you’re familiar with the calling card of LEDs –– energy efficiency –– you’re probably equally as familiar with their Achilles heel: cost. LEDs used to cost as much as 40 times more than modern incandescents but, as mentioned above, they’ve come down in price big time.
Choosing between LED products? Download our LED Buying Guide.
Today’s LEDs are maybe five or seven times more expensive than a comparably bright incandescent –– two or three times pricier than CFLs. Technologically, however, they’re extremely advanced, with some coming with tuning ability for precise color rendering and others able to pump out foreign colors through colorized phosphors.
Comparing average household lamps – Incandescent vs. LED
|Old incandescent||New (halogen) incandescent||LED|
|Lumens (light output)||780||780||780|
|Wattage (energy usage)||60||42||5|
|Lumens per watt||13||18.5||156|
There you have it –– all the facts.
Were all incandescent bulbs strictly banned by the federal government? No, they were made dramatically more energy efficient.
Are incandescent bulbs on the verge of being pushed out of the market? Maybe.
Update: Researchers at MIT recently discovered an innovation which could make incandescent bulbs 80 percent more efficient –– greater than the efficiency levels of most of today's LEDs.