Environment & Science

Incandescent light bulbs phase out Jan. 1: What it means for you

Dennis Skley/flickr Creative Commons

Manufacturers will stop making traditional 40- and 60-watt light bulbs — the most widely used light bulbs in the United States — as of Jan. 1 under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act

What does this mean for you?

While there are no rebates for folks who make the switch, Elizabeth Tate, director of government relations at Alliance to Save Energy, says the shift can translate to significant savings for consumers.

Here's everything you need to know: 

Q. What is the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act? What does it mean for consumers?

Tate: Basically what the law does is it requires that new bulbs use 25 to 30 percent less energy than traditional incandescents. For your average consumer, what that means is that when they go to the store, the bulbs that they will buy will be more efficient. [The bulbs] will use less energy, and they will last longer. 

Q. Are the new, efficient bulbs more expensive?

Tate: They're more expensive per bulb, but in terms of cost over year, they will be less expensive because these bulbs last so much longer. By replacing your current, inefficient bulbs with those meeting the new standards, a typical household will save about $50 to $100 a year. Additionally, you'll be spending less on your energy bill every month because these bulbs use less energy.

RELATED: AirTalk: The bright future of the American light bulb is not incandescent

Q. Can consumers continue using the old bulbs?

Tate: They can use the less efficient bulbs. Until the supplies run out, the stores can sell them, consumers can buy them, and consumers can use them. The law prohibits the manufacture or import of any new bulbs – any new bulbs have to meet the standards. It doesn’t prescribe consumer behavior at all.

Q. But it’s not like you can just buy the old, cheaper light bulb on Amazon. Right?

Tate: It's not illegal for [consumers] to buy it; it's illegal for it to be imported, though. Customs is not supposed to allow those bulbs in. 

Q. Are all types of bulbs included under this law?

Tate: There's a lot of exemptions written into the law. Specialty bulbs are not affected by this: three-way bulbs, silver-bottom bulbs, chandelier bulbs, refrigerator bulbs. And there's a whole list of them in the law. ... To require the efficiency improvement, you might not be able to meet the purpose. A specific example is a plant light, which requires a high heat. The rationale is going to be different for each one. Certainly you'll see efficient versions coming onto the market. 

KPCC also spoke with Cal State Fullerton's Dean of Engineering and Computer Science Raman Unnikrishnan, who has been phasing out his own light bulbs for years. 

Q. Which bulbs do you recommend purchasing?

Unnikrishnan: There are several things to consider. The incandescent bulbs are going away, and for very good reason. Now the question is whether we will buy CFL [compact flourescent lamps] or LED [light-emitting diode lamps]. In my opinion, both technologies are not quite mature yet. No matter what you buy, five years from now, you are bound to find an improved, cheaper, more appropriate light bulb. The LEDs are much more expensive than the CFLs, but LEDs are more likely to endure in most areas. 

Q. How long are these new bulbs expected to last?

Unnikrishnan: Both [CFLs and LEDs] are expected to last 10,000 hours or more. If you use it for roughly five hours a day, that means 2,000 days. That is roughly six to seven years, and it's likely to last longer than that.

Have you phased out your incandescent light bulbs? What did you purchase? Are you happy with the switch? Let us know in comments.