By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel
Shopping for light bulbs, a task we don't have to think about much, will get a little more confusing when new efficiency standards kick in.
Beginning in January, manufacturers won't be allowed to produce 100-watt bulbs that fail to meet energy efficiency standards enacted Congress four years ago and signed into law President George W. Bush.
Similar mandates will kick in over the next few years for other bulbs with lower wattage.
It will change the shopping experience, but in the process could help consumers save on their utility bills, says Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports, which rates energy-saving bulbs of different types in its latest issue.
"People are used to shopping wattage, so it's a change for them, but truth be told, shopping for watts wasn't necessarily the best way to shop, because wattage doesn't tell you how bright the bulbs are," she said.
"The way to shop is to shop for lumens, which is actually a measurement of how bright the bulb is. People are going to have to make adjustments. It's not a particularly difficult adjustment but it is one."
The adjustment means learning terms consumers may not be familiar with, including not only lumens but kelvins.
Lumens give a sense for how bright the bulb is, and shoppers looking for a 100-watt bulb should now look for a bulb with 1,600 lumens. A 60-watt bulb gives about 800 lumens.
Kelvins, meanwhile, refer to the "color temperature," or kind of light that a bulb emits - whether it's a bluish light or a warmer light. Consumers looking to duplicate the light of an incandescent will want a bulb with 2,700 kelvins. Those looking for a cooler, bright light, will seek 5,000K to 6,500K, she said.
New labels will appear on all light bulb packaging come January, according to the Federal Trade Commission. And those labels will emphasize brightness, measured in lumens, and de-emphasize watts.
Watts measure how much energy is consumed the bulb. Until now, packaging has referred to a 15-watt energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs as a "60-watt equivalent." But now it should be referred to as a bulb with 800 lumens.
The new energy efficiency standards have been called a "light bulb ban" some congressional Republicans who have criticized the government intrusion into people's lives as taking away consumer choice.
But in this case manufacturers, lighting trade associations and consumer groups were all supporting the standards, Kuperszmid Lehrman said.
What's in it for consumers is savings: A typical consumer can save more than $50 in energy costs over the life of a bulb, she said.
Consumers who don't want spiral bulbs - compact fluorescents - or more costly LED bulbs have other options, including advanced incandescent bulbs.
These are halogen incandescent bulbs, said Dave Rotter, co-president of National Ace Hardware in Milwaukee.
They offer savings of about 30% - compared with energy savings of at least 75% for compact fluorescents and 80% or more with LEDs.
"People are under the assumption that these bulbs are all going to go away, but there will still be incandescent bulbs out there for you to buy," he said. "But they don't save you as much."
Rotter said he hasn't seen too many signs of hoarding of the bulbs that will be phased out.
Each bulb has its drawbacks. The advanced incandescents cost more than typical incandescents but don't deliver the energy savings of CFLs and LEDs.
CFLs are much more efficient but contain small amounts of mercury, a concern for some consumers.
In its latest round of testing, Consumer Reports found that the amount of mercury in bulbs it evaluated has dropped 60% to 75% from four years ago. And the amount of mercury is less than 1/100th of that contained in an old mercury thermometer.
For LEDs, the drawback is the cost. Though the price is expected to come down in the coming years, Rotter of National Ace said it's still a lot to pay for a bulb.
A trade show next month will help Rotter determine how many more LEDs National Ace will have on the shelves next year, he said.
But for certain applications like ceiling lights, installing an LED and not having to worry about changing that bulb again for a decade or more may make sense, Kuperszmid Lehrman said.
Adam Borut, whose Milwaukee firm Eco Hatchery developed a smartphone app that aims to help consumers find the right bulb for the different sockets, said hoarding "just doesn't make sense.
"It really doesn't, because the change is not that radical," he said. "The light bulb hasn't changed fundamentally in 120 years, and all the new law requires is that current incandescent bulbs become 27% more efficient."
Borut said he knows of homeowners who were stocking up on reflector bulbs for can-lights or recessed lighting, but all specialty bulbs - including three-way bulbs and dimmables - are exempt from the light-bulb law.
"Fundamentally this is all in the consumers' best interest. You're able to save 75% on the electricity used for lighting in your home and the quality of the bulbs has increased significantly," he said.
Labels to highlight lumens
New consumer labels for light bulbs will emphasize lumens and de-emphasize watts, the amount of energy used a bulb.
Here, at a glance, is a rule of thumb for thinking of a typical incandescent bulb in terms of lumens:
100-watt bulb = 1,600 lumens
75-watt bulb = 1,100 lumens
60-watt bulb = 800 lumens
40-watt bulb = 450 lumens
What's covered the new law?
Standard incandescent bulbs that aren't energy efficient will not be allowed to be manufactured or imported beginning in January. The law first applies to 100-watt bulbs and will be phased in through 2014 for lower-watt bulbs.
Specialty bulbs including three-way bulbs and dimmable bulbs.
More information is available at www.energysavers.gov/lighting. More information about the new label on light bulb packaging can be found at www.ftc.gov/lightbulb. Information about incentives available in Wisconsin for energy-saving light bulbs can be found at www.focusonenergy.com/residential/lighting.
Original article published at: www.JSOnline.com