Locals prepare to phase out traditional light bulbs

December 27, 2013 8:47:36 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


"We're selling cases." 


Helen Pridmore, owner of Lighting Unlimited, says her customers are buying "probably triple to four times as many" 60-watt, incandescent light bulbs now as they would have normally.  


Those and traditional 40-watt bulbs will no longer be produced after Jan. 1 as part of phase-out regulations from the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Phase-outs started in 2012 with 100-watt light bulbs followed by 75-watt bulbs this year. Options in its place will include compact fluorescent lamp bulbs (CFLs) and light emitting diode (LEDs) bulbs. 


The 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs are the two most commonly used in households. They are significantly cheaper than their alternatives, yet multiple studies show they're much less energy efficient and more costly long-term. 


Data also shows they don't last as long as their alternatives. Compared to CFLs and LEDs, which have projected lifespans of 10,000 and 50,000 hours, an incandescent bulb has a shelf life of 1,200 hours, according to energy statistics by sustainable living company Eartheasy.  


The incandescent bulbs also need to use 60 watts to produce 800 lumens. Lumens measure amounts of visible light. Fifteen-watt CFL bulbs and 8-watt LEDs produce the same number of lumens. 


But the average incandescent bulb costs $1.25 compared to $3.95 for a CFL and over $10 for an LED, which is why the conventional option is flying off shelves. 


"A 60-watt incandescent is 75 cents. CFLs are running about $2-3 a piece," Pridmore said. "The LEDs right now are running $14-15 a piece, but I'm told in February they're going to have a dramatic drop in price." 


Pridmore said she's encouraging people to bite the bullet and switch to bulbs that will still be approved when 2014 arrives, but customers are still getting the old supplies while they last. 


"If you've got high ceilings or somewhere where you use them a lot and you're changing them a lot, I encourage people to put (LEDs) in their kitchen and put them in their high ceilings because they're going to a last a long time and they're so much more energy efficient," Pridmore said. "They burn at such a low wattage that you're going to get your money back. It's hard to wrap your mind around that when you're paying $24 for a bulb." 


Doug Hutcherson, a local electrician, said he recently replaced lighting in a room that was using 6,000 watts of incandescent bulbs to 900 watts of LED bulbs, and the switch will result in long-term savings. But the alternatives are not without their own faults, he said. 


"The dimming is the biggest issue. LEDs don't dim as well," Hutcherson said. "What we fight as contractors is equipment being able to control the light like an incandescent. Technology is catching up, but right now if we put a dimmer at 10 percent the bulb will go off. You can't get a soft glow." 


Hutcherson estimates an 80 percent energy savings from an LED bulb compared to its predecessor. Like Pridmore, he expects the cost to go down as the phase-outs take effect, but they'll still cost a lot more than the one businesses, industries and families have used since the light bulb became mainstream. 


"If you do your whole house with them you're going to see a big difference but it's going to be a big investment," he said. "It's not going to get a lot cheaper than $10 for a while. Once it's required that people buy them I expect the technology will catch up and they'll become more affordable."

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.