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Battle Of The Bulbs

By January 2014, the manufacture or importation of most types of incandescent household light bulbs will be banned in the United States, unless opponents in the U.S. House of Representatives succeed in overturning the standards.

The federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 gives special attention to lighting, which can account for 15 percent of a home’s electricity use.

The law sets efficiency standards, much like auto gas mileage standards. The effect of the rules will be a three-year phaseout of most incandescent bulbs, starting with the 100-watt variety in 2012. The ban extends to 75-W incandescent bulbs in January 2013, and 60-W and 40-W bulbs in 2014.

Once each type of incandescent bulb is removed from the market, incandescent bulbs offered in their place must be about 28 percent more efficient at converting energy to light. They must also be rated to last longer—at least 1,000 hours, compared with today’s incandescent bulbs’ average life of 750 hours.

Efficient bulbs produce more light, less heat

Technically, someone could invent a much more efficient incandescent bulb that would be allowed under the efficiency rules. In the meantime, other kinds of lighting already meet the standards.

Meeting the new standards should prove a snap for compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and solid-state bulbs, also known as light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

A typical incandescent bulb relies on a thin metal filament that emits light when heated. It produces about 15 lumens per watt and burns off about nine-tenths of the energy it consumes as heat.

CFLs create ultraviolet light by passing a current through mercury vapor. A standard CFL yields up to 100 lumens per watt while producing less heat than an incandescent bulb.

LEDs—small light sources activated by the movement of electrons through a semiconductor—are more efficient and longer-lasting than either incandescent or fluorescent lighting, but they’re also a lot more expensive. LEDs are already commonly used as the numbers on digital clocks and other electronic equipment.

California leads the way

California has moved up its timetable for adopting the new lighting standards by one year; in that state, 100-watt bulbs made since January 1 are legal for sale in California only if they use about 28 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs made before 2011.

In 2012 and 2013, California will impose the federal law’s new standards on bulbs of lower wattage.

But California could ultimately stand alone in switching off the incandescent lights. Twenty-two House Republicans are sponsoring the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, which would repeal the federal energy-efficiency standards.

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