2012 Incandescent Phase Out - Which Replacement Bulbs to Buy? Buying Guides

2012 Incandescent Phase Out – Which Replacement Bulbs?

In case you’ve been “in the dark” (pun intended) new federal government lighting legislation takes effect this coming year (2012) which will fundamentally change the way residential homes and businesses will utilize lighting. The issue isn’t that the use of incandescent light bulbs is being outlawed. Rather, standards for lighting efficiency are being mandated. That means manufacturers have to change the way they product general lighting products.


The 2012 Incandescent Phase Out

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which provides neither independence nor security, mandates the following:

  • 2012: General-purpose 100W or higher light bulbs producing > 310 lumens must be 30% more energy efficient than current incandescent light bulbs.
  • 2013: General-purpose 75W or higher light bulbs must be 30% more energy efficient than current incandescent light bulbs.
  • 2014: General-purpose 40W or higher light bulbs must be 30% more energy efficient than current incandescent light bulbs.
  • 2020: All general-purpose bulbs must put out > 45 lumens per watt of power used. The only exceptions are reflector flood bulbs, 3-ways, candelabras, and colored and specialty bulbs.

While the 2012 incandescent phase out doesn’t apply to appliance lamps, specialty bulbs and other excepted products – the majority of household lighting is going to undergo a fundamental shift in technology.

So while this will affect every aspect of lighting as it applies to the homeowner, hardly any of the people we talk to have any idea it’s coming – let along that it’s occurring in just 1 month from now. Want a 100W incandescent bulb? Buy them up now, because, although manufacturers have produced them in record quantities leading up to this new law, they are no longer going to be produced – and that will drive up prices. As the years progress, the expense will trickle down to lower wattage bulbs until, by 2014 – just three years from now – incandescent bulbs will just about be out of practical circulation.

What’s really sad is that none of this will result in anything productive, aside from higher consumer prices (which yields tax revenues), until America actually takes steps towards energy independence – whether that be wind, solar, nuclear, or oil. 

So what will be your options? Let’s take a look at what a post-incandescent lighted home looks like.


Halogen bulbs have been around for a long while and represent a technology that, while more efficient than incandescents, don’t save more than 20-22 percent power. Halogens are actually a type of incandescent lamp. The bulbs burn under halogen gas, so they last longer and are dimmable. The problem with halogens is that they don’t currently meet the demands of the more rigorous standards of the new 2012 incandescent phase out law. Thus, halogen bulbs merely delay the inevitable.

Compact-Fluorescents (CFLs)

Everyone (at least everyone we know) loves to hate CFL bulbs. While CFLs are energy-efficient, they also operate at up to 60% more efficiency and produce 70% less heat. On top of that, they last as much as 10 times longer than incandescents.

CFLs have gotten better at not being so… well, blue, but they still contain traces of mercury and are thus classified as “hazardous” and are not to be handled when broken. They also are supposed to be recycled rather than thrown in the trash when they burn out – but who’s ever seen someone do that, or even known where to take them? The same thing happens with batteries. Those who are clamoring for a better environment might want to take into account the interim effects of pushing tons of hazardous waste like mercury into our landfills. Dimmability is possible, though costly, and limited in scope. As LED lighting (see below) drops in pricing and expands into the marketplace, look for CFLs to all but disappear in residential applications with the 2012 incandescent phase out.


LED Lighting

The fastest-growing segment of lighting has got to be LEDs. We like LEDs because, in addition to being solid-state (which means they will inevitably be VERY cheap to manufacturer in quantity) they use up to 75% less energy than incandescent technology. They also last up to 25,000 hours – which means that the first bulb you buy might just be the last. Unlike CFLs, LED bulbs come on more or less instantly, and can be dimmed – though not as smoothly or thoroughly as incandescents.

So what’s it going to be? Even if you stock up on incandescents, unless you’re 80 years old it’s very likely you’re going to need to break into a new technology into the next several years as inventories wane. And as supply meets and then drops below demand, the alternatives will become even more compelling.

We are actually encouraged by LED. After all, it’s showing up in cordless and battery-operated flashlights and even in work lights. As manufacturing ramps up, there’s no doubt pricing will drop – it’s already starting. Right now, an LED light bulb could cost   as much as $45-$60 but there’s little reason that LED technology couldn’t bring the price of bulbs down to current incandescent prices within just a few years. Also, with companies like Philips, Cree and others getting into the game, there’s no doubt that further advances are going to drive down costs of manufacturing and raise capabilities quickly.

So which technology impresses you the most?

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