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On Jan. 1, 2014, it will be lights out for standard incandescent 60- and 40-watt light bulbs. In order to comply with efficiency standards outlined in the Energy Independence and Security Act, which was signed into law by President George Bush in 2007, it will be illegal to manufacture or import them after Dec. 31. But retailers will still be able to sell off any remaining stock. In 2012, all 100-watt bulbs were phased out, and 75-watt bulbs disappeared the following year.
The old incandescent bulbs are highly inefficient — only about 10 percent of their energy output is converted into light; the rest is lost to heat. "Once all of our nation's 4 billion screw-based sockets have an efficient bulb in them, U.S. consumers will save $13 billion and 30 large coal-burning power plants-worth of electricity a year. The savings really add up," Noah Horowitz, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council tells Yahoo Shine. He adds that if you replace an incandescent bulb with a CFL (compact fluorescent light), you'll save about $50 over the course of the bulb's lifetime. LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are pricey up front — they run about $10 per 60-watt equivalent, but over time they offer a savings of $100 to $150 in energy costs. The numbers are compelling, but that doesn't mean that some of us won't mourn the loss of the mellow light emitted by old-fashioned bulbs, especially the 60-watt version, which accounts for about 50 percent of household lighting in the United States.
Lighting artist and designer Bentley Meeker, who runs a successful lighting design company in New York City, isn't a fan of all of the new, more efficient bulbs. "The soul doesn't connect to LED, it's a visceral reaction," he tells Yahoo Shine. "Until the mid-1850s, the only light that humans were exposed to was daylight and firelight — incandescent bulbs have a color that is similar to firelight." He believes that LEDs and fluorescents can be fatiguing on the eyes and unpleasant to live and work with for long periods of time.
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Horowitz argues that the transition to energy efficient bulbs has been smooth and successful and that the technology and choices are continually improving. He says the main reason people aren't happy with some of the new bulbs is that they are choosing the wrong brightness level and/or "flavor" (the color of light the bulb emits).
Here are expert tips to comply with the new law, as well as to balance energy efficiency and cost savings with aesthetics:
- Don't inadvertently buy a bulb that's too bright. New bulbs are measured in lumens, not watts, which can be confusing. A 10-watt LED is as bright as a 60-watt incandescent, so if you purchase a 19-watt LED for a small accent light, it will seem glaring. The NRDC has a useful chart showing the light equivalences of various bulbs.
- Choose different types of bulbs for different purposes. Meeker uses LEDs and CFLs to light hallways, stairwells, and basements, and for spotlighting objects. For living spaces, he prefers halogen incandescent bulbs. He says they are a great substitute for the old bulbs, especially if you use them on a dimmer.
- If you want to use CFLs, choose the right color. Most people prefer the ones labeled "warm." The bulbs that are labeled "daylight" are bluish.
- Bring the bulb you want to replace to the store so you can find an equivalent that is the correct size and shape.
- The new bulbs don't work in recessed can lighting. You will still need to buy reflector bulbs, which are not subject to the same regulations.
- If you have dimmers, chose a halogen incandescent bulb or LED. Most CFLs do not work with dimmer sockets.
- Look for the words ENERGY STAR. "CFL and LED bulb quality can vary significantly," says Horowitz. "Be sure to only buy those that have the ENERGY STAR label," which ensures that the product meets the Environmental Protection Agency's strict standards for energy, efficiency, and performance. These bulbs are certified and tested by a third party and will save consumers an average of $6 in electricity costs per year, per bulb.
While Some people are oblivious to lighting, most of us are sensitive to it, so it's worth being thoughtful about your choice of bulbs. Meeker, who has illuminated such venues as the White House Rose Garden and the Burning Man Festival puts it bluntly: "If the lighting sucks, people will be miserable."
—Sarah B. Weir