In 2007, Congress passed, and George W. Bush signed, a law that set new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs, starting in 2012. It was the first time the government had set such standards, and perhaps as a result, incandescent light bulbs aren't much more efficient today than they were a century ago. Recently, critics have attacked the new efficiency standards as a "ban" on the familiar incandescent bulb because it fails to meet the new standards, while its cousins the compact fluorescent, halogen and LED bulbs all do. But the House rejected that view in a vote this week, rejecting a move to repeal the energy efficiency standards.
It's true that the more efficient bulbs are more costly at the store, sometimes dramatically more expensive. But, because they use one-fourth the electricity and should last longer than incandescent bulbs, they usually pay for themselves. It's been estimated that every $1 spent on energy efficient lighting pays back $6. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that by 2020, the lighting standards will save the average homeowner 7% on electricity bills, or about $85 per year.
The rules do not amount to a ban, exactly. More-efficient incandescent bulbs are coming on to the market in response to consumer demand for the familiar technology, at efficiency levels that match the new law. Our own Green Conservative, Jim DiPeso, found several energy efficient incandescent bulbs available at Home Depot and Amazon.com. NRDC's energy policy director, Jim Presswood, estimated that a $1.50 more-efficient incandescent bulb, compared to a 30-cent incandescent that doesn't meet the 2012 standards will save a consumer $1.69 over the life of the bulb. The savings for more-efficient lighting from longer-lasting CFLs or LEDs should be longer.
Of course, not all bulbs are created equal. Part of the backlash against the energy-efficiency rules came from the bad experiences many had switching to CFLs in the first place. CFLs sometimes give off a harsh light, they haven't always lasted as long as promised and they contain trace amounts of mercury, so cleaning up after a bulb break becomes an exercise in hazardous waste removal. For our take on the subject, see these 7 fixtures that shouldn't use CFLs and 7 things you don't know about lighting (but should), which includes tips for buying CFLs that will last, among other advice. (One trick: Look for Energy Star-labeled light bulbs; the label not only tells you the bulbs are energy-efficient, but also that they will last as long as they say, emit no noise and produce more-pleasing light.)
And look to Good Housekeeping in January 2012, when its Research Institute will publish a buying guide to the bulbs that meet the new federal standards.
Some energy-efficient light bulb options:
> Philips "EcoVantage" halogen ($7.27 for two bulbs at amazon.com.)
> Sylvania halogen ($5.55 for two bulbs at amazon.com)
> GE halogen ($7 for 2 bulbs at amazon.com)
> GE CFL bulbs ($9 for 8 bulbs at amazon.com)
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.