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'Lights Out' Pending for Incandescent Bulbs

As a result of U.S. government energy-efficiency standards, traditional incandescent light bulbs are being phased out. Local electrical contractor Tom Sullivan says consumers need to be educated so they can make the right choices moving forward.

Don’t be surprised if some of those old jokes about how many blankety-blanks it takes to change a light bulb bounce back into the comedic mainstream of life.

No kidding. The job is not as easy as it used to be, not anymore.

“The consumer needs to be educated on what it is they are buying and to find out if the new apples they are buying are equal to the old oranges they used to buy,” said Tom Sullivan of and Epic Lighting Solutions in Oak Forest. “Because you can’t get the old oranges any more.”

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Sullivan’s comments are in response to energy-savings measures being implemented by the U.S. government. As a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, traditional incandescent light bulbs soon will go the way of the dinosaur. That is to say, they will become extinct because they don’t light up on a new measure of government-imposed standards.

Under the plan, the traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb will be phased out by Oct. 1, followed by the 75-watt incandescent bulb in January 2013 and 40- and 60-watt bulbs in January 2014. Feeling left out in the dark?

“You really have to read packaging and find out the exact number of lumens, the exact number of watts, the estimated number of hours that the bulbs are good for,” Sullivan said. “And, then, you have to consider who put the packing together.

“Everybody knows—or at least everybody I know knows —that compact fluorescents way over-exaggerate the amount of hours that they will last. So, when you’re trying to figure out your energy savings, it’s really hard to say this lamp is going to last you 10,000 hours because you’d be lucky—really lucky—if you got 2,000 hours out of it.”

What's the purpose?

The U.S. government act is designed to save consumers money on energy costs, though the up-front price to purchase new high-tech bulbs will be much higher than the costs of buying old incandescent models. The list runs the gamut from halogen bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) to light emitting diodes (LEDs) and induction lighting.

The important thing to remember: Longer lasting bulbs will reduce energy costs.

“With all the recent federal changes in lighting standards, it’s more important than ever for customers to stay informed on lighting to make the right choice,” said ComEd Energy Doctor Timothy Melloch in a news release. “There are so many new lighting options for our customers to choose from and understanding those options is extremely important.”

Some raise concerns over the safety and practical use of a few of the evolving high-tech bulbs, ranging from disposal of fluorescent bulbs to adjusting lighting with dimmer switches and fitting snap-on lamp shade connections to newer bulbs. CFLs contain small amounts of mercury. If they shatter, they can be toxic.

According to Consumer Reports, CFLs save more on electricity than halogen bulbs. But halogens are brighter and they are dimmable. LEDs—once considered directional in nature—have come a long way to the point now where the lamps provide more widespread, more effective room lighting, Sullivan said.

“This act does not say that you can’t use incandescent lamps any more,” he said. “Incandescent lamps are not outlawed. What it says is that new light bulbs need to be a minimum of 27-percent more efficient.

“The problem with incandescent lights is that 90-percent of the energy that they consume is spent on heat. Only 10 percent of it actually makes light. It’s like a low-hanging fruit to try and have something else replace it.”

Sullivan’s advice—Ask a lot of questions.

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