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We've been lighting our world with incandescent light bulbs since electric illumination was invented in the 1870s. But that's about to change. In less than a year, those familiar icons of modern living will be banned in the U.S. Not all at once and not technically forbidden, but pulled from store shelves for sure. Next January, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will begin requiring that incandescent light bulbs emitting between 310 and 2600 lumens of light be made 30% more efficient. The new standards start with 100-watt bulbs and work their way down to 40-watt bulbs in 2014. Because existing incandescent technologies can't meet this 30% requirement, they'll be effectively banned. Light bulbs outside of the specified range (i.e. those less than 40W or more than 150W) are exempt along with a variety of special-purpose bulbs. So for all practical purposes, the trusty incandescent is toast. What is the impact on the average user? Prices for compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), LED bulbs, and other replacements have come way down and these new bulbs do everything stodgy incandescents do for a lot less. According to the Department of Energy, if we each replaced just one incandescent with a CFL, every year we'd save enough energy to light 3 million homes not to mention $600 million and 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions (that's 800,000 cars' worth). Your own bulb will personally save you $40 over its lifetime by using 75% less energy. And that's just one bulb. Imagine what happens when replace all our bulbs. Better yet, don't imagine it. Just do it and say goodbye to high lighting bills, and huge carbon footprints by replacing your incandescents now. Here's what you need to know:

  • CFLs and LEDs (which are newer and pricier) come in just about every shape and size for almost every application. If you're replacing a 40W incandescent use a 9-12 watt CFL. A 60W bulb is replaced by a 13-18W CFL. A 75W equals a 19-24W CFL. And a 100W incandescent bulb equals a 25-30W CFL.
  • Fixtures in high ceilings may call for more CFL wattage than the above equivalencies indicate because CFL light is typically more diffuse than incandescent light.
  • Similarly, this diffuse CFL light can occasionally look a bit dingy in eye-level fixtures designed for incandescents. Here you may also want to trade up to a higher wattage level to maintain brightness.
  • Dimmable and 3-way fixtures require CFLs expressly labeled for the purpose. Using regular CFLs in these sockets is a fire hazard.
  • Don't use a CFL in a completely enclosed fixture like a recessed can with a bulb cover. (Indoor reflector CFLs can generally be used in open recessed cans.)
  • If you want to start slow, replace the bulbs in fixtures that are usually on for at least two to three hours per day. Because CFLs take from 30 seconds to three minutes to warm up and reach optimum efficiency, they won't do much for you in closets and other short on-time locations.
  • Remember that CFLs contain very small amounts of mercury, which will never escape an unbroken bulb. When breakage happens, open the nearest window for ventilation and clean up carefully. Dispose of old bulbs at your local hazardous waste collection site or retailer take-back programs.
Geoff the Inkslinger and his Dog

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!