Say goodbye to the old-style light bulb. As of Jan. 1, the last of the federal government's new lighting standards took effect. That means the sort of general-service light bulb we've used for more than a century can no longer be made in or imported into the United States. • What does that mean for you? On the plus side, it means more choices and smaller electric bills. On the minus side, it means an end to dirt-cheap light bulbs and grab-and-go bulb shopping. Now you need to read labels.
Finding the right bulb
How do you choose a light bulb that's right for you? Here's some guidance:
Read the Lighting Facts label. It appears on every package of light bulbs and looks much like the Nutrition Facts label on food packaging. It provides basic information, including how bright the bulb is, how much power it uses, how much you can expect to pay for that electricity and how warm or cool the light appears. That information makes it easier to compare bulbs.
Look for the Energy Star logo. If you're shopping for a CFL or LED bulb, choose one with an Energy Star label. For those types of bulbs, the label indicates more than just energy savings. It also indicates the bulb meets certain quality standards, such as coming on instantly or nearly so, staying bright over its lifetime and producing an excellent color of light. What's more, all Energy Star bulbs must be backed by warranties.
Look elsewhere on the package. Light bulb packages can tell you a lot about how a bulb is best used. While halogen bulbs can be used in the same ways as old-style incandescent bulbs, LEDs and CFLs behave differently in some applications. The package will tell you such information as whether the bulb is dimmable, whether it's made for outdoor use and whether it can be used in an enclosed fixture.
Check for rebates. Sometimes governments or utilities offer rebates on energy-efficient lighting. You can check for rebates at dsireusa.org or energystar.gov (type "rebates" into the search box to find the page labeled "Special Offers and Rebates From Energy Star Partners").
The Jan. 1 phaseout of old-style 40- and 60-watt bulbs is the third step in the change to more efficient forms of lighting. The first step, in 2012, targeted 100-watt bulbs and was followed last year by the elimination of traditional 75-watt bulbs.
The law doesn't ban incandescent bulbs, but only requires them to be more energy-efficient. What's more, the law doesn't affect all incandescent light bulbs, just general-service bulbs — pear-shaped bulbs with a medium base, the kind that for years were used most commonly in the home. Many bulbs are exempt, including three-way bulbs, 150-watt bulbs and bulbs with narrower candelabra bases that are often used in chandeliers.
The law may be frustrating some consumers, but many lighting specialists and sustainability advocates cheer the innovations it has spurred. The lighting standards "have led to more lighting innovation over the past five years than we saw during the 100-plus years since Edison invented the light bulb," Noah Horowitz, director of the National Resources Defense Council's Center for Energy Efficiency, wrote in his blog.
Now consumers have essentially three choices: compact fluorescent light bulbs, LED bulbs and halogen bulbs.
Understanding the label is easier if you know a couple of terms, noted Celia Lehrman, deputy content editor for home and appliances with Consumer Reports, which recently released its latest light bulb ratings.
Lumens measure a bulb's brightness:
450 lumens = 40-watt bulb
800 lumens = 60-watt bulb
1,100 lumens = 75-watt bulb
1,600 lumens = 100-watt bulb
Kelvin is the scale used to measure color temperature — in other words, how warm or cool the light appears.
If you like the warm light from an old-style incandescent bulb, look for a color temperature of 2,700 Kelvin.
The higher the Kelvin number, the cooler and whiter the light.