Lights Flicker Out on the Traditional Incandescent

Philips recently lowered the price of its Ambient LED 12.5-watt bulb to $24.97 from $39.97. philips.com

Philips recently lowered the price of its Ambient LED 12.5-watt bulb to $24.97 from $39.97. philips.com

By Andrea Lillo

While Thomas Edison’s commercially viable electric incandescent light bulb in the late 1800s dramatically changed how we live, it’s now undergoing a change of its own, as new lighting regulations take place next month nationwide.  

As of Jan. 1, 2012, 100-watt incandescent light bulbs must meet new efficiency standards (generally, about 30 percent more efficient) by reducing wattage but maintaining lumen levels according to the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. Regulations for 75-watt incandescent bulbs take place Jan. 1, 2013, and 60- and 40-watt bulbs on Jan. 1, 2014, throughout the U.S. (California is the exception, as it’s enacted or will enact the regulations one year earlier, with 100-watt incandescent bulb regulations having taken place as of this past January. Next month, the 75-watt incandescent bulb regulations will take effect in that state.)

New regulations will be enacted in 2020, when all “A-lamps” will be held to a single efficacy requirement of 45 lumens per watt.

For the past six years Kichler has indicated to its customers which of its collections are compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb friendly, both physically and aesthetically. The shape of the CFL is considered in the design process, said Jeff Dross, Kichler’s director of education and industry trends. It has a larger base than the incandescent, for example, and that creates a different shadow pattern, he said, so they have to think about how to lessen the shadow, perhaps with a wider piece of glass. The company also has to make sure the shade is high enough to cover the top of a CFL. In addition, using a creamy glass for the shade makes “it impossible to tell if it’s a CFL at all.”

Other manufacturers felt that their designs are not as affected, “as the CFL will fit where the 100-watt bulb would also fit,” said Lee Schaak, chairman, Adesso.

But Schaak added that these new regulations are nothing like Title 20, the California law targeting portables and intended to reduce electrical energy consumption in the state. “Luckily, [the EISA] regulation is not completely disruptive like Title 20 is. We can focus on being lamp manufacturers. Title 20 forces us to be part-time bulb suppliers, which is not good for consumers. We hope the federal law will eventually trump the Title 20 laws in California.”

Fred Oberkircher, associate professor emeritus, Texas Christian University, College of Fine Arts, said many lighting showrooms have found that consumers are bringing in their portable lamps to have them reconfigured to fit three-way bulbs—an incandescent bulb currently exempted from EISA—as a way to bypass the new regulations. He is giving a hands-on presentation on what light bulbs do qualify under the regulations during January’s Dallas International Lighting Market.

“Many industries have been reinvented over the last few decades, it is now our turn,” said Brad Smith, CEO, E.L.K. Lighting. “The new lighting regulations will create the equivalent of a modern day Renaissance period for the industry. We will witness more artistic developments and technological contributions in the next decade than we have experienced cumulatively over the last 100 years.”

Retailer Bulbs.com believes most consumers have no idea that the regulations will soon take place. “It will be very interesting to see what the real fallout will be,” when people go to their stores next year and see that the [100-watt] incandescents are no longer available, said Mike Connors, CEO, Bulbs.com.

And it’s not only consumers who are in the dark. Dross spoke to a group of interior designers over a year ago and none of them was aware of the regulations. “Even professional people are confused” about the new laws, he said. “There will be more impact as more light bulbs are impacted,” such as the 75- and 60-watt incandescents as those regulations kick in. Right now,  the regulations are “not yet linked in to how people are thinking.”

A Better Bulb
It may have the vast majority of the light bulb market, but times, they are a-changing for traditional incandescents.

CFLs are leading the pack of alternatives. “They’re big, big, big for businesses, and big for consumers,” said Bulbs.com’s Connors.

CFLs are inexpensive and are much better than they used to be—they’re smaller now and their color is better than before, Dross said. The challenge with CFLs are to counter “the bad perception they have” due to earlier versions, said Dross.

“Today’s CFLs are not your father’s CFLs,” said Bulbs.com’s Bryan Trainor, vice president, marketing.

In addition, LEDs are “lighting things up in a big way” as well, said Connors. While the prices of LEDs have been prohibitive to consumers in the past, they are coming down, and he’s seen price drops even within the past year.

Price is definitely an issue. “The majority [of people] is not going to pay $45 for a light bulb,” Dross said. The price “needs to come down,” and he believes $2 to $3 per bulb is the key price point.

Another alternative is the halogen bulb. “Few manufacturers are promoting this type of bulb,” said Trainor. “It’s not gaining momentum, [however,] because incandescents are still out there.”

Some consumers may just try to avoid energy efficient bulbs altogether by buying other incandescent bulbs that are exempted from the regulations—such as a three-way incandescent bulb. But increased sales of exempted bulbs may result in having them added to the list of regulated bulbs in the future. 

Some consumers are having a hard time letting go of incandescents. Bulbs.com has seen people order $1,500 worth of incandescent bulbs on its site, and 60- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs are among its top three selling bulbs, Connors said. “We’ve had to play catch up all year.”