Lighting Changes, and How They Affect Your Home

This year, say goodbye to the traditional lightbulb.

On 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 and your home?

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 in order to create the right look. You’re used to buying that 60-watt bulb and knowing what it looks like and everything else. Now customers who buy bulbs in haste often bring them back when they find the bulbs don’t meet their expectations.

Buying the right bulb requires more attention than it used to, but with a little education and guidance, you can find what you need.

Now consumers have essentially three choices:

  • Compact Fluorescent bulbs
  • LED bulbs
  • Halogen bulbs

Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are long-lasting and stingy on energy use and relatively inexpensive. But they have features some people don’t like, including the inclusion of a tiny amount of mercury.

LED bulbs are illuminated by light-emitting diodes. They last for decades and use even less energy than CFLs, but they’re still fairly expensive.

Halogen bulbs are the most like the old familiar incandescent bulbs. They don’t save nearly as much electricity or last as long as the others, but they’re probably the best choice for people who really don’t want to change, said Terry McGowan, director of engineering for the American Lighting Association.

How do you choose one 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. 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.

• Know the lingo. Understanding the label is easier if you know a couple of key terms.

One of those terms is lumens, which measure a bulb’s brightness. You should buy a bulb of about 450 lumens to replace an old-style 40-watt bulb, 800 lumens to replace a 60-watt bulb, 1,100 lumens to replace a 75-watt bulb and 1,600 lumens to replace a 100-watt bulb.

The other is Kelvin, 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, Lehrman said. The higher the Kelvin number, the cooler and whiter the light.

• Look for the Energy Star logo if you’re shopping for a CFL or LED bulb. 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 rebates. Sometimes governments or utilities offer rebates on energy-efficient lighting. You can check for rebates at www.dsireusa.org or www.energystar.gov (type “rebates” into the search box to find the page labeled “Special Offers and Rebates From Energy Star Partners”).