On January 1, 2012, legislation will go into effect that will dramatically impact the sale of light bulbs in the U.S. We don’t write about light bulbs often (or ever), but because this has been an interesting issue in the media, we thought we’d get the facts on how this new energy-saving policy will impact consumers and the retailers that sell to them.
To get the full story, we reached out to Professor Joe Ray-Barreau, Associate Professor in the School of Interior Design at the University of Kentucky, and a registered architect and lighting designer, and asked him more about the new rules.
For those who haven’t heard about the changes happening to the sale of household
light bulbs in the U.S., can you give offer a quick overview?
Incandescent lighting hasn’t changed much since Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879. And we love incandescent light because it’s very visually appealing. The problem, however, is that incandescent lighting is extremely inefficient.
With the goal of reducing our energy consumption, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, in 2007 the U.S. Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act. One of the components of this law is that some incandescent bulbs are being required to be more efficient. The first step is that beginning on January 1, 2012 the standard 100-watt incandescent bulb will no longer be available. Its replacement will be a 72-watt energy-efficient halogen incandescent bulb. The next steps in terms of rolling out the legislation, is for 75-watt incandescent bulbs to phased out in 2013, and the 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs will be phased out in 2014.
What do these lighting changes mean for retailers?
These changes will affect every retailer that sells light bulbs. Unfortunately, it’s fair to say that some confusion has already emerged. The fact is, not all incandescent bulbs are being phased out. Some bulbs are being phased out and replaced with more energy-efficient incandescent bulbs. These newer bulbs will look and perform just like standard bulbs.
What should retailers tell shoppers who may be confused or upset by the new rules?
We simply need to assure them that incandescent bulbs are not going away.
What is the price difference between these bulbs and the old ones? In the long run, will these changes save consumers money?
The new bulbs will cost between $1.50 and $2.00 each, which is more than regular bulbs. However, the 72-watt bulbs are more than 25% more efficient than the 100-watt bulbs. Over the rated life of the bulbs, consumers will save approximately $3.50 on their electric bills by using the new bulbs. Essentially, the consumer will not only receive a savings equal to the bulb, but they will also receive a payback of as much as $2.00.
Can retailers still sell light bulbs they have in stock which do not meet the energy efficiency standards?
Yes, they can still sell the bulbs that are in stock after the January 1, 2012 date. However, they will not be able to order the 100-watt bulbs after that date.
How should retailers go about ordering light bulbs that conform to the new standards? What are the newer options and how can they estimate what consumers will want?
It’s very simple. Retailers need to order the new 72-watt energy-saving halogen incandescent bulbs. And they need to let their customers know that over the life of the bulb they will receive a savings equal to the price of the bulb, plus an additional savings of approximately $2.00 on their electric bill. In addition, retailers can also sell compact fluorescent bulbs that save even more than the new halogen bulbs. The 26-watt spiral compact fluorescent bulb is a direct replacement for the 100-watt incandescent. While they look a little different than standard incandescent bulbs, they are 75% more efficient – which equates to a saving of 75% in electric costs over the life of the bulb.
Where can retailers find more information so they can help consumers choose the right bulbs for their homes?
Some consumers prefer the older incandescent bulbs because of the way they look and the light they give off. What advice can retailers offer consumers on the best ways to shop for lighting for their home?
In actual fact, the new bulbs have a quality of light that is the same as incandescent bulbs, and that’s because they are actually incandescent bulbs! The halogen technology means that a halogen gas has been inserted into the bulb in place of other gases that are normally used in incandescent bulbs.
Your job description is pretty intriguing – ‘lighting designer, architect and professor’. How did you get into the profession and into this role?
Early in my architectural career I had a chance to work on several projects that allowed me to work in-depth on the lighting design of these projects. I found the interesting combination of the technology of lighting and the aesthetics of lighting to be very interesting. During this part of my career I also had an opportunity to teach at the University of Kentucky and one of the classes I was assigned was a lighting design class. As a result, I’ve spent the past thirty years teaching lighting to design and architecture students, while also teaching thousands of industry professionals and other architects and interior designers. I’ve also had the good fortune to have worked on over 1000 lighting design projects with my lighting design practice.