Kill The Myth: Incandescent Bulbs Are Not Banned

Don't like the government telling you to buy a CFL? There's no need to take up arms. There's still an incandescent bulb for you. It's just a little more efficient.

There is a race is on to build better incandescent bulbs that meet the next generation of energy standards. But there's a ban, you say? To listen to Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, you would think that the FBI will soon be breaking down our doors in search of illicit illumination.

Despite what you've heard, Congress' Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) "doesn't ban any type of lighting," says Laura Moorefield, a senior researcher at Ecos Consulting. "It just raises the efficiency standards a small amount." Understandably, you may have been misled by error-laden columns and news stories about a "ban" in the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, New York Post, Forbes.com, and Washington Times (chronicled by Media Matters). There is also at least one at MSNBC. They all suggest that incandescents have been outlawed by Congress.

They have not. Once the law begins to take effect next year, wattages for 100 watt bulbs are required to drop by about 30%. That means a former 100 watt bulb will use only 72 watts, yet emit a comparable amount of light. The law will be phased in over the next several years affecting 75 watt bulbs in 2013, then 60 watt and 40 watt bulbs in 2014. The new incandescent bulbs employ a small halogen capsule with an incandescent element that looks and operates just like a conventional bulb, while producing the same quality of light and using less energy. These halogen incandescents already meet or exceed the standards set by the EISA. To say it another way, incandescent bulbs are not banned. In fact, you may even have been buying EISA-compliant incandescents since 2009 when they first hit store shelves.

Should you run out and buy them (assuming you were not among the hoarders stashing the old clunkers in your attic)? Well, it helps to put this in terms of dollars and cents. The estimated cost of incandescent bulbs over six years is about $75.30 accounting for energy and replacement bulbs. That compares to $61.02 for the high efficiency incandescents, and just $19.62 for CFLs, according to a comparison guide released by the Natural Resources Defense Council. You may want to wait until the next generation of technology comes out. The newest LED bulbs, although priced at about $15 to $50 each, last almost half a century (25,000 to 50,000 hours) under normal use and draw a fraction of the energy consumed by the old electron guzzlers. Best of all, the light is almost the same as incandescents. New choices are arriving soon: Last week, we reported on the new Philips LED bulb that won the Department of Energy's L Prize, designed to replace some of the 425 million 60 watt bulbs sold in the U.S. every year.

But some are sticking to their Edisons. If you're one of them, the new halogen incandescents that meet the EISA's requirements are sold under a variety of brand names, including Philips' Halogena Energy Saver at Home Depot, the Sylvania SuperSaver available at Lowes, and a GE bulb sold at Walmart. If your less traditional tastes run more toward cheap and efficient, CFLs are the way to go.

And while we're busting myths, CFLs will not make your home a Superfund site. The tiny amount of mercury in the bulbs (smaller than the size of a period in this sentence), is not dangerous to your health if you break the occasional bulb. In fact, it is less hazardous than eating more than two tuna fish sandwiches a week (according to the EPA's guidelines for mercury contamination in seafood), and also much less than the mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants which polluted your tuna fish sandwich and air in the first place. Coal pollution, as it turns out, presents a more serious threat to human health and the environment than broken CFLs. Finally, you can also recycle your CFLS at Home Depot or a site near you.

Consider yourself illuminated.

[Image: Flickr user phozographer [doing a 365]]

Reach Michael J. Coren via Twitter or email.

Add New Comment


  • RonUsa Lentjes

    A course on the Art of Lighting - Human Factors

    Now that Australia has been rudely transformed into a scientifically sound Watts and Lumens place of Friday the 13th Lighting Expedition due to the PROFIT motives of PHILIPS ELECTRONICS NV NEDERLANDS, we need proper assessment of lighting needs. Namely the art of lighting, the human factors of lighting, and the FIGHT for APPROPRIATE lighting practices other than those of the CARTEL members of the PHILIPS GIANT.

    Q. Who started the BAN OF INCANDESCENTS?


    Q. What was the motive behind the ban?

    A. PHILIPS was pushing the SALE of it's baby the CFL but was up against the constant client preference to INCANDESCENT lighting. Americans in a 2003 study kept going back to INCANDESCENT. Only 2.5% take up.

    Q. Why is Australia hushing up those apposed to the BAN?

    A. Unlike Canada and USA where this is not allowed, Australia have very bad policy of white-washing the just opinions of its citizens. This is due to the CRAFTY bribes of PHILIPS and members of persuasion (to put it mildly). Woolworths is part and parcel of this collusion.

    Q. Why such a push?

    A. Huge profits. The INCANDESCENT can only sell for $0.50 to $1.00. A poor profit item. CFL and LED can pull in approx $6 and $20 accordingly.

    Q. What is incandescence?

    A. It is light produced by the 'black-body' heating of an object.

    Q. Why is this preferred?

    A. Incandescence produces an INFINITE range of FREQUENCIES of smooth composition of light. This kind of light can take all the reflections and refractions and filtering after bouncing off all the objects in a room lit by this quality of light. It is also a favorable yellow-white warm light of INFINITE FREQUENCIES that maintains its quality under all the transformations of dimming and reflections and refractions and filtering that normally occurs in the process of ambient lighting conditions.

    Q. What is the common problem with CFL, Fluorescent, and white-LED?

    A. They all produce their light using a selection of approximately 5 different pigments excited by UV or BLUE LED light. The spectrum is like that of a dead forest of spiky trees with little fill in. Very poor rendition. Very sensitive to manufacturing and to other conditions. Resultant lighting becomes very distorted after only a few (if only one) reflection, refraction or filtering. Many view the light as 'strange' or 'eerie'. Low quality. Most often rendered as COLD white light. Some 'WARM' pigment versions are still very strange and vary between BLUE-PURPLE-GREEN-VIOLET off white. Unstable rendition.

    Q. Has anyone taken into consideration the human factors of lighting?

    A. Not PHILIPS. Not those with VESTED INTERESTS in PROFITS. There is HUGE margin for profits. Human factors are an annoyance to PHILIPS and they rather use the MEDIA to propagate FALSE MISINFORMATION about the entire issue. False mentions that people will get used to this kind of light (absolutely not possible) and false uptake numbers.

    Q. Why the hush campaign?

    A. Many people DO NOT LIKE the new forms of lighting. It is a natural response. You don't paint walls pure white. You don't paint them blue-white. You paint off-white with warm colors for warm effect. No different than the choice of INCANDESCENT lighting. This includes the use of fire-place lighting, candle lighting, kerosene lighting and incandescent lighting.

    Q. Is it worth abandoning warm, calm, inviting INCANDESCENT lighting just for the sake of more energy efficient options of poorer forms of lighting such as CFL, Fluorescent and white-LED?

    A. If quality of light, quality of life, quality of health, quality of tourism, quality of relaxation are of concern, then the answer is simply no. Everything is to be taken in balance. The most efficient lighting is the most annoying kind of lighting. It is BLUE light and devoid of BODY (the billions of frequencies of INCANDESCENT lighting).

    Q. Why is it important to choose quality lighting?

    A. You spend all you life under lighting. Choose INCANDESCENCE (fire-place, candle, kerosene, INCANDESCENT) lighting and you will never suffer from the ills of bad lighting. You don't have to limit your exposure, you don't get headaches, you don't have biological stresses from this kind of lighting. It is safe. You're body knows it is safe. But choose poor lighting (CFL, Fluorescent, white-LED) and you suffer from any number of issue including BLUE light, UV, Flicker (even new CFL: one at 40,000 Hz and one at 39,990 results in 10Hz of annoying sickly feel), biological stress from the light and the EMF from unshielded clipping power supplies in the near radio frequency 40,000 Hz range, the strange incorrect reflections, refractions, filtering of 5 frequency spikes resulting in eerie and strange lighting effects. And the UVA, B, C, D, E so on that is NOT filtered from atmosphere, ionosphere, ozone layers that normally shield us the the Sun's generation of these UV spectrum (the CFL/FLU is direct to you).

    Q. What does Canada say about CFL?

    A. Not to be exposed closer than 30cm for no longer than 3 hours per day (or 1 hour for larger units).

    Q. What does Australia say about CFL?

    A. (Hushed up).

    Q. What does USA say about breaking CFL?

    A. Proper guide to all clean up steps to be taken. Step one is to leave the area immediately, FIRST. Then follow all remaining steps (including NOT to vacuum or sweep with a broom).

    Q. What does Australia say about breaking CLF?

    A. (Hushed up).

    Q. Why is Australia not backing down?

    A. PROFIT.

    Q. What does artists and photographers think about this fiasco?

    A. Many simply change to in-house studio with their heavily guarded collection of INCANDESCENT bulbs. Some are upset they cannot take night photography anymore in Australia outdoors. Many artists have a similar issue with LED. Colored monochromatic lights for display (not ambient room lighting) is great, fantastic. When lighting white off-white and moody, use INCANDESCENT only. When general room lighting: Only INCANDESCENT for art. Fluorescent ok when using machinery to cut things but otherwise not. But white-LED is NOT TO BE USED FOR ANY PURPOSE what-so-ever. The only exception is non-art. Friday the 13th movies with eerie scenes: COLD CLF, COLD Fluorescent and EERIE white-LED is perfect for those 'DEAD' scenes.

    Q. What do interior decorators feel about CFL and white-LED?

    A. They are very angry. I know one in particular who now has a site about how they cannot properly design because an important tool has been taken away from them: THE INCANDESCENT LIGHT BULB.

    Q. Why does Australia gov't not care?

    A. PROFIT.

    Q. Where are OHSA complaints about lighting directed?

    A. 1st attempt. Sorry, their is no department to handle such a complaint. 2nd attempt. You have to contact Australia Lighting (aka PHILIPS).

    Q. Why have they eliminated all avenues to oversee lighting in Australia?

    A. PHILIPS controls the lighting in Australia.

    Q. Why are there very few courses for human factors of lighting?

    A. PHILIPS educates kids in schools. They want total control of lighting and the resulting sales and PROFITS.

    Q. You've got to be kidding.

    A. Do your own research.

    Ron Lentjes


  • Bairkus

    Check with EPA for recommendations of simple home-cleanup procedures for broken CFL bulbs: 

    1) Evacuate people and pets from the room
    2) Turn off the air circulation system. 
    3) Allow the dust to settle for ten or fifteen minutes, while you gather sticky tape and a plastic bag.
    5) Carefully pick up the broken glass and put it into the bag, then use tape to pick up dust and glass shards. 
    6) Take the plastic bag out of the house immediately.  Plastic retards escape of mercury vapor but does not prevent it.
    7) If possible, leave the air circulation system off for a while (like an hour) and air out the room before re-occupying it. 

    I don't know why these guidelines aren't required on the bulb packaging.  Not everyone has internet access, and Mercury Vapor is a hazardous material.

  • PRei

    All lighting has advantages - energy saving is only one reason to use a bulb you like,
    and the overall savings are much smaller than supposed for individuals (metered comparisons ignore incandescent heat effect and CFL power factor, to name but two examples with institutional references)
    - and even less for society, a fraction of 1% of national energy use or c 1% of grid energy, still not counting the higher manufacture, transport and recycling energy use of the more complex replacements, also referenced
    "The deception the arguments used to justify light bulb regulations",  Freedomlightbulb org

  • PRei

    Also on busting myths, your "coal emissions are worse" is a myth of its own
    EPA under Lisa Jackson mandates 90% mercury reduction by 2016 with recent new technology as from end 2011 and in any case the comparison figures don't stack up (Ceolas net website, referenced) 
    Besides which mercury in tuna hardly defends mercury in CFLs, and a bust bulb in your room is a greater concern than  a distant chimney release, as per EPA clean up mandates (and if coal based electricity used locally in the first place)

  • PRei

    That article ignores  EISA phase 2 after 2014 with  45 lumen per watt end regulation, eventually
    banning all incandescents for ordinary use, including those touted 2012
    halogen replacements
    - besides which halogens still different in light quality etc, and unpopular with both politicians and consumers for the marginal savings at a much higher price (no local state Halogen programs as with CFLs!)    Regulations and local US state exceptions (legal Texas June 2011)  see Ceolas net

  • Abs

    Hi, I'm a migraine sufferer with photophobia - cfl's are about the worst kind of lighting for this condition and I've actually had to stop going to places with these kind of light (I can't take my kids to the library any more cause it triggers an attack). Actually this kind of condition has been documented in the news, so with regards to health I would say they're pretty destructive for people unfortunate enough to suffer migraines induced by cfl's. Halogen and led lighting is the way to go, better for the environment too.

  • Rwsmith29456

    CFLs often don't work right, and many of them burn out in a short period of time.  I have dimming fixtures and it's a toss up whether or not the CFLs will work in them.  They are fragile and I've had to replace many due to breakage.  I don't mind the extra expense if they would work and last as long as they say they will.

  • craig

    The article says 100 watt incandescent bulbs haven't been banned, but rather, "wattages for 100 watt bulbs are required to drop by about 30%" ... thus not being 100 watt bulbs anymore. In summary, the 100 watt incandescent bulbs are banned.

  • Bruce Flannagan Sr.

    1)That's y u hold your receipt, mail them back to the manufacture for replacement/refund
    2) If u paying US $8-10 a bulb then u shopping at the wrong place or u are a liar!
    3)True, for now
    4)False, there is a short warm up period in winter weather but can be used outside
    5)False, CFl Floods are made for can lights just have to make sure the ballast isn't too big for the socket opening
    6)False nothing says they can not be used in enclosed fixtures, other than u ;)
    7)Semi False, Have to use a CFL that is rated as dimmable (Home Depot brand, EcoSmart, has an orange round label with white lettering that says "Dimmable"  on the front of them. They do make a 3-way CFL for $9.98 Home Depot.
    8)False Hunter, Harbor Breeze, Hampton Bay Fans all ship with candelabra based bulbs & replacement bulbs sold everywhere. In fact u can buy CFL bi-pin bulbs for low voltage lighting. 
    9)False There r CFL spotlights for worklights, streetlights & recessed lights. Hand held no but why would u want a CFL over a LED Spotlight in the 1st place??!!!

    EML u Failed in your knowledge of CFL's, all but line 3 can be debunked by google in a few short minutes.

  • PRei

    interesting that...also, even if assuming the law applies, there are many anomalies as it is based on lumens rather than watts, such that dim 100 Watt bulbs are temporarily legal but bright ones banned as defined and  made use of by some canny local manufacturers, see Freedomlightbulb org
    from Jan 12 2012

  • PRei

    Very interesting!
    also, even if assuming the law applies, there are many anomalies as it is based on lumens rather than watts, such that dim 100 Watt bulbs are temporarily legal but bright ones banned as defined and  made use of by some canny local manufacturers

  • Eml

    Regular CFL reality check (I had to add "regular" because there are even costlier CFLs that supposedly overcome these limitations):
    1) I have had CFLs burn out within 90 days (the "claim" is 5-years, but I have incandescents that lasted longer than 5 years; I install-date all my bulbs--how else can you tell?)
    2) CFLs begin to hum after a few months (who will reimburse me for short-life failure at $8-10/bulb?)
    3) CFLs can not be used in high temperatures (e.g. ovens, clothes dryers)
    4) CFLs can not be used in cold temperatures (i.e. outside)
    5) CFLs can not be used in recessed fixtures
    6) CFLs can not be used in enclosed fixtures
    7) CFLs can not be used with dimmer switches (I am not sure about 3-way sockets)
    8) CFLs can not be used in fixtures with non-standard bases (e.g. chandelier, candelabra, night light)
    9) CFLs can not be used as spotlights
    ...just to name a few!!!

  • T Rex

    The new light bulbs SUCK! I hate them and I want every Congress-person to have to read by them ALL THE TIME!

  • Sam

    . "Best of all, the light is almost the same as incandescents."   THAT's not my experience with the harsh reality of CFL and LED lighting, in fact, it's godawful,  distopian porchlight blues


    select a CFL with a Kelvin range appropriate to its use in the home.  Daylight versions are bright but cold.  Get a CFL in the warm range.  They are definitely available.

  • Skeptic

    Half truths on both side of the question. No, CFLs will not make my home a superfund site. But they ARE classified a hazerdous waste. and while you may be able to recycle your dead CFLs at a local site, you almost certainly will be charged a fee for doing so. (My local hardware store charges $2 for each florescent tube, a probable model for CFLs). 

  • Bruce Flannagan Sr.

    Home Depot takes them for free but hopes u will shop with them while u r  there but not required!