Now that the holidays are over and most people have (hopefully) recovered from the shopping frenzy that consumes many of us during the month of December, it's time to run out to the store for one more thing -- incandescent light bulbs.
The start of the new year also ushered in a new era for our light needs with the phased-in ban of these low-efficiency bulbs in the United States. The change began in 2007 when President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act into law, forcing incandescent bulbs to be gradually removed from production.
The law phased out the manufacture of the 100-watt and the 75-watt incandescents in 2012 and 2013, respectively. As of Jan. 1, the ban also extends to the more popular 60- and 40-watt incandescent light bulbs.
The ban was instituted to force Americans to reduce their energy consumption by switching to more energy efficient halogen bulbs, LEDs (light emitting diodes) and CFLs (compact florescent lamps).
With incandescent bulbs, about 90 percent of the energy produced goes toward heat and only 10 percent toward light. Energy costs are 25 to 80 percent less with the new lights, and they last about 10-20 times longer than incandescents. So while the initial cost for purchasing the new lights is higher (an estimated 10 times more expensive), consumers will save money over time with lower electric bills and fewer light bulb replacements needed. Plus, as demand increases for the newer lights, production will go up and that very likely will lower the price. We're already seeing the price of LEDs gradually become more affordable.
For the most part, Americans are excited about the phase out, according to a recent survey by the Sylvania-Osram company, which produces light bulbs and fixtures. Although the high price may cause some sticker shock, 65 percent of Americans plan to switch to more energy-efficient light technologies, while 30 percent say they plan to buy less efficient traditional incandescent light bulbs where still available and continue using them.
The latter group includes those who balk at the high upfront cost of the newer lights, even though they will save money in the long run. They also object to the idea of government regulating their lighting choices, complaining that it's just one more example of living in an increasingly intrusive nanny state.
We can certainly understand that sentiment. We were just as critical when New York City tried to ban the sale of large size soft drinks. But while that proposed ban was aimed at reducing individual girth, the law on light bulbs is about much more than personal choice. It's about reducing our country's energy consumption and its effect on climate change. And it follows in line with other environmental regulations -- such as Energy Star ratings for appliances and more fuel-efficient vehicles -- that were passed for the same reason.
However, for those who are still not convinced of the individual, national and global benefits of using more energy-efficient products, incandescent bulbs will be around for awhile longer. They will still be sold on retail shelves until the existing supplies are exhausted.
That may be only a few months, or as long as a year, but once they're gone they're gone forever. So stock up now.