Q&A about the U.S. Incandescent ban

Q: Is it a ban or not?

A: Yes and no. It is not a ban per se (such as in EU and other countries) but a raising of the efficacy standards to a level which normal incandescent lamps cannot reach. The end result is still the same, as far as the original Edison bulb is concerned.

Q: What lamps are affected? 

A: In this first stage of the gradual ‘phase-out’, starting January 1st, 2012: incandescent bulbs of 100 watts or more.

New edit: After debating whether 75 watts are also prohibited or not – which they officially are not until next year – Freedom Light Bulb discovered that the regulation is even more bizarre than we first thought:

US Regulation Absurdity: Dim 100W bulbs allowed, Bright 100W bulbs banned!

If you want incandescent you can still buy 72 watt tungsten halogen Energy Savers and get as much light as from a 100 watt lamp (see my Halogen Energy Savers review). If you can find them. Amazon sells them, Home Depot only have reflector lamps, Lowe’s have more flodlight reflector models, but they can be hard to find in regular stores (ask for them).

Q: So now 75 and 100 watt bulbs can’t be produced or imported?

A: Yes and no. In the words of Kevan Shaw: “The ban is still effectively in force in law however it cannot be enforced.”

Read the longer explanation of this confusing issue here: The American Ban Collapses

And here: After the Funding Amendment: Clear Explanation of American Light Bulb Regulations

Follow the progress state by state here: Progress Track of US Federal and State Ban Repeal Bills


The inability of DOE to enforce the standards would allow those who do not respect the rule of law to sell inefficient light bulbs in the U.S. without fear of enforcement, creating a competitive disadvantage for compliant manufacturers.

As standard incandescent lamps are no longer as profitable to make or sell, the risk of that happening is probably negligible. If you can find a higher watt bulb anywhere you’re still free to buy it, but people have been hoarding.

Leading manufacturers couldn’t wait to get rid of the bulb, so they started closing their North American bulb factories in 2009 and the last major U.S. bulb plant was closed in September 2010.

And just a few days ago IKEA proudly announced that they will not sell any incandescent lamps (spinning more-$$$-for-IKEA-from-new-$14-LEDs to sound like “IKEA-saving-the-planet”). More retailers may follow, regardless of how the dispute ends.

And California started the phase-out a year early.

So choices and availability for top quality incandescent light are shrinking, while choices for lower quality but somewhat more energy efficient CFL and LED lights have increased to a confusing profusion which can make finding the right lamp rather difficult.

Q: So, whose fault is this anyway? Who came up with the idea? Those pesky treehugging-commie Democrats, or the reactionary out-of-my-cold-dead-hands Republicans? 

A: Well, both. The original light bulb legislation was written by Fred Upton (R-MI) and Jane Harmon (D-CA) says CNS News.

“In 2007, Harman and Upton introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation–which became law as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act–that bans the famously inefficient 100-watt incandescent light bulb by 2012, phases out remaining inefficient light bulbs by 2014, and requires that light bulbs be at least three times as efficient as today’s 100-watt incandescent bulb by 2020,” explained a 2009 press release put out by the two House members.

The bill was passed under the Republican Bush administration and signed by president G.W. Bush in 2007. President Obama and the Democratic party have embraced it. However, Upton later changed his mind, as did many other Republicans (and many didn’t think it was a good idea in the first place). And now this issue has been turned into a symbolic item for both parties to fight each other over.

Hope that cleared it up. 😉

Edit: Good article about the ban: Five Myths About the Federal Incandescent Light Bulb Ban

The Bush-Obama Energy Bill

Just a few words about the “new” U.S. Energy Bill (The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007) [1, 2, 3] and how it affects incandescent lamps.

Oddly enough, Americans seem to have made this into a party politics issue and mutual mud-slinging contest, when it was actually initiated under president Bush and only finalised and somewhat amended by the Obama administration.

But nevermind, let’s see if we can sort out what the new lighting rules are:

1. It appears that the original idea was to regulate all types of fluorescent and incandescent lighting at the same time. But doing so too hastily might cause major problems and expenses for businesses – which use the majority of the linear flourescent tubes and reflector lamps produced. Thus regulating the latter two lamp types requires very careful consideration and in-depth analysis first, which takes time (several more years, according to DOE). [4]

2. Incandescent general service lighting is easier to regulate and causes problems mainly for private persons, so the part pertaining to GLS lamps was lifted out of the lighting section in the original bill to be rushed through congress straight away.

Ironic side-note: What a coincidence that this happens to be the same popular light bulb which is so unprofitable to manufacturers that they literally can’t wait to get it off the market! Only a scant few weeks after the “new and improved” Energy Bill, GE announces the closing down of U.S. and Canadian light bulb factories – despite the new GLS standards not taking effect until 2012 [5, 6,] and apparently lobbied for efficiency standards rather than an outright ban (so as to still have the opportunity of selling more profitable high-efficiency incandescent bulbs, assumably made in China). [7]

But there seems to be a lot of confusion as to what the new standards actually are – and small wonder if you look at how the rule is written. [8] (Why not just state required lumen per watt for each wattage class, as is done for the other lamp types?) Luckily for us, EnergyStar attempts to sort it out, in plain English [9]:

“The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (the “Energy Bill”), signed by the President on December 18, 2007 requires all light bulbs use 30% less energy than today’s incandescent bulbs by 2012 to 2014.

“The phase-out will start with 100-watt bulbs in January 2012 and end with 40-watt bulbs in January 2014. By 2020, a Tier 2 would become effective which requires all bulbs to be at least 70% more efficient (effectively equal to today’s CFLs). It’s not entirely correct to say “CFLs will be required” or “incandescents will be phased out” because the standards set by the bill are technology neutral, and by 2012, a next generation of incandescent bulbs could satisfy the 30% increased efficiency.

“There are many types of incandescent bulbs that are exempt from this law: any kind of specialty light (ie. bulb in refrigerator), reflector bulbs, 3-way bulbs, candelabras, globes, shatter resistant, vibration service, rough service, colored bulbs (i.e. “party bulbs”), bug lights, plant lights.

“The law applies to the sale of bulbs, not the use of existing stock of bulbs.”

That sounds straightforward enough, but look what the rule actually says:


Note the unusual max wattages. It so happens that the only lamps which exist in such wattages (29, 43, 53, 72W) are the new incandescent halogen energy savers.

Which indicates that standard incandescent GLS bulbs are already counted out of the equation from the start (no doubt so that manufacturers can sell their halogen replacements at extortion rates to all those who hate CFL and LED light).

But the quirky thing is that the minimum lumen requirements for each wattage class are set just above what the best energy saving mains voltage halogen replacement lamps can produce today… hmmmmm… Checking manufacturer cataloges for actual lumen output, it seems that they don’t quite save the claimed 30% but more like around 20%. So much for “truth in advertising”… WASP Diving Knife

Seems they have done the same thing as with the CFL: replace e.g. a 60W incandescent (which gives 700-800+ lumen) with a 12W CFL, or in this case a 43W halogen, which both give only 630 lm! If you only count the wattage, 60W -30% is 42W, yes, but then it needs to give as many lumens as a 60W bulb too, otherwise it’s just one more case of consumer fraud.

“Oh, it’s such a small difference, the customer will never notice.” (I’ve actually heard manufacturer representatives use that exact phrase when I’ve asked about the light deprication in CFLs.)

So, have lamp manufacturers shot themselves in the foot by claiming their halogen energy savers save 30%, as government experts seem to have taken their word for it and set lumen requirements at that exact level..?

Back to decoding the confusing table:

* 2012 the standard incandescent lamps are out (unless some manufacturer is able to make them more energy efficient – and profitable..).

All you can use is up to max 72W halogen energy saver (which is meant to equal a 100W standard incandescent GLS lamp) – if they can improve it to the full 30% efficacy by then.

* 2013 the 72W halogen goes. Max permitted is an (improved) 53W halogen (= ’75W GLS’).

* 2014 the 53W halogen goes. Max permitted is an (improved) 43W halogen (= ’60W GLS’).

* 2015 the 43W halogen goes. Max permitted is an (improved) 29W halogen (= ’40W GLS’).

What will all those elderly and vision impaired do, who may need bright light of the highest quality (= incandescent light) in order to see?

EnergyStar claiming that the phase-out “will start with the 100W incandescent bulb and end with the 40W” is thus not correct, if one is to follow what the table mandates. Oh dear, if not even EnergyStar can interpret the table correctly, who can one trust? (Although EnergyStar also forwards the PR truth-stretching about CFLs “saving 75% energy” and “lasting 10 years” etc. – despite government & consumer tests + growing customer complaints giving a very different picture – so I guess they’re not exactly an infallible source of information.)

Update 3 Aug: Something is definitely not right here… The only existing incandescent halogen lamp on the market which should pass the new requirements is the expensive and hard-to-find Philips Master Classic IR halogen with integrated transformer which saves 42-45% (if you look at lumen/watt) not 50% as advertised, compared with a standard incandescent. But only the 20W seems to qualify, the 30W misses the max 29W category by 1W and the max 43W category by 130 lumen, despite being the most efficient incandescent-type lamp on the market, and with a life-span of 3000 hours!

And by the way, 72% Don’t Want Feds Changing Their Light Bulbs, but I guess legislators care more about keeping the lighting industry happy than about how their voters feel. Because it sure isn’t going to save the planet, quite the opposite (see my posts about mercury).

Next up for slaugher are reflector lamps (both in Europe and the U.S.).

1. Original Energy Bill, 2007 (point 321 about lighting)
2. Energy Bill, 2009 amended version **snooze-warning on both**
3. Obama Administration Launches New Energy Efficiency Efforts (DOE summary)
4. Energy Conservation Standards and Test Procedures for General Service Fluorescent Lamps and Incandescent Reflector Lamps
5. GE to close Canadian lightbulb factory
6. GE looks to close Niles glass factory and end production of incandescent bulbs
7. How GE’s green lobbying is killing U.S. factory jobs
8. General Service Incandescent Lamp Provisions Contained in EISA 2007
9. Will CFLs be required by 2012?

Thanks to Peter at http://www.ceolas.net/#li01x for most of the links.

Update 6 January, 2012: The first step of the phase-out of standard incandescent 100 Watt bulbs (unless 30% more effective) was meant to take effect last week, but it seems to have gotten delayed.