What’s in store for the incandescent light bulb? 

The Energy and Security Act of 2007 set minimum efficiency standards for lighting that in effect spell an end to the incandescent light bulbs that have lighted our homes and businesses for over a century.  The popular 100 watt light bulb is scheduled to phase out in 2012 with the law working its way down to phasing out the 40 watt light bulb in 2014.   

What will replace the incandescent bulb? 

The two main contenders to replace incandescents are compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs). 

How do different lights compare?   

Lost Industry and Jobs 

On September 24, 2011 the classic American light bulb was switched off.  The last American factory making 100 watt A-line incandescent bulbs shut down production in Winchester, Virginia laying off 200 workers.  Following other industries before it, lighting production is shifting to China, Mexico and other places.  Subsidies paid by American tax and rate payers will generate paychecks for workers abroad. 

Compact fluorescents and mercury 

A fluorescent light bulb contains 5 mg of mercury.  An EU scientific report states that these concentrations are “well above regulatory limits for Hg in a general environment.”

It concludes that exposure should not be harmful if precautions are taken and the exposure time limted, but notes that “children breathe more air per kg of body weight than adults at rest and tend to be more physically active than adults. Therefore, mercury vapors, if present in indoor air, may be delivered to children at higher internal doses than to adults. (citing, Differences between children and adults: implications for risk assessment at California EPA, Miller et al. 2002). 

What happens if you break a fluorescent bulb? 

In 2007 a woman named Brandy Bridges set about changing over to CFLs at her home in Ellsworth, ME.  She broke a bulb and called the poison control hotline who referred her to Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection.  The DEP didn’t know how to respond so suggested she contact an environmental cleanup firm which promptly sent her an estimate of $2,004.48 to clean up the mess.   

It won’t cost you $2,000 to clean up a broken CFL, however, Maine and the EPA soon after promulgated guidelines on what you should do if you break one.  Steps include evacuating the room, turning off heat or AC for hours, ventilating the room, avoiding vacuuming, collecting all particles, then going after the smaller particles and Mercuty with sticky tape, containing the whole mess in a sealed receptacle, separating from household trash and taking it for hazardous disposal.

Which light source last the longest? 

LEDs should last the longest, however, their life can be shortened by occasional voltage irregularities.  Many consumers have experienced disappointment when their CFLs did not live up to their advertised lifespans.  The lifespan of CFLs is shortened by turning them on and off.  It was later recommended to leave them on for at least 15 minutes before shutting them off.  In addition, CFLs are damaged by cold, do not function well at freezing and therefore have their lives shortened when used outdoors in winter condtions.  The average incandescent is highly tolerant of being turned on and off.  If kept burning continually LEDs and CFLs will outlast incandescents.  The Guinness Book of World Records logs the longest burning incandescent bulb as burning for over 100 years and still going.