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Say goodbye to the bulbs

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image The world's longest running incandescent light bulb has been lit almost continuously for more than a century. The four-watt bulb is in a Livermore, CA fire station.

The production of some of America's most loved light bulbs ended with the New Year.

With the New Year, the light bulbs that Americans love the most are headed for extinction. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2014, the production of most 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs will cease. They are following in the disappearing footsteps of most 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs that ceased production in 2013.

Although the light bulbs produce a soft and pleasing light, which has made them the favorites of many households for decades, they are also enormous wasters of energy, losing far more energy to heat than to light. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 10 percent of the energy they consume is used to make light; 90 percent of the energy is dispersed as heat. 

The bulbs were banned in 2007 legislation entitled the Energy Independence and Security Act and was signed by President George W. Bush. At the time, seven years appeared to be a long ways off and relatively few people took notice. Current polling shows that even today, the majority of Americans are not aware their favorite light bulbs will soon be going away forever. And there is a reason for that. Congress, after first attempting to overturn the law, has taken steps to prevent the Department of Energy from spending money on the enforcement of it. Light bulb manufacturers, however, are expected to comply and cease production as planned.

The light bulbs, of course, won’t disappear immediately. There is no law against stores selling them, and they will remain on the shelves for as long as the existing stock remains.

For the most part, however, technology has filled in the gap, although at an initially higher cost. Energy-efficient CFL lights were first considered to be the best replacements; however, new LED lights are rapidly gaining a foothold in energy-conscious households. Although more expensive than traditional light bulbs, LED bulbs last much longer and are many times more efficient. LED lights also light up instantly and produce what many people consider to be a more pleasing light. Additionally, the manufacture of highly efficient incandescent bulbs will continue, as will incandescent specialty bulbs and three-way bulbs.

A high-efficiency incandescent uses approximately 28 percent less energy, while an LED light uses 85 percent less. According to the EPA, approximately 12 percent of an average home’s electrical bill is from lighting. While an LED light should pay for itself in energy savings in two or less years, they are designed to last for up to 20 years. Extrapolated out nationally, that energy savings is expected to be significant.

According to the EPA, with the new bulbs consumers should shift their attention away from watts and towards lumens. Watts, the EPA says, are better measurements for heat, not light. A current 40-watt bulb is approximately 450 lumens and a 60-watt bulb is approximately 800 lumens. All light bulb packaging should contain the lumen rating.

Incandescent bulbs have a long history. Although there is considerable disagreement as to their true origin, American inventor Thomas Edison is the most widely known among the 22 different inventors associated with the light bulb. Edison perfected the vacuum process and incandescent material that made the bulbs viable.

To some extent, Edison did the job too well from a business standpoint, producing very long- lasting light bulbs. While most incandescent light bulbs will be headed towards extinction, the Centennial Light, a four-watt bulb manufactured approximately between the late 1890s and 1901 by the Shelby Electric Company, is still burning today in a Livermore, California fire station. It is considered the longest lasting light bulb in history. The bulb has only rarely (and carefully) been turned off in at least a century.

The law signed in 2007 required that common household light bulbs be at least 27 percent more efficient than existing incandescent bulbs by 2014. Seven years later, that reality took hold with the New Year. But don’t worry, the second part of the law, which requires that bulbs be 60 to 70 percent more efficient, won’t go into effect until 2020 (which will likely mean the end of today’s high-efficiency incandescent). Six years seems like a long time away.

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