Incandescent light bulbs to be phased out in January; How light bulb shopping will change

YONKERS, N.Y. - The standard light bulb as you know it is about to be extinct. The Federal government is phasing out incandescent bulbs, but the swirly compact fluorescent bulb won't be your only option.

"Lightbulbs are lightbulbs to me," Consumer Jon Bensie said.

Consumers may not be paying much attention to all the changes in the light bulb industry, but you should because your next bulb could cost you $50.

Before you panic, listen to how long that bulb will last.

"These claim to last, some of them, up to 40 years. So there can be a whole generation of people that don't understand light bulb jokes," said Consumer Reports Deputy Home Editor Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman.

CFLs doing better in Consumer Reports testing
Starting January 1, incandescent bulbs will be phased out so stores are telling you to stock up now. An incandescent may be cheap, but it's not energy efficient.

The compact fluorescent is more energy efficient, but a lot of consumers don't like CFLs.

"When I look at the CFL, they just don't seem bright. It's more of a dingy light," Dan Shaffer said.

Testing at Consumer Reports labs also revealed flaws with early version CFLs.

"They weren't very bright. They hummed. They buzzed. They flickered. They gave you the unfortunate light and you look yourself in the mirror saying I must look better than that," Kuperszmid Lehrman said.

The outlook for CFLs is getting better. Consumer Reports tested 26 of the newest bulbs and found they do a good job of mimicking incandescent light.

Look for the Energy Star logo. That means the bulb has met strict energy efficiency and durability standards, as well as guidelines for color and brightness. Consumer Reports said the Eco-Smart 60-watt equivalent bulb is a good choice for a table lamp. They cost $6 for a four pack.

There's another bonus.

"Some of the ones we tested this year use about 60 to 75 percent less mercury than ones we tested just three years ago," Kuperszmid Lehrman said.

You still need to recycle them, but the newer CFLs are less of a concern than the older ones.

LEDs may take over the spotlight
Soon, we may be forgetting about CFLs, too, as light emitting diodes -- or LEDs -- take over the spotlight. Consumer Reports said LEDs outshine CFLs. There's no mercury and they last 40 years.

"They are instant on at full brightness. CFLs have a little bit of a delay," Lehrman said.

They are not swirly like a CFL, but the design is a bit odd.

"LEDs don't like heat. These are all the ways it dissipates the heat," Lehrman said, pointing out the casing on the light bulbs.

But, don't worry. LEDs are not hot to the touch.

LEDs are not the hot item yet, and the price may have a thing or two to do with that. But, Consumer Reports said the prices are dropping dramatically.

"This Phillips bulb is one of our top rated bulbs and when we tested them and published the results in Sept - Oct., it was $40. The price has dropped to $25,"

Lehrman said.

That's a $15 price reduction in just a few months. You can save even more by looking for rebates from your state or manufacturer.

While pricey upfront, Consumer Reports said the bulb will pay for itself in just a few years. Over the lifetime of the bulb, expect to save hundreds of dollars.

New light bulb labels
The next time you shop for a light bulb, expect to find new marketing and new terms. The changes on the label will help you pick a better bulb, one that matches the brightness you're looking for.

Light bulb packaging will now have a color scale to show you the light's appearance measured from warm to cool or 2,700 Kelvin to 6,500 Kelvin.

Consumer Reports said pay attention to the scale and not the marketing.

"Look at these. It's warm light, bright light, and daylight. They all sound great and you go why not get daylight it's a higher number, and it's because the light is going to be bluer and it's not particularly flattering indoors," Kuperszmid Lehrman said.

In the case of light bulbs, Consumer Reports said the lower the number the better chance it will look like your old incandescent bulb.

Buy a bulb that's yellow or 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin.

Upside to changes -- you can put a brighter bulb in a fixture
There is an upside to these energy efficient changes. If your light fixture says only use a 60-watt maximum bulb, and you don't think it's bright enough for your room you can add a brighter bulb because it's using less energy.

"This one is only using 13-watts and it's producing the same amount of light as a 60-watt bulb," Kuperszmid Lehrman said.

You'll no longer buy bulbs based on watts, that's how much energy a bulb uses. Now, you'll buy a bulb based on how much light it puts out, which is a lumen.

This bulb is 1100 lumens bright. That's equivalent to a 75-watt bulb.

"I think there

is a big learning curve," Kuperszmid Lehrman said.

The two big takeaways -- Consumer Reports said the lower number is better for light color and the higher number is better for lumens.

For now, they'll be a cheat sheet on most packages.

"This is actually more informative," Kuperszmid Lehrman said of the new labels.

Click here to see the new light bulb label called "Lighting Facts":

Unlike the old days where you'd stock up on lightbulbs, only buy one or two at a time since it's a little more complicated now. Once you find one you like, then you should stock up.

Phaseout controversy
In some last minute political maneuvering, the Department of Energy was stripped of its funding to enforce these news rules.

Consumer Reports said the phase out will still happen in January as planning has been underway for years. But, there will not be regulation until next fall.

The consumer agency also worries that without enforcement, products that don't comply with the new standards may show up on store shelves which may confuse consumers even more.

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