End of the Edison Lightbulb Era: A Look at Incandescent, CFL and LED Lightbulbs for 2014 and Beyond

Restonians Richard and Karen Elliott break down the future of incandescent bulbs, and the nature of CFL and LED bulbs.

The Energy Independence and Security Act makes some changes to the way people will use different kinds of lightbulbs in the future.
The Energy Independence and Security Act makes some changes to the way people will use different kinds of lightbulbs in the future.
By Richard and Karen Elliott

The bi-partisan Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires that by Jan. 1, 2014, most screw-based light bulbs with power ratings between 40 and 100 watts must consume at least 27% fewer watts of energy for a similar lumen output than is provided by traditional incandescent light bulbs.

This standard applies to any type of light bulb (CFL, LED, etc.) as long as it meets the efficiency requirements.

EISA 2007 does not make it illegal to use or buy incandescent bulbs, but it effectively bans companies from manufacturing them domestically or importing them for sale in the U.S. because they do not meet the new efficiency standard.

As existing inventories are depleted, no further replacements will be available.
This marks the end of more than a century of dominance for the Edison bulb.

These bulbs are being phased out because achieving higher levels of energy efficiency has become a national priority, and lighting is a major source of energy use in both residential and commercial buildings.  

Incandescent = Inefficient

Incandescent bulbs are very inefficient – they convert only five to 10 percent of the energy they consume and “waste” what remains as heat.  

According to EnergyStar.gov, nearly 70 percent of light bulb sockets in the U.S. still contain inefficient light bulbs. 

Three-way, chandelier, refrigerator, plant grow lights, and other specialty bulbs are exempt from the law’s requirements.

Replacing Incandescent Bulbs

Consumers currently have two primary choices when replacing screw-in incandescent light bulbs: compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs).  

CFLs and LEDs are more expensive than comparable incandescent bulbs, but they last considerably longer and are much more energy-efficient. As a general rule, a CFL lasts three to four times longer than a comparable incandescent, and an LED 10 times longer.

CFLs and LEDs provide simple, direct replacements for incandescent bulbs in that they simply screw into the same socket, but they do not perform in exactly the same manner.  

The “quality” of light is one characteristic that draws both positive and negative comments. While all standard light bulbs emit white light, not all white light has the same color spectrum, and neither CFLs nor LEDs produce light with exactly the same color spectrum as incandescent bulbs.

CFL and LED bulbs are normally classified as either “cool white” or “warm white”, and some people have pronounced preferences for one over the other.

Technological considerations limit the choices of light spectrum from CFLs, while in theory, LEDs can be made to emit light of almost any desired color. In fact, some specialty LEDs can be “tuned” to produce many different colors from a single bulb.

Light intensity is another factor. The amount of light produced by any light bulb is measured in lumens, and CFLs and LEDs emit the same number of lumens as the incandescent lights they replace.  

CFL and LED bulbs are manufactured and marketed as direct replacements for specific sizes of incandescent bulb. A 60-watt “replacement” CFL emits roughly the same number of lumens of light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb, even though it actually uses only about 14 watts of electricity.

Similarly, a 60-watt LED bulbs has the same “luminosity” as a 60-watt incandescent, but it only consumes about 10 watts.


For many household applications, either a CFL or an LED bulb will provide almost the same “form and function” as the incandescent bulb that it replaces. There are, however, exceptions.

Many CFLs are not dimmable, and even dimmable CFLS may have a narrower range of brightness adjustment than incandescent bulbs. At very low light levels, CFLs may flicker or simply shut off, and they may also “hum.” Many LED bulbs are fully dimmable.

Not all dimming switches work with LEDs or CFLs, and it is important to ensure compatibility between a dimmer and a particular type of light bulb.

Many CFLs require a warm-up time before they reach their full lumen output.
Depending upon the shape of the bulb, it can take from 30 seconds to more than a minute for the bulb to emit its rated lumens.  

A CFL used in an outdoor fixture may take even longer to reach full luminosity during cold winter months.  

LEDs, on the other hand, can reach full brightness very quickly – within a second or so.

For this reason, LEDs may be the clear “winner” in applications that require full light levels immediately.  One example is a stairwell light, where you do not want to wait 30 seconds before you can see the steps clearly.  Exterior entrance lights are another example.  

A Look Ahead

The phase-out of incandescent screw-in bulbs creates no urgent need to immediately change out all of your incandescent bulbs.

For aesthetic purposes, it may be desirable to change all bulbs in a given light fixture at the same time. However, there is usually no technical reason that one cannot simultaneously operate an incandescent, a CFL, and a LED bulb in a fixture that requires three bulbs.

CFLs, while more expensive than incandescent bulbs, are considerably cheaper than LEDs and consequently are often the better choice for those who are on a tight budget.

However, the future will most likely belong to LED bulbs, because they are considerably more energy efficient than CFLS and can be manufactured in a much wider range of shapes, sizes and colors.

In addition, LEDs do not contain mercury which can be released into the environment if a CFL breaks or is disposed of improperly.  

As mass production of LEDs becomes the norm, their prices are expected to decline considerably.

Richard Elliott is a Professional Engineer (P.E.) and Certified Energy Manager (CEM). Karen Elliott is a Virginia- licensed physics teacher, has passed the certified energy manager exam, and teaches disaster preparedness, energy conservation, and alternative energy programs for groups of all ages.  

At the July 2013 Reston Energy Fair at the Walker Nature Education Center, Rick utilized an interactive lighting display to demonstrate and compare incandescent, CFL, and LED light bulbs. Karen, in conjunction with Sustainable Reston, can often be found at local fairs with examples of alternative energy products that can be utilized during power outages. She also has an example of a “GO BAG” to be utilized in the event of an evacuation. Both Rick and Karen are long-time Reston residents and are active members of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) National Capital Chapter. Please contact them at klpelliott@verizon.com to schedule one or both of them as speakers or exhibitors for your organization or event.

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Larry Stine January 11, 2014 at 03:18 PM
I just bought some high efficency, long life incandescent bulbs at Home Depot. They have no mercury as is present in CFLs and are much cheaper than LEDs. "Like batteries, used CFLs need to be disposed at a toxic waste depot rather than tossed out with the ordinary household trash. Because mercury is cumulative, this poisonous element would add up if all the spent bulbs went into a landfill. Instead, the mercury in dead bulbs is reclaimed at such depots and recycled." Read more at http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp#XqH2dFjbOIJxSXXq.99


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