Changing a light bulb will soon mean more than just replacing a burned-out one. The choice will involve what type of bulb makes the most sense.
For generations, we have mostly used traditional incandescent bulbs. They waste most of their energy in heat output. The Energy Department says that conversion to other, more economical types will save consumers nearly $6 billion a year in energy costs by 2015.
A 2007 federal law requires that, starting in January, general-purpose bulbs must be at least 25 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs. That means that production and sale of the conventional bulbs, based on Thomas Edison’s invention in 1879, will essentially be outlawed.
So consumers soon must choose among these three main alternatives:
Halogen-incandescent. These are much like the present incandescent bulbs but about 25 percent more efficient. Inside is a capsule filled with halogen gas surrounding a filament. A 43-watt version puts out the same brightness as a 60-watt incandescent, runs nearly three times as long (an increase from 1,000 to 3,000 hours), and costs only $1.50 to $2. A Wall Street Journal comparison puts its annual operating cost at $3.50, against $4.80 for the incandescent.
Compact fluorescent has the spiral tubing that offends many users, but now usually encloses the squiggly works in a pear-shaped glass bulb. It provides a 75-percent energy saving, costs $2 to $5 for similar brightness, uses only 13-14 watts, burns for 8,000-10,000 hours and has an annual operating cost of $1.20. In Maine, a special incentive program now cuts the cost to a dollar or so.
Finally, the light-emitting diode. These are the same thing as the tiny flashlights and the arrangements of small red lights for taillights in some automobiles. For home illumination, they are by far the most expensive, costing $20 to $50 apiece. But some industry sources say prices will drop in the next three years and that it will eventually be the favorite. The lighting equivalent of a current 60-watt bulb uses only 13-14 watts, has an annual operating cost of $1, and burns for 25,000 hours. It uses a semiconductor chip.
Most retailers still offer only the tiny LED night lights. But Home Depot sells an LED equivalent of a 40-watt incandescent for $19.87 and a 60-watt for $34.97.
All the alternatives are adopting warmer tones and getting rid of the cold, bluish look of the old fluorescents.
Over time, switch all bulbs to CFL or LED, for long life, low maintenance and energy saving.