Why California is Saying Goodbye to Incandescent Lights

Jun 4th 2018

california LED law

It’s 2018 and time to say goodbye to the incandescent lights that were the go-to choice for most households and businesses throughout the past 138 years. Despite more efficient lights available on the market, it wasn’t until this January that the state of California made the first step towards completely phasing out incandescent bulbs from the market. California’s lawmakers have decided that incandescent lights aren’t efficient enough for the state’s greener future. Homeowners may continue to use any existing incandescent bulbs they have and retailers are allowed to sell their remaining stock but once those are gone, you won’t be able to find incandescent bulbs anywhere.

What exactly is happening?

The National Energy Bill of 2007 included energy efficiency standards that were supposed to help make a transition to energy-saving bulbs by 2020. However, California decided to speed things up and completely phase incandescent bulbs out of the market two years before the rest of the US. The new standards introduced effectively outlaw incandescent bulbs in favor of more efficient technologies such as LED. The minimum efficiency level of bulbs according to the new standards should be 45 lumens per Watt: three times more than traditional incandescent bulbs.

Will incandescent lights disappear overnight?

Retailers are allowed to sell their remaining inventory but no more incandescent lights will be manufactured. While this may sound drastic, the companies manufacturing and selling these bulbs had over 10 years to prepare for these changes and start manufacturing more efficient lighting products. In fact, most of them have stopped producing incandescent bulbs completely.

What impact will this have on California?

According to estimates by the Natural Resources Defense Council, there are approximately 250 million incandescent bulbs still working in California. If they are all replaced with LED products, Californian consumers will save roughly $1 billion USD on their utility bills in the first year. Additionally, this transition will eliminate the carbon emissions produced by incandescent bulbs every time the filament is heated. Just to compare:

  • One 100W incandescent bulb produces 139 lbs of CO2 per year if it works four hours per day.
  • The average LED bulb produces barely 15 lbs of CO2 per year. 10 times less for one bulb.

So, what are the alternatives?

The two main alternatives are LED and CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs. CFL bulbs were introduced first, as a more efficient alternative than incandescent lights. However, due to the fact that they contain mercury (a hazardous material) and take time to light up, CFL bulbs have never had a higher market share than 15%. LED bulbs, on the other hand, were slow to take off when they were introduced to the market because of their high price but since their price has decreased by over 80% in the past 10 years, now is the best time to convert to LED.

Is there anything incandescent lights can do that LED’s can’t?

No, except for wasting energy! An LED bulb can create the same light output as a 100W incandescent bulb by using just under 17W of power (on average). In some cases, even less. LED bulbs can also last between 15 and 25 years if used 4 hours per day. One LED bulb can save you between $50 and $150 USD during the bulb’s lifetime, depending on their features. That brings us to the next point:

How do you know which LED lights to buy?

There is a wide variety of LED lights, fixtures, and more that will work for any application in your home or business. One important thing to note: the cheapest option isn’t necessarily the most feasible option. There are higher-quality LED lights on the market that not only produce superior light but last up to 25 years. For comparison, the cheapest LED bulbs produce a light which isn’t as powerful and last around 10 years with a presumed use of 4 hours per day. There is a significant difference in performance between cheap and more expensive LED lights but spending a little more upfront means better lighting, a longer lifespan, and more savings over time.

A few basic tips for switching from incandescent to LED lights:

  1. If you prefer using a dimmable light, don’t worry: unlike CFL bulbs, many LEDs have that option.
  2. If you’re feeling nostalgic for the yellowish light, LED lights come in many different color variations, including 2700 Kelvin, which is close to the yellow light of the old incandescent bulbs. Plus, there are even LED Edison-style filament bulbs!
  3. Buy LED bulbs with the ENERGY STAR logo or ones that are UL-listed and DLC certified. These products have been subjected to rigorous tests and are have proven that they meet all safety and design requirements.
  4. Compare the warranty offered by the brand with the price of the item before you make a purchase. A longer warranty is important for bulbs with longer lifespans!

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