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Lights out for incandescent bulbs, with some exceptions

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Graphic by Ileana Martinez

The good news is that the ban on light bulbs that took effect at the beginning of this year won’t affect Easy-Bake Ovens. Nor are incandescent bulbs truly a thing of the past.

As of the beginning of this year, the manufacture of 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs is banned in the United States. The manufacture of higher watt bulbs had been banned in previous years, all thanks to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The law put the United States in line with most of the world in phasing out incandescent bulbs for most uses. However, there are still a number of loopholes for people who really love their old fashioned light bulbs.

The incandescent bulb was invented as early as 1803 and finally patented by Thomas Edison in 1880. Despite some flaws, it’s been the most commonly used type of light source for more than 125 years.

The bulb consists of a filament wire that is heated to a high temperature until it glows. However, the incandescent bulb uses only between 5 and 10 percent of the energy provided for light. The rest is “wasted” as heat.

Throughout the history of the bulb, people have taken advantage of the waste heat. Lava lamps use the heat of a bulb to allow colored wax to flow. The Easy-Bake Oven used incandescent bulbs to cook small cakes until the toy was redesigned in response to the bulb phase-out.

Some people swear by the “softer” light of incandescent bulbs compared to replacement technology such as CFL (compact fluorescent lamp), halogen and LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs. Companies that make light bulbs have been working to reproduce the shades of incandescent light with newer technology.

The bulbs themselves are not banned, only the manufacture of certain low efficiency bulbs ranging from 40 to 150 watts. The law also had plenty of exclusions, including specialty bulbs, three-way bulbs, appliance bulbs, “rough service” bulbs, colored bulbs and plant lights.

Some manufacturers have also figured out how to make more efficient incandescent light bulbs that meet the new energy standards in the law.

For most consumers, the new bulbs, designed to fit into sockets that were originally designed by Edison, will work fine. The initial cost of the bulbs may be higher than old incandescent bulbs, but the new bulbs should last considerably longer (10 to 15 times longer) and use much less energy (about 75 percent less) over the lifetime of the bulb, saving consumers money.

For people who cannot live without their incandescent bulbs, it will still be possible to get “rough service” bulbs that are nearly exactly the same as current bulbs, only designed to withstand heavier use. Incandescent bulbs will also still be available for dimmer lamps that use three-way bulbs.

Although there was a lot of resistance initially to the new law, manufacturers embraced the change and have been designing new types of bulbs with higher efficiency every year. LED bulbs, in particular, offer a variety of possibilities for directional lighting and new types of bulbs.

As for lava lamps, they can run on bulbs as low as 25 watts, so the law is no real threat to those, either.

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