Are you ready for life without the incandescent light bulb?

You heard, right? The incandescent light bulb that we have known for over 100 years will not be produced any more in the United States. Actually, the 100W incandescent has been phased out since 2012 and the 75W has been phased out since 2013.  But maybe you hadn't noticed since the most common variations - the 40W and 60W bulbs - will only be phased out starting Jan. 1, 2014.

According to a U.S. Department of Energy report, there are 3.3 billion A-Type lamps installed in the U.S. alone, offering significant potential for energy savings.  The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA 2007) was a major piece of energy legislation that included a section on Energy Efficient Light Bulbs.  This section (321) mandates minimum performance requirements for light bulb wattage, lumen output and life. Although the regulation is not a formal ban, it essentially phases out the common incandescent bulbs in favor of more efficient alternatives.  The new standards exclude specialty bulbs (used in appliances, etc), reflector bulbs and other less common bulbs.

General-purpose incandescent bulbs phase-out schedule in U.S.*

Jan. 1, 2012

Jan. 1, 2013

Jan. 1, 2014



60W - 40W

* California will enact the phase-out one year earlier than these dates.

So if you are in your local hardware or retail store in February or March 2014 and decide to pick up a box of bulbs, you will likely not find the incandescent bulb on store shelves anymore. Some of the likely alternatives are:

  • LED light bulbs (my favorite - see the various drivers we make here)
  • Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL)
  • Halogen bulbs

I was at Walmart last week and saw this huge line-up of new LED bulbs sold under their Great Value brand:

Let’s look at the various replacement options and how they compare with a 40W standard incandescent:

Comparison between common light bulbs


Type of bulb











Annual Energy Cost*





25,000 hours







12,000 hours







1,000 hours



Standard Incandescent




1,000 hours



* Assumes 3 hours/day and $0.11/kWh electricity cost

LED bulbs offer advantages such as instant on, dimming and no mercury.  Due to their high efficacy (lumens/Watt performance) and long lifetime, they offer the lowest total cost of ownership.  Their only drawback is the initial sticker shock.  Although prices have come down to <$10 per LED light bulb, I wonder if consumers won't just grab the lowest cost bulb on the shelf and be on their way.  There is no doubt that LED lighting provides the best savings over the long term, especially when the hours of bulb operation are high.  There is ample proof of this in the increasing use of LED lighting in commercial settings where the positive impact on the bottom line has been carefully calculated.

What about you?  Will you choose a LED light bulb the next time you are buying a bulb?

  • I have installed ten 60W equivalent LED lamps in our kitchen and in all the dual lamp fixtures in the bedrooms.  Less heat from the fixtures and much lower power usage but it will still take a number of years to recover the cost.  CFLs are a joke.  Their lifetime isn't much better than incandescents and light output is lower or for the 100W equivalent the bulbs don't fit in all fixtures.  The only way to fix that is to force manufacturers (or the retailers) to replace them free of charge in the first 5 years.  Leave it to them to figure out how to identify if the bulb is over 5 years old.

    LED lights have an annoying 1/2 second delay before they actually turn on but otherwise appear to be the best solution if the lamp is used 3hour/day.  For a closet or crawl space fixture that is used 3  minutes per day the incandescent bulb will last decades.

    CFLs take long time to reach full brightness so tend to be left on all day rather than the dim light output for the 2 minutes they are needed.  Odds are they use more energy than a standard bulb in that usage pattern.

    Finally Philips HUE lamps controlled by my iPhone are running in most of the fixtures in the living room with the exception of the 50/100/150W tri-light.  The HUE bulbs are equivalent to a 40W and are not suitable for reading lamps.

  • Thanks Prasad,

    I agree about the possibilities of LED (while also believing incandescents have their use)

    LEDs have interesting flexible color temp etc flexible control possibilities, particular the multimodular (RGB) types,

    or indeed as LED sheet lighting (OLEDs) as mentioned,

    rather than fixed warm color temp incandescent clones.

    Re history,

    this is also rather like Vacuum Tubes (related to incandescents) and light emitting diodes, LEDs  (related to transistors)

    The flexibility and general usage advantages that resulted from solid state development.

    However, in further comparison, "energy guzzling" vacuum tubes were not banned by governments.

    Markets simply moved on.

    Vacuum  tubes still have limited but appreciated uses (any guitarists out there?) - and without beaking any power plant.

    We therefore have the conundrum:

    Bans on popular products make no sense.

    (and there is no "free lunch", as demanding lower energy usage on a given product affects other qualities, as linked)

    Bans on unpopular products make no sense.

    Ergo, bans don't make sense.

    Re price

    Certainly, one might expect prices on LEDs to fall if they get a bigger market


    manufacturers still charge what they can, the cheap competition has gone, subsidies may be removed as no longer being required,

    and the plentiful rare earth mineral components have risen in price, as has China assembly wages, etc, specifically:

    Of course, price is not the only reason anyway to choose lighting for different conditions,

    meaningful LED usage savings only holds for commonly used bulbs (and low cost incandescents can be made up to 20 000 hrs eg mining, kept off consumer markets by cartel agreement, see below),

    Rather than bans on incandescents to force CFL/LED use, CFL/LED manufacturers could market them just like Energizer batteries, bunny rabbit commercials, washing up liquids etc  imaginative commercials"Expensive to buy but cheap in the long run",

    instead of running  to regulators to have unprofitable generic patent expired incandescents banned

    (as the GE, Philips and Osram/Sylvania consortium did, as linked)

  • Peter - thanks for your comments.  This is certainly an interesting and controversial topic.  Just as when incandescent bulbs started out there were lots of issues to deal with, like the cost, life time, safety, etc.  Here is a link to an article that I found interesting:  The book referenced in the article estimates that in 1887, an electric bulb cost about $23 in 2013 dollars (somewhat like an LED bulb) and it took some time to bring the cost down and life time up. However, I admit my interest in the move from electrical systems to electronic systems lies in the guts of the system.  From an engineering standpoint, once you begin to add electronics to an application, the possibilities grow exponentially. If we were able to show Alexander Bell todays smartphone, I don't think he would recognize it. Lighting can have similar impact on our home, office, and outdoor environment.  I’m looking forward to delving into this aspect more in subsequent blogs

  • Note: Incandescents legal in Texas (!) as signed by Gov Perry,

    article via the mentioned  website link on search

    Note: Halogen type replacements will also be banned in USA, phase 2 of

    the 2007 EISA law 45 lumen per W minimum requirement,

    as also referenced via the website

  • A more exact link

    14 point referenced rundown of why phasing out incandescents makes no sense

    Note: Incandescents legal in Texas (!) as signed by Gov Perry,  articles via the link on search

    Note: Halogen type replacements will also be banned in USA, phase 2 of the 2007 EISA law

    45 lumen per W minimum requirement, as also referenced