Incandescent light bulbs have not been banned

Nobody has banned the incandescent light bulb. Fast Company busts a few myths about CFLs and new energy-efficient lighting legislation.


  1. Wait, Michele Bachmann was wrong?  Does this mean that global warming was caused by man and you can’t turn a gay person straight???

  2. Everyone who isn’t stupid enough to get all their information from Fox, Rush et al. already knows the incandescent bulb wasn’t banned and that no one was trying to ban it in the first place. 

  3. Incandescent bulbs are not inefficient if you are also relying on the heat generated by the bulb to warm your home – in this case they are 100% efficient at converting electricity into some useful form of radiation.

    1. Unfortunately, heat pumps have a greater than 100% efficiency, as they move energy instead of simply generating more.

  4. From the article:  “The tiny amount of mercury in the bulbs ….is not dangerous to your health if you break
    the occasional bulb. In fact, it is less hazardous than eating more than
    two tuna fish sandwiches a week”

    That’s as may be, but since the EPA has yet to publish a three page set of instructions on how to clean up a spilled can of Star-Kist, I don’t think that particular part of the myth can be considered busted.

    1. Also from the article: “Coal pollution, as it turns out, presents a more serious threat to human health and the environment than broken CFLs.”

      I’m still waiting for the EPA three page handout on how to clean up the pollution from coal-fired power stations. Now that would be something useful.

  5. But surely it must be better for the environment to use a light bulb that only actually gets bright about 30 seconds after you left the room.
    Along with wearing shirts made of hair and hugging trees with thorns.I’m waiting for the EPA 3 page handout on how to clear up after you don’t bother to turn the light on (because it won’t warm up enough to be any bloody use) when walking through a room and trip over something and spill your coffee.

  6. So let’s get this straight:

    “They have not. Once the law begins to take effect next year, wattages for 100 W bulbs are required to drop by about 30 percent.”

    So people will be … ahem, *banned* from selling normal 100W bulbs.  Legislating something out of legal existence is a ban.  Whether you agree with it or not, it’s simply preposterous to claim that it’s not a ban.

    1. That’s like saying that fuel standards are a “ban” on new cars….or improved clean water standards are a ban on water….

      1. Higher fuel efficiency standards *are* a ban on new cars that don’t meet those standards, just as higher water quality standards are a de-facto ban of lower-quality water reclamation processes.  Again, it doesn’t matter whether you think it’s a good idea or not, it’s still a ban, and it’s silly to pretend otherwise.

        1. Sorry, no.  That’s very fallacious logic.  If these improvements in efficiency were so stringent that they were nearly impossible to meet while making a bulb then you might have a point.  You can read in the article that it’s not even an issue.

    2. People are also *banned* from selling children’s toys that are painted with lead paint.  We as a people have decided that our safety and health is more important than profit margins on many products.  If you REALLY want to build a house with knob and tube wiring, flammable curtains and couches etc, do it as an art product. 

    3. You are not banning incandescent light bulbs which produce the amount of light as a current 100W bulb. You are making the incandescent bulbs produce the same amount of light for 70W.

  7. It’s amazing what shitty misleading media can do.  I know a fair amount of progressives who believed this to be true as well.  South Carolina’s redneck politicians were trying to make political hay out of this.  They were trying to implement something called the “Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act” iirc.  lmfao.

  8. Raising the legislated energy consumption standard *does ban* the sale of what we currently use as incandescent light bulbs.

    There may be new kinds of bulb which the author considers incandescent, and the legislation (Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007) may not be formulated as a straight up ban, but that is the effect. Saying that it bans what we currently use as light bulb is a correct representation.

    1. Not really.  High efficiency incandescents have been around in professional applications for a while, and indeed hit the consumer market before EISA.

  9. What the heck kind of CFLs are people using? Are they different now? I switched over to CFL’s about seven years ago (still using the same blubs. Bring them with me whenever I move) and I’ve never had this ‘warming up’ problem everyone goes on about. I flip the switch and they’re on, fully bright. Mine aren’t dim when I turn them on. Mine don’t warm up. Mine work exactly like my old incandescents worked. 

    I’m not plugging CFLs by saying all this. Use whatever bulbs you want. I don’t care. I’m just wondering how many of you really have CFLs that start dim and warm up and how many of you don’t have CFLs and are just repeating what others have said about them. 

    1. Sometimes one of mine is slightly dim for a *split* second before it comes on fully.  Obviously not a problem though.  I don’t know what people mean by ‘warming up’ unless that’s what they’re referring to, but it’s literally a *blink and you’ll miss it* amount of time. At least with my particular bulb. I think it was a no-namer from Walgreens.

    2. I have some exceedingly cheap CFLs (I think they were from Ikea) that do take a little while to warm up. Some brands are better than others.

    3. I have some, specifically purchased for my bathroom so that when the bathroom is used at night, the user isn’t blinded by bright light.  It takes about five minutes for them to get to full brightness.  It just depends on model and type.

    4. I’ve had several brands of CFL’s over the years.  Since realizing about instant on/flicker free starts (the wife can’t stand not having instant on) what I’ve bought over the years has been pretty good.  I know I have some “ceiling fan” style, candelabra base, something like A-19(?) shape that take a bit to “warm” up.  Might be GE, I’d have to look.  I know my bigger 150W rated ones in the work shop take a while for maximum brightness, but they start out well over 1500 lumen from the get go, so no real issues there.  I think those are Feit Electric.

      I’ve also noticed warm up is directly linked to temperature of the environment.  Summer time no real warm up, when it’s winter and 60F or colder in the house it takes a good 2 mins for full brightness.  I kind of fixed that by running two regular incandescents and two CFL’s in the fan.

    5. Some people buy the cheapest CFLs they can find at Walmart, and then assume that all CFLs are crap.  Other people bought a CFL a decade ago and still assume that all CFLs are stuck at that level.  Still other people just like to complain, without even an invalid data point to back them up.

    6. Where do you get your CFLs? Mine all take about 3 minutes to ‘warm’ up. The most obvious one is the “floodlight” replacement in my shower. Turn it on and you can stare right at it because it’s not so bright. Come back in 3 mins and it’s too bright to look at.

    7. Every CFL I’ve bought in my flat turns on instantly, however two bulbs that I’m nearly positive are CFLs that were purchased before we moved in take bloody ages to warm up. 2-3 minutes when its cold.

      Unfortunately for me, they’re up high and in difficult to open light shades… oh and they’re in the bathroom and kitchen, the two rooms in the house you actually want to be able to see clearly if you wake up in the middle of the night needing to use either of them. 

      I probably should borrow a ladder from someone… and a car to carry it I suppose.

    8. I have CFLs that start dim, and stay dim.  Even after the couple of minutes it takes them to warm up, they’re still nowhere near as bright as advertised.  Doesn’t matter if they’re expensive name-brand ones or el-cheapo ones, you still need more lamps to get the same amount of light.

      All the CFLs in my house are less than six months old, because that’s about how long they last.  I’m switching back to 100W incandescents (which haven’t been banned in the UK) because they give out more light and take less power *once you take into account the hideous power factor effects that CFLs have*.

      1. It’s very possibly not the bulbs, but the fixtures. (Or to be pedantic, it’s not the lamps, but the luminaires.) I have one lamp that eats light bulbs. They’re always dim and they burn out frequently. If I switch the bulb to any other lamp, it burns as brightly as it should. A new base is cheaper than a CFL, so I should probably just fix it.

        1. Well I guess it wouldn’t hurt to swap a “known-good” lamp in.  I can’t see why the base would make a difference, though.  It’s just two brass pins on springs, there’s not really a whole lot that can “go wrong”.

          1. there’s not really a whole lot that can “go wrong”.

            That’s the Nicene Creed of Jinxology.

  10. so here’s my barely related anti-CFL rant:  i reach up to replace my third CFL blown out in less than a year’s use (all differing brands, according to their labels) and the base of the blown out (a week or so previous) CFL is warm(!)  so unless my thermodynamics is askew big-time one possible CFL blow-out mode continues to use energy!  good old bad old energy wasting incandescents stop using energy when they blow, i’m fairly sure of that.  ok… end of rant.  no political issue to see here.  just a (surprising for me) technical point.

    1. You’re 100% accurate in your household observations.  CFL’s blow out surprisingly quickly as opposed to the manufacturers’ claims.  They also get hot, just like incandescents.  Maybe not as hot, but there certainly is wasted heat.

      I was the first lamp designer in the lighting industry to use CFL’s.  I bought them directly from G.E. That was back in 1990 I stopped using them in my designs by 1996. The bulbs just weren’t ready yet.

      The CFL’s have come a long way since then but they are stillnot as good as claimed- IMHO.

      As an aside, high output LED bulbs need massive heat sinks to disperse the heat of the circuitry.  Now that’s something to think about.

    2. Were the blown out bulbs in the same fixture? If they were, the bulbs aren’t the problem.

      1. These were a variety of (not bought at Walmart) bulbs in a variety of differing fixtures.  But my strangled point was that a burnt out CFL (obviously left in an active circuit) can continue to use energy, whereas the old incandescents are “self fusing”.  So my lesson is:  when a CFL blows out, unscrew them ASAP!  …even if you end up leaving the socket empty.

        1. Were they in recessed can lights in the ceiling or in any surface mounted fixture that is fully enclosed?  Heat buildup continues to be an issue in those applications with the sensitive electronics in the ballasts for CFLs leading to fast burnout.

        2. There’s also a little warning on some bulbs (I didn’t notice it until the 3rd burnout) that they are not to be used in anything other than a base-down application.  It also mentioned the ‘time limits’ for it to last 7 years…2 hours a day.  5110 hours… or 24h a day for about 210 days.
          This was about 3 years ago…things have likely changed…

          1. That’s probably why standard CFL packaging says not to use them with dimmer switches. There are CFLs made for dimmer switches though. 

          2. I’ve never really looked into it, but, I would assume so.  I know there are dimmable ones, so I presume they have additional electronics to keep voltage constant.  Too little or too much voltage can also have effects on all bulbs.  I have a small collection of blown theatre bulbs…they blow pretty colourfully and explosively.

          3. It also depends on the dimmer switch you have in your wall, some CFLs work just fine on traditional incandescent dimmers, others require fluorescent-specific dimmers and still others are happy with 0-10 volt controls.

            It’s going to be a little crazy out there with new lower-wattage halogens replacing incandescents and most of the media coverage I have seen is not helpful in any way.

            Your theatre lamp collection probably has less to do with voltage and more likely with someone touching the glass lamp envelope itself and letting skin oils disrupt the thermal dispersion (ie, all the heat stays where the oil is and isn’t evenly distributed). In a standard theatrical dimmer the voltage isn’t going above the rated 120 (or 277, depending).

          4. Your really, really shouldn’t use an incandescent dimmer with a CFL. You also really, really shouldn’t mix CFLs and incandescents in one fixture. Either of those could get you a different and far more historical light source.

          5. You really, really should when it’s the correct kind of compact fluorescent (I know Philips, for example, makes a series that uses standard dimming switches).

            I am very interested in your statement about not mixing lamp sources in fixtures.  If a lamp uses 120 volts, it uses 120 volts, regardless of source, LED, CFL, cold cathode, incandescent, halogen.  I make a living mixing sources in fixtures and yet somehow I and the fixtures I spec are all still very much non-historical.

          6. When I studied lighting design, those were two red flags for starting a fire. I don’t know the reasons for the first one. The second one is because fluorescent and incandescent bulbs have different life cycles. They may draw the same amount of power when they’re first installed, but a couple of years later is a different story.

  11. “wattages for 100 W bulbs are required to drop by about 30 percent”

    I really hope the legislation is better worded than this because a 100watt bulb is well a 100 watt bulb. (ie a 100 watt cfl  uses 100 watts – those marked as producing equivalent light to a 100watt bulb should be 70 watts or less to meet the spirit of the law) What is desired is a better efficiency per watt. I would not mind better standards of light produced as well.

    also can we then sell a 70 watt old style bulb and call it a 100watt bulb  next year?

    1. Yeah, why is this hard to understand?

      Incandescent aren’t being banned. They are being required to have higher efficiencies; in incandescents this usually means filling the bulb with nitrogen or argon. 

      Your 70 watt, totally normal light bulb now produces the same amount of light as a 100 watt. Go to the store and buy a totally normal incandescent light bulb, and it just costs less money to use. What’s not to like?

  12. I can’t comment on America, but the EU has not banned incandescent lamps either. They have specified minimum efficacies for them that are within the bounds of what current technology can achieve. It seems rather sensible to me, and by the sound of it is rather similar to what has happened in the US.

    The British media have been pushing the “banned” idea, but remember that the newspapers in question generally have an anti-EU agenda, which this was good, if untruthful, ammunition for.

  13. I’ve had only CFLs for years. They’re part of the survival kit in a hot climate where the AC is already pushed to its limits.

    And, perhaps more importantly for those of us who aren’t twenty years old anymore, the bright white light makes it much easier to see things.  Like the printed word.

    1. I can’t read at all under CFL lighting, and I can’t distinguish between colours properly.  This makes it difficult to work on electronic equipment.

  14. i just want more bulbs to list the lumens they put out since that’s the actual light level. With more efficient incandescents, halogens, CFLs and LEDs, wattage is no longer a helpful indicator of actual brightness, only power consumtion. For the record a 100 watt old style incandescent gives off about 800 lumens, to help you sort it out.

    1. I’ve read the comments and I now know: the essential problem is that bulbs are rated for watts, not for lumens. People think a 70W bulb produces less light than a 100W bulb. Rate them for lumens and the conversation goes away.

  15. Clearly, IF you can still buy something then it hasn’t been banned.

    Therefore, since you can still buy incandescents, they have NOT been banned.

  16. Conservatives with panties painfully twisted over CFL disposal issues could use the method employed by janitors since tube-style florescent lights were introduced well over fifty years ago:

    Whistle a happy tune and toss the things in a dumpster.

    1. “Whistle a happy tune and toss the things in a dumpster.”

      Not a bad idea.

      One thing I do NOT recommend under any circumstances is that opponents of the ban lightly pack used CFL’s and then mail them to the local offices of legislators who voted for it.

  17. The Republicans can promote inefficiency as much as they want with their legislation.  Unfortunately, those socialist countries that produce lighting products have serious energy supply shortages and they are the ones that are driving the market to low energy lighting solutions.  I’m sure, over time, the cost of incandescent bulbs will rise in costs relative to LEDs….the market will price the declining demand and limited supply of incandescent bulbs at premium prices and Teapublicans can buy as many as their pocketbook and politics will allow.

    I do find it funny, though, that the Party of free market principles is busy passing legislation that attempts to disrupt the very principles that they claim to support so dearly! 

  18. Things have changed as technologies have.  GE has a line called Energy Smart Dimming Spirals and Philips rolls with Energy Saver Dimmables.  Originally forward-phase dimming had issues with CFLs because of the way the wave jumps from 0-120 volts and then simply turns off sooner rather than later.  This caused 60 turn-ons a second in a technology that was looking for constant voltage to keep the electrons excited between the electrodes.  But again, in some cases, electronic ballasts have solved the issue.With improved electronic ballasts they no longer have increased draw at end of cycle, solving the second issue as well.  However, LED’s currently are going through the same end of life cycle increased voltage draw but since they operate at low voltage in the first place the chance of fire is multitudes lower (and more often a result of improper heat dissipation, but that’s a story for another day).IAALD (I Am A Lighting Designer, but always still studying)

  19. Hmmm.. first off not an expert but… I do have some very pertinent info on this subject.

    The anecdotes first. I have a few ‘cheapo’ CFL lamps in use and they do take some time to warm up even in the summer. Especially the vanity lamps in the bathroom, not only that but they start off pink, purple and green (three lamps) and take about a minute to turn white and reach full brightness. Next up is a situation that seems to be more useful, the regular cheapos I have used because I didn’t have anything else at the time seem to last a good long time. Haven’t burned one in three years in this relatively new (to me) residence. I also have incandescents that haven’t blown yet which were original to the house. So basically YMMV. Or I seem to have stable surge-free electrical supply which is surprising given the state of the system in this place, man does it need an update. Continuing, a friend of mine has had the same CFL light on his porch longer than ten years. It’s a really old-school clunky looking beast and it’s been outside all this time in extremes of cold and hot. So that sort of tells me that the first run was built a lot more robust that the current ones. Now, I’ve lost my porch light about once a year, and it didn’t matter what type it was. So I don’t really know what is up with that. Save for the fact that the two CFLs were newish. I have had a table lamp burn a CFL bulb on me but that was a ground fault issue. So aside from the ones in the bathroom I have had little problem with the things.

    Scientifically, using CFLs not intended for dimming is definitely not recommended. My father experienced a small electrical fire with them. Not the bulb but the dimmer. Not really sure what was the cause there but I am really glad I was there for the event. The switch just smoked for some reason. Whatever the case, it was not cool. I replaced the dimmer with a regular switch and all is fine now. Furthermore, the environmental impact of these units seems less to me. For the rare occasion that one breaks one of these things it is a significant fraction of the amount of mercury from a full 4′ tube. On that note, people used to chop them up in something like a woodchipper to dispose of them. They don’t do this now as it’s known to be a health hazard. Still though the tiny little CFL is nowhere near the volume of a 4′ tube. And not only that they are a good deal more resilient.

    FWIW, I think they are more beneficial overall given the significant reduction in energy use. But there are still those elements out there that will say anything to get people riled up against regulations. It’s really not about efficiency, it’s about perceived control and that is the real trouble. At least the trouble ‘republicans’ have with the issue of CFLs and such.

  20. Aw, go on, it’s a ban.

    Yes, yes, it’s only currently banning certain particularly inefficient and powerful incandescent bulbs. Yes, it’s only like banning particularly fuel inefficient cars. Specifically, it’s like banning particularly inefficient cars, with a planned ratcheting of the standard that means that in a decade’s time all cars will be banned. (Dodgy analogy? I didn’t start it. ;)

    You know what? Call it a ban, I don’t care. It’s a good idea. Using incandescent bulbs is basically irrational – in a homo economicus free market hardly anyone would buy them. Energy inefficiency leads to pointless pollution. Energy consumption is costly and necessary, but inefficiency just means Deepwater Horizons and Fukushimas in vain. Since energy is such a big input into the economy, inefficiency is a real problem.

    When someone does something that’s irrational and harmful to themselves and (especially to) others around them, with no real upside, I see no problem in banning it. Just have the guts to call it that. Anything else is mealy-mouthed political reframing.

  21. To all the people asking for lumens, lumens are a crap number that is totally manipulated on the packaging. Lumens are how bright the human eye perceives the light to be. That would be all well and good if humans perceives the entire visible spectrum evenly but we don’t. We perceive the green range as brighter. So the manufacturers spike the green spectrum to get higher lumen values because they have convinced you that it’s meaningful. But the CRI or color rendition index ends up being crap and colors look different than under CRI 100 sunlight or tungsten incandescents.

    It also makes me laugh that people are now arguing that a halogen is a type of incandescent bulb so incandescents aren’t banned. True but completely disingenuous. Incandescent bulbs as currently defined in the vernacular means an Edison bulb with a tungsten filament filled with an inert gas. The halogen bulb works with a distinctively different chemical reaction and has been rightly considered a different type of bulb. It sure sounds like “Edison bulbs with tungsten filaments in an inert gas without a halogen that has been commonly referred to as an incandescent even though the classification of incandescent is more expansive than that and everyone knows to what you are referring unless they are being an obtuse dick” are being banned to me.

  22. So I just want to add that 

    1) In Japan, because of the quake, LEDs are everywhere. They are really pushing them. There are more LED lights on sale than CFLs at this point.

    2) They are much colder than CFLs so if nothing else I want them because they’ll keep my already hot apartment that much cooler.

  23. Nobody has banned the incandescant light bulb? No – that is wrong – and even worse, lazy.
    Maybe nobody has banned them in the same sense that hand guns are legal and we all drive on the right. But Boing Boing – there is a world out there beyond the USA you know?  I am sure I have seen the odd post that refers to it . . .

    In the EU such bulbs are banned – as in “banned”: it is even illegal for a private individual to bring one into any EU country in a suitcase, such is their terrifying ability to raise sea-levels and stoke warming around the world.

    Unthinking headlines that assume USA=Generality reinforces the USA stereotype of seeing the rest of the world as an amusing potpourri of pictureque happenings that basically don’t matter, as opposed to a set equally valid lifestyles and beliefs – and bans. Not what I expect from happy mutants.

    And hey – no more anonymous comments?  Right . . . got to keep a track of us. And the advice given by your chosen partner? “Your browser has to accept cookies from all domains”!

    And little by little the golden age of the internet crumbles and it becomes just another tool of registration and control. Boing Boing joins the pack – “Get along there with the rest of the sheep you readers!”

  24. I was actually looking into alternative lighting for my cousin’s wedding (better than a toaster, yo), recently, and now is really finally the time, I think, when lightbulb technology is advancing. I’d like to share what I have found.

    Firstly, I send you to this link from PhysOrg, where a researcher came up with a way of both improving incandescent efficiency to CFL levels, but also simultaneously found a way to improve their spectrum.

    Then there is the new halogen-cfl hybrid bulb by GE. It looks like a normal lightbulb, uses a halogen to turn bright immediately, and turns the halogen off when the CFL bulb reaches maximum brightness.

    There are also these great ESL bulbs (I have one on pre-order). They look to have an improved spectrum over LED and CFL, they are cheap, and they are dimmable. The technology also has a nice side-effect of taking about a second to reach max brightness, so they sort of fade on instead of abruptly and instantly turning on.

    Philips has recently come out with their A19 AmbientLED bulb which appears to be the first 60W equivalent LED bulb. It’s dimmable, omni-directional, and looks the same as an incandescent.

    And Cree has produced a proof-of-concept LED bulb called the TrueWhite that is just as good, if not better, than the Philips.

    And also with the energy crisis in Japan, we have the best electronics companies in the world pumping money into energy-efficient lighting like there’s no tomorrow.

  25. You can if you want, but you’ll have to wait 6-10 years for them to burn out. 

    Personally, I’d recommend taking them to your local recycling center (unless you’re one of those recycling haters).  Many of the stores that sell CFLs will also take used ones back.

  26. I don’t get it. If you can buy an incandescent 70 watt bulb (that produces 100 watts), how can this be construed as “banning incandescents”? If you can buy incandescents, they are not banned. Right?

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