Among the expansive selection of light bulbs on the shelves of Los Altos Hardware, shoppers can find halogen, compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and light-emitting diodes (LED) models. Missing from the bevy of boxes are incandescent bulbs, the dominant household lighting choice since Thomas Edison introduced his innovation in the late 1800s.
“Some people aren’t happy with it, but they don’t have a choice,” said in-store lighting expert Emerson Oliva of the disappearance of incandescent bulbs from shelves since 2012.
With the federal government mandated phase-out of 40- to 60-watt A19 incandescent bulbs this year under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, consumers will have no choice but to find alternatives. Effective Jan. 1, manufacturers are prohibited from shipping A19 bulbs to stores, leaving retailers like Los Altos Hardware with a stockpile of only approximately 20 boxes.
A step ahead of the process, Oliva noted that the store began educating customers about the switch several years ago and tested various lighting types in-store for customers to examine. With variances in color, temperature and even the quality of engineering by bulb type and manufacturer, selecting the right bulb replacement can be challenging.
Shedding light on new regulations
A crowd gathered at the Los Altos main library last week for an illuminating GreenTown Los Altos-sponsored conversation on the new lighting landscape from Los Gatos designer Tal Mashhadian.
“Old light bulbs (incandescents) are like a dial phone and new LEDs are like a smartphone,” Mashhadian said, alluding to the fact that new CFLs and LEDs offer consumers not only more choices, but also more room for confusion.
Instead of judging a bulb by the number of watts on the package, consumers should measure output by lumen, Mashhadian suggested. Lumens are used to measure the amount of visible light that a source emits.
New lighting sources are significantly more energy efficient and take less power to produce the same quantity of light as their predecessors.
For example, a 40-watt incandescent-halogen light, a 15-watt CFL and a 12-watt LED produce the same amount of light as a traditional 60-watt incandescent bulbs with 25-80 percent less energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Although Mashhadian believes that consumers can “change out 90 percent of bulbs in-house without knowing the difference,” he added that the specifications on the box aren’t always accurate and it’s best to test them in person before purchasing.
Los Altos Hardware’s Oliva echoed the sentiment.
“Not all LED lights are the same,” he said. “It’s important to research the brand and model when shopping.”
Although the new bulbs offer cost savings over the long run, the sticker price on the new bulbs is significantly higher. A traditional incandescent bulb sold for $1.50 per bulb; the starting prices for new bulbs at Los Altos Hardware are $2.75 per bulb for a halogen bulb, $7.99 for a CFL and $35 for an LED.
Some consumers may be tempted simply to find the lowest-priced bulb on the shelf to save money. Oliva advised against automatically selecting the least expensive model, noting that some manufacturers create a cheap alternative to pricier models of the same bulb. As lower-cost bulbs often produce less accurate color and don’t last as long, Oliva and the team at Los Altos Hardware hand select the bulbs they sell in-store.
Although recycling light bulbs is already commonplace, it is particularly important for consumers to recycle new CFLs because they contain mercury. If packaged in a clear Zip-loc bag and placed on top of their blue recycling container, Mission Trail Waste System offers curbside pickup for Los Altos residents. Alternately, residents can bring their bulbs to Los Altos Hardware, 441 First St., or House of Lamps, 343 Main St., for recycling.
For more information on new lighting sources, visit energy.gov/energysaver/articles/how-energy-efficient-light-bulbs-compare-traditional-incandescents.