ISSUE 5  |  Small Space Living

The Great Light Bulb Debate

February 05, 2014 2:00 PM

BY Janet Hall

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The discussion about whether or not to switch from traditional incandescent light bulbs is over. On January 1, 2014, old-generation incandescent bulbs were put to rest. So whether you choose to stockpile the bulbs of the past or face the facts and embrace the bulbs of the future, the great light bulb debate has shifted. The question now is: what’s the best of the new generation of bulbs? 

Please share your favorite new-generation light bulb choices in the comments section below.

The Basics

The EISA (Energy Independence and Security Act) put into place higher energy standards for light bulbs that the good old incandescent bulbs don’t meet. Specifically, all screw-in light bulbs have to use 25 percent less power by 2014 and 65 percent less by 2020. From 2012 to 2013, 100- and 75-watt light bulbs were phased out. And, as of January 1, 2014, traditional 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs can no longer be manufactured or imported. They can continue to be sold, however, so devotees can stock up until supplies run out.

Above: The good news is that your hardware store shelves are full of options that go far beyond the coiled CFL (but aren’t as 19th century as the Edison bulb). Image via Eco Evolution.

Specialty Bulbs Are Exempt

No need to panic if you have lamps or appliances that use specialty bulbs (such as globe-shaped bulbs, three-way bulbs, small refrigerator bulbs, Edison bulbs, or the Remodelista favorite silver-tipped bulbs). The specialty category of bulbs is exempt from the law. See the 1000 Bulbs Blog for a comprehensive List of Exempt Bulbs.

Above (L to R): The FEIT Original Style Vintage Bulb ($9.97), the FEIT Original Vintage Chandelier Bulb Two Pack ($5.98), and the FEIT Original Shape Vintage Style Bulb ($9.97) are all available at Home Depot.

Are Incandescent Bulbs Gone? 

Incandescent bulbs (those that generate light by a filament source) aren’t dead, they’ve just been reinvented using high-efficiency, longer-lasting halogen technology. They’re a low cost, high efficiency alternative to the 40- and 60-watt incandescents we’re accustomed to and come in a look that is nearly identical. 

Above: Three styles of high-efficiency halogen incandescent bulbs: daylight (blue tone), warm white, and clear. Image via


What are the Alternatives?

There are three primary types of bulbs available to replace energy-sucking traditional incandescents:

1. Halogen incandescent bulbs use 28% less energy than the traditional bulb. They are the most similar in appearance and behavior and are the most affordable option.

2. LED bulbs (light emitting diodes) use 85% less energy and last upwards of 25 times longer (the LED bulb I just purchased estimates a life of 22 years) than traditional incandescents and three times longer than CFLs. Another advantage: they’re fully dimmable. LEDs are more expensive at point of sale, but the cost savings in reduced energy use and replacements is said to more than make up for the price. For a comprehensive guide to LEDs, see the New York Times feature “New Reasons to Change Light Bulbs“.

3. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use 75% less energy and last about eight times longer than incandescent bulbs. Most are not dimmable and the majority still have the coil shape.

Which is best? It is a very personal choice, dependent on your views about environmental impact, the color and quality of light provided by the bulb, and the aesthetic look of the bulb (especially if it’s exposed). The good news is that your hardware store lighting shelves are bursting with options. 

Halogen Incandescent Bulbs

Above: Looks can be deceiving. The new GE Energy Efficient Halogen 43W Incandescent Lightbulbs look like the old generation of incandescents, but are 28% more efficient and are equivalent to 60 watts of the old style; $6.60 for a two-pack at Amazon.



Above: The Cree 9.5W Warm White LED Bulb is equivalent to a 60 watt bulb; it’s dimmable and gets great ratings for its light quality; $14.89 at Amazon.

Above: What about those reflector bulbs in your ceiling? The Satco S8993 11W LED Light is a warm LED flood light equivalent to a 65 watt bulb; $23.95 at 1000Bulbs.



Above: Not a fan of the coiled CFL bulb? You are not alone. The good news is that covered options, like the Satco S7291 15 Watt A-Shape CFL, are available. This bulb is a 60 watt equivalent and emits a warm white light; $5.89 at 1000 Bulbs.

Above: Made to be seen, the CFLs from Plumens are the world’s first energy-efficient designer light bulb collection. The Plumen 001 is priced at $29.95 for either the screw or bayonet fitting. Take a look at Plumen’s Latest Design coming out soon.

For more bright ideas, browse our hundreds of Lighting posts, including our recent High/Low on a modern-looking cut crystal bulb.