Residential Lighting

New Lighting Label Aids Educated Light Bulb Buying

The Federal Trade Commission’s Lighting Facts Label can help consumers make better informed choices when purchasing light bulbs

By Craig DiLouie, LC

What you need to know:

  • Energy legislation is eliminating common household incandescent lamps
  • Consumers have choice of halogen, LED and compact fluorescent
  • With different wattages, making the right choice can be confusing
  • The Federal Trade Commission established a standard label for bulb packaging
  • The label reveals light output, estimated annual energy cost, service life, color temperature, wattage and whether the product contains mercury
  • This at-a-glance view of key metrics allows easy evaluation and comparison
FTC lighting label

The new Lighting Facts Label includes key metrics that inform buyers about their light bulb purchases. Image by Federal Trade Commission.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 created new energy standards for incandescent and halogen light screw-in light bulbs, or “lamps” (the industry term for light bulbs). As these new standards go into effect in 2012, 2013 and 2014, people will be forced to make new buying decisions.

Currently, most people buy household lamps according to their wattage—100 watt, 75 watt, 60 watt, etc. But these wattages are going away. On January 1, 2012, for example, 100-W incandescent screw-base lamps had to become about 30% more efficient or they could no longer be manufactured or imported in the U.S. While lower-wattage incandescent lamps will still be available after the new standards go into effect, consumers can also choose from a variety of other lamp types, including halogen, LED and compact fluorescent, or CFL.

Better Bulb Buying

Changing energy standards and new lamp options don’t have to mean confusion for consumers. So, how can you tell which lamp is right for a given room? To help consumers evaluate their choices, the Federal Trade Commission created mandatory labels that manufacturers must put on packaging for common household screw-in, reflector and three-way lamps.

The Lighting Facts label, which is similar to the Nutrition Facts labels found on many food items in supermarkets, focuses on light output (what the label terms “brightness”) as the primary measure. Unlike wattage, which measures how much electric power a lamp uses, light output measures how much light a lamp produces.

Typical incandescent light output ratings include 1,700 lumens (for a 100-W lamp), 1,200 lumens (75-W lamp), 850 lumens (60-W lamp) and 500 lumens (40-W lamp). So if you enjoy the amount of light produced by a 100-W lamp, you should look for an energy-efficient lamp that produces about 1,700 lumens. Looking at lumens, we can easily find examples of compliant alternatives such as a 72-W halogen lamp, 23-W compact fluorescent lamp and 27-W LED replacement lamp.

Other Important Facts

The Lighting Facts label also lists other lighting data, including:

Estimated annual energy cost: This is based on the lights being on three hours per day at an average electric cost of $0.11/kWh, the national average residential electric rate in 2009. Your actual cost, of course, will depend on your actual use and electric rate, but this value on the label provides a useful way to compare energy costs between different lamps.

Rated service life:This metric, which measures the lifetime of the lamp, is based on the lamp being on three hours each day.

Light appearance: This tells whether the lamp and its light has a warm (orangish-white), neutral (white) or cool (bluish-white) color appearance. Most Americans prefer warm light in living spaces and cool light in utility and work spaces.

Input watts: This expresses the amount of electric power needed to operate the lamp.

The label may also carry the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR quality mark, meaning that the compact fluorescent or LED lamp meets certain performance criteria while also saving energy. If the lamp is a compact fluorescent, it will also notify the buyer that it contains mercury and will instruct him or her to go to to learn more about safe clean up and disposal.

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