Dispelling Myths about the Federal Light Bulb Standard

The following post is a contribution from Midwest Account Manager working in support of EPA’s ENERGY STAR Program Nora Buehler, with ICF International.

News of the imminent demise of the incandescent light bulb in the U.S. marketplace is greatly exaggerated.  While the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) eventually requires that all general service lamps (i.e., light bulbs) use 60-70% less energy than today’s typical incandescent bulbs[i], the standards set by the bill are technology neutral and phase in over an 8 year period beginning January 2012—initially reducing energy use by 25% percent.[ii] Here are some misconceptions about EISA and a few facts to dispel them:

Myth #1: CFLs will be required by 2012 and incandescent will be banned

Under the new law, screw-based bulbs will be required to use less electricity (measured in watts) for the amount of light produced (measured in lumens). The table below, directly from EISA 2007 legislation, shows the new requirements that come into effect between 2012 and 2014.  The table generally corresponds from top to bottom to 100, 75, 60, and 40 watt traditional incandescent bulbs.[iii]

Rated Lumen RangesMaximum Rate WattageMinimum Rate LifetimeEffective Date
1490-2600721,000 hrs1/1/2012
1050-1489531,000 hrs1/1/2013
750-1049431,000 hrs1/1/2014
310-749291,000 hrs1/1/2014

While most of today’s CFLs already meet the 2012-2014 standards, so do a host of other traditional and emerging technologies. Incandescent bulbs that meet EISA 2012 requirements have already entered the marketplace; they are not being banned, but rather improved from an efficiency standpoint.

Myth #2:  Consumer choices will be limited…

Most major lighting manufacturers now produce 2012 EISA-Compliant incandescent light bulbs (and sell them at major retailers including Home Depot, Walmart, and Amazon). These bulbs look, feel and operate just like regular incandescent bulbs; they just do it more efficiently;[iv] CFL and LED bulbs are also available that meet or exceed the standard, offering consumers many traditional and innovative choices. And, because lighting accounts for approximately 10% of the average household’s energy bill, more efficient options will help consumers save money.  DOE estimates upgrading 15 inefficient incandescent bulbs in your home could save about $50 year; cumulatively in 2015 alone, new EISA standards could save U.S. households nearly $6 billion.[v]

Myth #3:  Residential lighting programs will no longer provide adequate savings…

Energy efficiency program sponsors, utility commissions and advisory boards may be wondering how EISA standards will affect their successful, predominantly CFL-based, lighting programs.

While programs may wish to diversify and include a range of bulb and fixture technologies, CFLs are not by default the new baseline and will continue to be an important part of the mix for providing energy savings. Recent socket penetration data from a variety of geographic regions in the United States indicate that CFLs occupy on average, a little more than 15 percent of screw-based sockets.[vi] And while changing standards affect cost effectiveness calculations, this may be offset by increased price for incandescent bulbs—so in the near term, CFL programs are likely to remain cost effective in many jurisdictions. There is still a long way to go to transform the residential lighting market—efficiency program support can continue to play an important part in capturing remaining savings.

Consumer education will also be important. For decades, consumers have been buying light bulbs based on how much energy they consume (watts), no matter how much light (lumens) they provide. FTC’s new lighting facts label is rolling out to help educate consumers about light output and operating costs. During the transition, it will be helpful to provide consumers with guidance on how many lumens to look for when replacing traditional bulbs. (DOE has posted “rule of thumb” guidance on their website).

While the new standards affect the baselines used for calculating savings, today’s ENERGY STAR qualified lighting products provide significant energy savings above EISA standards (see chart for estimated savings range). In addition, EPA recently revised the ENERGY STAR specification for luminaires (effective October 2011) and launched the specification development process for bulbs to ensure additional savings moving forward. Technology neutrality and ensuring consumers have a positive experience with energy efficient lighting are key goals for ENERGY STAR qualified lighting.

Savings with ENERGY STAR qualified lighting post EISA

Today’s Standard Lamps (Baseline) EISA Effective Dates EISA’s Intended Replacement Lamps (New Baseline) Typical ENERGY STAR  Qualified Lighting Replacement Option Savings Over the New Baseline
40 W incandescent(approx. 490 lumens)201429 W (310-749 lumens)9 – 11 W CFL  (440 – 600 lumens)18 – 20 W
60 W incandescent(approx. 840 lumens)201443 W (750 – 1049)13 – 15 W CFL  (750 – 900 lumens)28 – 30 W
75 W incandescent(approx. 1,190 lumens)201353 W (1050 – 1489)18 – 20 W  CFL (1,100 – 1,300 lumens)33 – 35 W
100 W  incandescent(approx. 1,690 lumens)201272 W (1490 – 2,600)23 – 26 W CFL  (1,600 – 1,800 lumens)46 – 49 W


[i] Effective January 1, 2020, EISA Section 312 sets minimum efficacy standard of 45 lumens per watt absent a rulemaking by the Secretary of the Department of Energy. When compared to common incandescent technology currently on the market, this represents about a 60-70% increase in efficiency.



[iv] ECOS 2011


[vi] CFL Market Profile 2010,