FAQs: New light bulb standards for California

These frequently asked questions address the new efficiency standards in California required to be met by light bulb manufacturers.

By Source: California Energy Commission January 5, 2011

Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, light bulb manufacturers will be required to meet new efficiency standards in California to save consumers money and energy. The standard, passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush, becomes effective nationwide Jan. 1, 2012. California has enacted the federal standards one year earlier to avoid the sale of 10.5 million inefficient 100-watt bulbs in 2011 that would cost consumers $35.6 million in unnecessarily higher electricity bills (Source: PG&E Case Study). By reducing energy consumption the standard will reduce air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels in power plants while producing the same quality of light as traditional incandescent bulbs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is California banning incandescent light bulbs?

No. California is implementing a new energy efficiency standard for incandescent bulbs that will save consumers money by replacing the least efficient incandescent bulbs with more efficient ones.

What is the new standard?

A former 100-watt light bulb manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2011, and sold in California will have to use 72 watts or less. The 72-watt replacement bulb will provide the same amount of light (called "lumens") for lower energy cost.

How did these regulations come about?

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) – passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush – created new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs. The law is designed to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions and make the U.S. less dependent on foreign sources of energy. The entire country will adopt this standard on Jan. 1, 2012. EISA allowed California to implement the national standard one year earlier.

Does this new standard affect existing light bulb inventory?

No, bulbs manufactured before Jan. 1, 2011, do not have to meet the new efficiency standard and may still be sold in California. The new standard does not affect the sale of light bulbs already on store shelves.

What typical wattage will I need to replace a traditional incandescent bulb?

A 72-watt incandescent halogen or 23-watt compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb will replace, and be as bright as, a traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb.

Traditional Incandescent Halogen Incandescent replacement Compact Fluorescent replacement
100 watts 72 watts 23 watts

Typically, the output of a 100-watt incandescent bulb is about 1,600 – 1,700 lumens, a measurement of lighting power. Beginning in mid-2011 new labels will be required on light bulbs. When these labels become available, simply look for a lumens rating to choose a replacement bulb.

What do the new bulbs look like?

Exactly like the old bulbs:

Why can’t I buy the bulbs I like?

You can still buy any type of light bulb you like, the only difference is that the new bulbs will use less energy and cost less money to operate while delivering the same amount of light or lumens. New, more efficient incandescent bulbs (also called energy saving halogens) and CFLs are widely available and in the near future we can expect new light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs to enter the market.

Improving energy efficiency reduces utility bills, our dependence on fossil fuels, the need to build costly new power plants, and the emissions of harmful and polluting greenhouse gases.

Newer bulbs are more efficient and make the traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb obsolete. Around 90% of the electricity used by traditional incandescent bulbs is wasted as heat instead of visible, usable light. More efficient bulbs produce the same amount of light but waste less energy in the form of heat.

How will this affect consumers?

Because the new bulbs will last longer and use less energy, California consumers won’t have to buy new bulbs as often and will save money on their energy bills, while getting the same amount of light (lumens).

What is a compact fluorescent bulb?

Compact fluorescent bulbs, also known as CFLs, contain a fluorescent tube and ballast in a single unit, and are designed to replace incandescent bulbs. A 23- to 27-watt CFL provides the same amount of light as a traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb while consuming about 75 percent less energy.

Will I have to buy a CFL bulb?

No, you do not have to buy any specific type of replacement bulb. The new standard does not favor one kind of bulb over another and consumers will be able to pick from a wide range of currently available products including incandescent halogen, CFL, and LED bulbs.

Aren’t CFLs expensive?

CFLs cost more to buy, but usually last 6 times longer and use 75 percent less energy than a comparable incandescent light bulb. Typically, more efficient bulbs will save enough energy to offset their higher purchase price within the first year of use.

Isn’t the mercury in CFLs dangerous?

CFLs are safe to use if handled and used properly. They do use very small amounts of mercury. In the event a CFL is broken, follow these clean-up steps from by the EPA. Many large retailers – including Home Depot, IKEA, and Lowe’s – will recycle CFLs bulbs for free.

What is a light-emitting diode (LED) bulb?

A light-emitting diode bulb uses a semiconductor as its light source, and may be used to replace an incandescent bulb.

What is a halogen bulb?

A halogen bulb is a type of incandescent bulb that uses gases to improve efficiency.

Do I have to replace the existing bulbs in my home or office?

Although you can start saving money on your electric bill now by replacing your inefficient incandescent bulbs with more efficient bulbs, the new standard does not affect light bulbs already in use, only those manufactured in 2011 or later. So, you do not have to throw away or stop using your working incandescent bulbs.

Does this affect all light bulbs?

No, the new standard does not affect all light bulbs. Various specialty bulbs are exempt including: 3-way bulbs, colored lights, bug lights, heavy-duty bulbs, and others.

What about 75 watt, 60 watt, and 40 watt incandescent bulbs?

Similar standards for these wattages will go into effect in California over the next few years. Those standards and their schedules are listed below:

Traditional Wattage New Maximum Wattage Lumens Implementation Date
100 72 1490-2600 January 1, 2011
75 53 1050-1489 January 1, 2012
60 43 750-1049 January 1, 2013
40 29 310-749 January 1, 2013

What is a lumen?

A lumen is a measurement of a bulb’s brightness. More lumens means a brighter bulb; fewer lumens means a dimmer bulb. This is very different from the term watts which is a measurement of how fast a bulb consumes energy. When you buy a bulb, you are looking for a particular brightness depending on whether the bulb is for a desk lamp, ceiling fan, etc. Lumens is the best way to determine whether a bulb will be bright enough to meet your needs. In most cases, lumens are already available on light bulb packaging. Beginning in summer 2011, all manufacturers will be required add a new lighting label that provides easy-to-understand information for consumers about lumens, cost to operate, and other light bulb characteristics.

Where can I find the actual standard?

The standard for light bulbs, can be found on pages 37 and 151 of the 2010 Appliance Efficiency Regulations. (PDF file, 226 pages, 1.1 MB)

Where can I get additional information?

  • The U.S. Department of Energy has a webpage that describes the national regulations. See "Lighting is Changing".
  • The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) describes the new regulations here: Lighting Options for Your Home. (PDF)
  • Bulb manufacturers and retailers are developing new websites with information to help you understand the regulations.