The Evolution of Incandescent Bulbs

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Photo: flickr/antonfomkin

Photo: flickr/antonfomkin

Perhaps you stocked up on incandescent light bulbs in December with the news that they would no longer be sold come January 1, 2014. The truth is that incandescent bulbs are alive as ever, but under a different name you may have heard in passing: halogen.

The law in question is the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which phased out light bulbs deemed as inefficient over the past three years. But manufacturers weren’t required to stop making incandescent bulbs in January; they simply needed to make these bulbs more energy-efficient.

The biggest difference you likely felt on January 1 is in short-term bulb costs. Gone are the days of $.25 light bulbs, as the energy-efficient alternatives can cost 10 to 40 times more. However, the cost you spend on the bulb itself is recouped in both annual energy savings and bulb longevity, as newer technology bulbs are designed to use less energy and last longer.

It’s also worth noting that the law does not prevent you from using incandescent bulbs in your house, or buying them while supplies last. Stores are able to stock the bulbs until supplies run out (manufacturers had to stop producing them on December 31), except in retailers like IKEA that ceased selling the bulbs several years ago.

But since halogens are now the incandescent bulb of the present, let’s compare them to the incandescent bulb of the past:

  • Halogen bulbs incorporate an additional gas element from the halogen family (those ending in “ine” on the periodic table, such as bromine or iodine), which extends the life of the filament. This leads to a longer lasting bulb.
  • Halogen bulbs get hotter than their incandescent predecessors, which helps reduce energy use but also increases the fire hazard. You want to make sure that if/when you work on a lamp with a halogen bulb, you allow the bulb to cool down before touching it. You may also find a room using halogen bulbs requires higher cooling costs.
  • Like incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs light up instantly, as opposed to the delay for fluorescents. Halogen lamps are ideally used for areas where you need instant bright light, such as spotlights. Your car’s headlights are likely halogen bulbs.

Other bulb options to consider as you explore incandescent replacements are fluorescent bulbs (such as CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). It’s important to understand that all bulbs have the potential to be “phased-out” as new technology focuses on energy-efficiency. This means higher short-term costs, but more long-term savings.

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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