So long 100-watt incandescent light bulbs -- California is ordering them off store shelves starting Jan. 1 in an energy-saving move.
For now at the Home Depot in Redding, Calif., the bright orange shelves carry a wide selection of light bulbs. Compact fluorescent (CFL), halogen and light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs -- the energy-efficient choices -- dominate the aisle, but some incandescent light bulbs still linger.
On Jan. 1, the 100-watt incandescent light bulb will start to be phased out in California. By the beginning of 2012, they will be gone from store shelves.
Three years ago, the federal Energy Independence and Security Act was enacted to phase out the incandescent light bulb by 2014. Australia, Ireland and Cuba have banned the bulb while many other countries are phasing them out.
California is starting its phase-out a year early because of state regulations to reduce energy consumption. Specialty lights that use less than 40 watts and more than 150 watts such as appliance lamps and three-way bulbs are exempt, but will later be required to use less energy.
"People are not educated on the simplicity of the fluorescent and incandescent," said James Hudson, the master electrical specialist at Home Depot. "It's the biggest issue. I'll start giving them a class, and they'll be like, 'Whoa! I did not know all this.'"
Fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury. When the light comes on, the mercury becomes a vapor and lights the bulb. This may take 30 seconds to a minute, the reason why CFLs can be slow to emit light.
When LEDs are switched on, electrons inside the bulb release energy that translates into light. They do not contain mercury and use up to 50 percent less energy than CFLs.
Halogens are incandescent bulbs where a gas such as iodine or bromine interacts with a tungsten filament wire, resulting in light. They are up to 20 percent more efficient than a regular incandescent bulb.
Incandescent bulbs have an inert gas such as argon or nitrogen that interacts with the metal filament wire. The temperature rises inside the bulb until it glows, therefore producing more heat than light. Because of the heat factor, more energy is being used.
With fluorescents now dominating the alternative light bulb market, some consumers are concerned about the mercury. "It's very minute in the big schemes of things, but it's still a concern," Hudson said.
Because of the mercury content, fluorescent lights must be recycled. Mercury is a strong neurotoxin and puts pregnant women and children at the greatest risk. A CFL bulb contains about five milligrams of mercury, hardly enough to cover the top of a ballpoint pen. But when millions of CFLs end up in landfills, this becomes an environmental health concern.
"The biggest complaint with customers I have is how to dispose of a fluorescent light bulb," Hudson said. Local hazardous waste centers and some hardware stores accept CFLs and recycle them.
As the new bulbs enter the market, the term "lumen" becomes more pertinent to consumers. A lumen is a measurement of light output while a watt measures power. Currently on all light bulb packages, lumens will be used in comparison to wattage to help customers replace incandescent bulbs with comparable energy-efficient counterparts.
As the 100-watt incandescent bulb fades, the energy-efficient 72-watt bulb will be the highest replacement with a range of 1,490-2,600 lumens and a minimum life of 1,000 hours.
"The consumer will still be able to use the product and have the same results to light an office, a desk lamp, a hallway. A 72- watt light bulb will still provide the same service as the old 100-watt bulb," said Adam Gottlieb, a spokesman for the California Energy Commission. "Consumers really need to know they won't see any difference. The difference they'll see is a more energy-efficient bulb."
If you replace 10 60-watt incandescent bulbs with 10 14-watt CFLs, for example, you can save $34 in energy bills in a year.
Companies such as Philips have manufactured incandescent bulbs with 30 percent improved energy efficiency mandated by law and will remain on the market during the phase out.