After over a century of illumination, incandescent light bulbs’ impact on American life is finally dimming. On August 1, a long-planned ban on most old-fashioned filament bulbs went into effect as part of regulators’ ongoing efforts to transition society towards a greener, sustainable future. Going forward, the vast majority of light bulbs must produce at least 45 lumens (a measure of brightness) per watt of electricity. Almost all filament options aren’t up to the task, meaning consumers will continue upgrading to far more energy-saving LED products.
There are a few exceptions to the new rule—mainly for items such as bug lights, ovens, and other home appliances. According to the Department of Energy, Americans are estimated to save over $3 billion on utility bills thanks to incandescent bulbs’ retirement. The new standards are also expected to reduce US carbon emissions by as much as 222 million metric tons over the next three decades—almost as much as 28 million homes generate every year. Apart from their energy conservation, LED bulbs also last between 25 and 50 times longer than their incandescent counterparts, dramatically reducing the amount of physical trash generated from lighting.
Congress first approved the years’ long industry shift in 2007 during the George W. Bush administration. In 2012, the plan’s first phase went into effect, requiring all new bulbs to use 28 percent less energy than existing incandescent options. The second phase was originally scheduled to begin in 2020, but was sidelined by the Trump administration as part of its over 100 environmental regulation rollbacks.
At this point, however, incandescent lighting’s phaseout is more symbolic than anything else—as The New York Times reported on Tuesday, most manufacturers and retailers have been cutting inefficient products for years in anticipation of the new efficiency standards. Meanwhile, LED bulbs have rapidly risen in popularity as their costs drop precipitously. According to the DOE’s most recent Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), almost half of all US homes now use LED products for most or all indoor lighting—a stark increase from just 4 percent of house owners in 2015. Meanwhile, incandescent and halogen bulb usage almost halved between 2015 and 2020 from 31 percent to just 15 percent. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) estimates that only a fifth of light bulb sales were incandescent products as of last year.
America’s lighting shift is long overdue, according to environmentalists. Europe enacted its own incandescent ban over a decade ago in 2012, and aims to kill off potentially toxic fluorescent lights as early as next month.