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California Says Goodbye to Incandescents

California Says Goodbye to Incandescents

It’s a new year and a new you, right? Yet budgets and wardrobes aren’t the only things getting makeovers. In the new year, the household lighting options on California store shelves narrow down to CFLs or LEDs. On January 1st, 2018, California enacted new federal environmental regulations that renders commonly used incandescents obsolete. Here’s what you need to understand about this new standard of efficiency and how California’s phase out is just the beginning.

Phase Out the Originals

man signing papers

To understand this phase out we need to go back to 2007. That year former president George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act into law. Now known as EISA, this law is meant to increase the United States’ energy independence by fostering an environment to improve and increase production of renewable fuels in the country, reduce greenhouse emissions, and define efficiency standards for infrastructure, buildings, vehicles, appliances, and lighting. Specifically in regards to lighting, the law states:

“Effective beginning January 1, 2020, the Secretary shall prohibit the sale of any general service lamp that does not meet a minimum efficacy standard of 45 Lumens per Watt.” Sec. 321, 6A, Article V

This hard limit of 45 Lumens per Watt is the downfall of household incandescents and any other low efficiency bulbs. In general, a 60-Watt household incandescent averages 800 Lumens total, which translates to around 13 Lumens per Watt of energy it consumes, far below the minimum requirement. Furthermore, another proviso states that bulbs also can’t use more than 72 Watts which takes energy-sucking 100-Watt incandescents further out of the running as well. Currently, most standard incandescents and even some traditional fluorescent bulbs do not meet these minimum levels and therefore won’t continue to be sold in the U.S. California, which has always been ahead of the energy standards game, decided to enforce this requirement two years ahead of schedule. That means we get a sneak peek of what the nationwide phase out in 2020 will look like.

The Exceptions

Silver bowl bulb by Bulbrite

Silver bowl bulb by Bulbrite

Let’s be clear: The government is not banning incandescents outright. It just kind of looks that way. You won’t see thousands of incandescents being tossed into the dumpster. Instead retailers, including 1000Bulbs.com, will continue to sell incandescent light bulbs until supplies run out. Also, not every type of incandescent is included in the new standard. Specialty bulbs have been a long-running exclusion from these new efficiency rulings. So many specialty bulbs like appliance lamps, black lights, colored lights, bug lights, rough or vibration service, infrared, plant lights, 3-way bulbs, signal lamps, silver bowl bulbs, and shatter-resistant lamps will still be available after 2020, even in California.

Phase In the Alternatives

The extinction of the standard incandescents isn’t a surprise. The Department of Energy (DOE) has been raising efficiency levels since 2009, slowly and quietly phasing out T12 linear fluorescents, 100-Watt and 75-Watt incandescents, the late great 700 series T8 tubes and their 800 series siblings among others. In that time, manufacturers have developed several energy-efficient alternatives. Some halogen lamps, which are incandescents but have been redesigned to fit the new requirements, can be used to replace incandescent flood lamps. They use less power but put out more light, making them equivalent to higher wattages of incandescent without the larger power consumption. However, halogens create a lot of heat in addition to their light. This can be detrimental in some applications like your living room floor lamp or the track lights in your hallway, causing you to turn up the AC and waste energy in an effort to cool your suddenly hot house.


Compact fluorescents or CFLs, those fun, spiral-shaped bulbs, are inexpensive, generate less heat, and are small enough to fit in most of the same places your incandescents did. Since their wattages are half or even a third of incandescent bulbs, you don’t have to worry about power consumption. Yet CFLs need to be specially rated for dimmer switches and don’t work well in cold weather. You will have to look elsewhere to find bulbs for those applications.

LED bulb

Most of the advancement for alternatives has been direct towards LED bulbs. They use a fraction of the power, can potentially put out more light, and create vastly lower amounts of heat. The combination of all of those factors encourages the rapid adoption of LED lighting. Consumers have been voluntarily making the switch to LED for years now. You can get more light while using (and paying for) less energy. The fact that LEDs can last for decades and you can buy them in nearly every traditional bulb shape just sweetens the deal; everybody wins.

The initial cost of LEDs can seem discouraging, but if you think of buying LEDs as an investment, you’ll find yourself saving more money than you spent. In fact, the state of California is estimated to save $1 billion on utilities by using CFLs and LEDs. There is also a bit of a learning curve when selecting LEDs. Wattage takes a backseat with LED bulbs, instead they emphasize lumens as the benchmark of how much light is emitted. ENERGY STAR provides this handy table to help you convert your preferred incandescent wattage into the minimum lumen output for an equivalent LED.

Incandescent Wattage Minimum Lumens
25 250
40 450
60 800
75 1,100
100 1,600
125 2,000
150 2,600

Even though it’s the final curtain call for incandescents, new lighting technology ensures your lights will stay bright and your wallet a little more full. Whether you need advice while shopping for new lights or just want to know what your options are for old ones, our dedicated team of experts is only a phone call away at 1-800-624-4488.

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