You are here

Changing How You Choose Light Bulbs

July 12, 2010 - 7:30am


Last month, the Federal Trade Commission announced that light bulbs will have a brand new style of packaging, starting in 2011.

This is super exciting news! Well, all right, maybe "exciting" is a bit of a stretch, but it's certainly useful if you're thinking in terms of saving money and energy. Which is, I hope, one of the reasons people come to this blog.

Example of the Lighting Facts label.

The new form is based on a simple idea: There's an absolute ton of different kinds of lighting out there, but for most lights, the only information on the package is the wattage—the amount of power it draws. And while that's important, it doesn't tell you much about how the actual light works, or how it'll look in your house.

The new form has a lot of useful information on it, including how long you can expect your brand new light bulb to last, and approximately how much money you'll spend powering it in that time. It also includes two technical, but useful little facts on there—lumens and color temperature.

Lumens tell you how bright that bulb will be—the higher the number, the brighter the light. Color temperature is a bit more difficult to explain, though you've probably seen examples in real life. A bulb with "cold" color temperature tends to have a stark white color to it—the sort of color you get from task lights or fluorescent lights. "Warm" color temperature bulbs, on the other hand, have that soft touch of orange-yellow to them, and are probably what you have lighting most of your home.

I can already list a few times when I know that information would have come in handy for me—I remember when I bought a bunch of CFLs last year, only to discover that they were so blindingly pale white that using them for general room lighting made me sick to my stomach. (They worked far better as lamp bulbs.) I know people who have purchased halogen lights for their kitchen, just to discover that it they weren't bright enough to do the job.

Yes, research in advance could have (and should have) been the way to handle both these situations. But there's something to be said for the sheer convenience of having this information right at your fingertips, so you can compare your options side by side, without worrying that you might be getting the wrong type of bulb for the task you're looking for.

And in the end, isn't it better to make the right choice the first time than to waste money on bulbs you can't use?

Watch for the labels and further public education from the FTC in 2011. In addition, the FTC is still seeking public comments on several labeling issues, so check out the FTC's press release if you're interested.