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Era of incandescent bulbs near end

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Light bulbs are on sale on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, in Home Depot in East Liberty.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Light bulbs are on sale on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, in Home Depot in East Liberty.

At Eiler's Hardware store in Verona, some customers make it a habit to grab a couple extra packages of incandescent light bulbs.

“They'll buy two or three packages every time they come in,” said co-owner Sue Eiler. “A lot of them don't like the new, little curly bulbs. They don't like the brightness, the color ...

“Pittsburgh people just don't like change.”

Like it or not, change is coming. And that means Thomas Edison's iconic incandescent light bulb will become a memory.

Federal lighting efficiency standards, enacted in 2007 and signed by then-President George W. Bush, call for the gradual phase-out of incandescents in favor of more efficient bulbs. Consumers still can use them and retailers can sell off stock, but manufacturers no longer can produce them.

The phase-out began in 2012 when production of 100-watt bulbs ended. This year, manufacturers quit making 75-watt bulbs.

In the coming year, the era of 40- and 60-watt bulbs — the most popular — will come to an end.

“Some customers don't care,” Eiler said. “Some of them care a lot.”

And some — many, in fact — are simply unaware: Nearly 60 percent of Americans don't know that the phase-out begins Jan. 1, according to the sixth annual “socket survey” by lighting company Osram Sylvania.

The survey also found that 30 percent of consumers plan to stock up on incandescent bulbs while they are available.

Mick Witenski of Moon stocked up on 100-watt bulbs two years ago and, to a lesser extent, the 75-, 60- and 40-watt bulbs. He did so because they're cheap, he said, and switching out every bulb in his house would be expensive.

Home Depot sells a dozen incandescent bulbs for $5 or $6, compared with $8.97 for a single, dimmable 60-watt LED bulb.

“There will be families that will face difficult financial decisions when the cheaper up front cost of an incandescent is no longer an option,” Witenski said in an email exchange. “What will they have to take off the grocery list to make up the additional cost?”

Robert Jackson, the Ohio Township Home Depot's electrical department supervisor, said some customers embrace the regulations and others denounce it.

“I get everything from people in the aisle complaining that this is an outrageous government intrusion into our lives, to those who like the changes,” Jackson said.

The phase-out begins New Year's Day, but retailers believe they will have incandescent bulbs in stock for several months.

“At least,” Jackson said. “When the 100-watts were phased out, we had them in stock for six months.”

Once they're gone, consumers will have to choose from more efficient CFL and LED bulbs. The law exempts specialty incandescent bulbs, including 3-ways, reflectors, appliance bulbs and some decorative lights.

Jackson believes consumers will come around once they experience firsthand the efficiency of the new bulbs.

“An incandescent bulb is maybe 4 percent efficient — in what other aspect of our lives would we stand for that?” he said. “I tell customers, ‘You need to think life cycle.' An LED is really cheaper than an incandescent when you consider it will outlive 30 regular bulbs and use much less electricity.”

Yet, politicians such as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., loathe the phase-out. In 2011, she introduced the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, which would have repealed the law. It was not enacted, but she used the issue as a talking point throughout her failed presidential campaign that year.

“I think Thomas Edison did a pretty patriotic thing for this country by inventing the light bulb,” she said at one event. “If you want to buy Thomas Edison's wonderful invention, you should be able to.”

You still can.

Just not for long.

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or

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