Think Incandescent Light Bulbs Are Banned? Here’s a List of Exclusions!

In 2007, the US Congress passed legislation to address the efficiency of incandescent light bulbs. Many remaining 40 and 60-watt lamps will be phased out by 2014… with some exceptions!

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In the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress addressed incandescent light bulbs because they’re very inefficient compared to other bulbs – about 10% of the energy they consume is converted to light, the remaining 90% is converted to heat. Don’t assume the Act is an assault focused on light bulbs. It regulates all sorts of energy consumption, from vehicles to buildings.

Some groups, like The Heritage Foundation, have raised concerns that this type of legislation can be used to regulate virtually anything.

“Basically, anything that uses electricity or water in your home or business is subject to an efficiency regulation.”

Reading some of these articles and their comments shows there’s still questions about what’s actually regulated and|or banned. Hoarding light bulbs, especially decorative bulbs can be expensive.

The Incandescent Lamp Standards and Exclusions
The increased efficiency requirements of the legislation are what effectively ban the incandescent light bulbs because they won’t be able to meet the standards. You may have already noticed that 100-watt incandescent bulbs were phased out in 2012 and 75-watt incandescent bulbs were phased out this year (in 2013) due to the higher efficiency standards.

40 and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs that fail to meet the requirements may not be manufactured or imported beginning January 1st, 2014 so stores will not re-stock them as they run out. Although these general service incandescent bulbs are being removed from the US market, there’s still a need for all sorts of specialty incandescent bulbs that have evolved over decades to fit all kinds of light fixtures.

The federal legislation that phases out incandescent light bulbs was included in the third section (Title III) of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Subtitle B – Lighting Energy Efficiency includes Section 321 where we can find a list of incandescent light bulbs EXCLUDED from the restrictions. The list includes:

(I) An appliance lamp.

(II) A black light lamp.

(III) A bug lamp.

(IV) A colored lamp.

(V) An infrared lamp.

(VI) A left-hand thread lamp.

(VII) A marine lamp.

(VIII) A marine signal service lamp.

(IX) A mine service lamp.

(X) A plant light lamp.

(XI) A reflector lamp.

(XII) A rough service lamp.

(XIII) A shatter-resistant lamp.

(XIV) A sign service lamp.

(XV) A silver bowl lamp.

(XVI) A showcase lamp.

(XVII) A 3-way incandescent lamp.

(XVIII) A traffic signal lamp.

(XIX) A vibration service lamp.

The legislation also includes descriptions of three specially shaped lamps in its list of exclusions.

Appliances lamps (item one) and many other items like twelve, seventeen and nineteen are further defined in the language following the list of exclusions.

What About the Bulbs in Chandeliers?
Section 321 also defines “Candelabra Base Incandescent Lamps” that are commonly used in decorative fixtures like chandeliers and bathroom vanity fixtures. The definition for this term and “Intermediate Base Incandescent Lamp” follow closely after the list of exceptions above (pages 83 and 84).

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If you keep reading past the energy conservation standards, you’ll find what appears to be separate energy conservation standards for candelabra base incandescent lights and intermediate base incandescent lights on page 87: “A candelabra base incandescent lamp shall not exceed 60 rated watts.” and “An intermediate base incandescent lamp may not exceed 40 rated watts.”

So, it appears the spirit of the legislation recognizes that there are a huge number of decorative bulbs made for a broad range of fixtures, many historic. Rather than legislating these bulbs out of existence, it appears the tactic is to set an upper limit on their energy consumption (60 watts and 40 watts) so that no new “inefficient” lamps are introduced.

In Conclusion
There’s not a ban on incandescent bulbs in the United States. There are restrictions on the (in)efficiency of incandescent bulbs though manufacturers are free to develop incandescent bulbs that are efficient enough to meet the restrictions (like other types of bulbs).

It seems we can keep buying decorative lamps. If you have any concern about whether you can buy and use an incandescent bulb, just be sure there’s a plant close by so you can refer any regulators to item ten in the legislation’s list of exclusions.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Thanks!

First image from James Bowe and second image from Anton Fomkin used under a creative commons license.

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10 Responses to Think Incandescent Light Bulbs Are Banned? Here’s a List of Exclusions!

  1. Grant Terry says:

    We use 60 watt bulbs with a thermostat as freeze protection at water storage tank sites to protect SCADA transducers in insulated boxes. What other bulbs are an option without having to use heat trace tape?

    • Thanks Grant – good to hear from you. The challenge of incandescent bulbs is that they generate more heat than light. That’s why more efficient bulbs are able to generate the same amount of lumens (light) while using fewer watts. If you plan to continue using light bulbs because you’ve already got that set-up to protect your field equipment, you’re after the watts. You’ll need to find an equivalent specialty bulb (excluded from the ban) that’s also 60 watts. A 60 watt appliance bulb may be a good solution for you because you can get them in an A15 shape that will probably fit your existing light sockets.

      Another way to approach your challenge is to figure the heat the 60 watt incandescent light bulb is generating and find an equivalent amount of heat from another source like heat tape. A watt is equivalent to 3.413 BTU/hour so you’re probably getting in the neighborhood of 205 BTU/hour from the bulb. You can find wattage equivalents from heat tape manufacturers like Wrap-On though you may have to call to get the BTU/hour. You may be able to find an equivalent BTU/hour in a relatively short tape.

      The third option is to add insulation around your field equipment so you can use a lower-wattage bulb though that may be impractical.

      Hopefully, this was of some help. Please feel free to submit any follow-up questions or comments.

  2. John Christensen says:

    I work with science teachers. In a couple of labs, we use 100W or 150W 115V, clear glass incandescent bulbs (like the one shown on your web site) that are mounted in a clamp lamp. This is called the sun simulator. Are the 100W and 150W incandescent bulbs on the “banned” list in all cases? Is there a way to get them for the next 5 years or so? We use them to heat dark soil and heat the dark floor of a passive solar home. Can you recommend a workable substitute that is not banned? Thank you for your attention to this matter.

    • Thanks John – good to hear from you. The language in the law linked in the body of this blog post doesn’t specifically address particular wattages. Instead, it bans bulbs that fall in a range: not less than 310 lumens and not more than 2,600 lumens.

      The law is written so that manufacturers can develop more efficient incandescent bulbs – it doesn’t ban incandescent bulbs, it just sets efficiency standards for them. So, some incandescent bulbs may fail to meet the standard and others may pass. The efficiency of a typical incandescent bulb ranges from 11 to 22 lumens per watt. A 100 watt light bulb might produce 880 lumens so it would fall within the restrictions. However, you can buy 150-watt bulbs now that produce 2,850 lumens so they should be outside the restrictions.

      The law doesn’t say incandescent bulbs can’t be sold or used; it just says they can’t be manufactured or imported if they don’t meet the efficiency requirements. That means you can invest in a stock of available bulbs now and use them for years to come. You could also look for a similar bulb on the list of bulbs excluded from the ban. The easiest example would probably be to make use of the exclusion for 3-way incandescent bulbs. GE makes a 50-100-150-watt incandescent bulb that’s commonly available.

      You could also look at changing your light source. As an example, an infrared bulb (often used for heating) may be a possible substitute. Halogen lamps can also give off a great deal of heat – they’re used for cooking in halogen ovens. Since it seems to be heat you’re after, rather than lumens, those may be the best options since the rest of the exclusions appear to be included for specialty lighting rather than heating.

      Hopefully, this was of some help. Please feel free to submit any follow-up questions or comments.

  3. Nick says:

    Great post. The light bulb ban isn’t a ban, per se, but a set of efficiency standards. It’s possible and even likely that incandescent technology could be advanced to the point where a 40-watt bulb could output the equivalent light of an older 60-watt bulb, for instance. Same light quality, just more efficient.

    I think the problem that a lot of people have is being forced to change their entire way of thinking about light bulbs. Before, you could go with 40, 60, 75, or 100 watts and know almost exactly what you were getting. Now, you have to think lumens or the total light output of the bulb.

    Also, people haven’t been particularly happy about the quality of CFLs or the much higher price of LEDs, especially if they had had previous experiences in the past with lower-quality CFL or LED replacement bulbs.

  4. Phil Brogan says:

    I’m responsible for maintenance of a facility with chandeliers that use clear 60-watt A19 incandescent bulbs. Are the clear bulbs being phased out along with the normal frosted ones? I haven’t been able to find precise information indicating whether these bulbs will be available long-term.

    • Thanks for your question Phil – good to hear from you. Based on the information available, it sounds like the bulbs you’re using are included in those being phased out – the lack of frosting will probably not make a difference. Unless the bulbs you’re using are included in the list of exclusions (in the post above), they’ll probably be very difficult to find with any consistency. You may be able to find a bulb type (like an appliance bulb) in the list of exclusions that’s close to the bulb you need to replace. Please leave a note to let us know what solution you find!

  5. Hello, Ryan Taylor Architects : My personal objection to use of “more efficient lamps” like Flourescent bulbs is that they emit WAY TOO MUCH UV energy ! Think not ? Why else would there be so many safety concerns about so – called Tanning Booths, which are lined, top and bottom, with Flourescent Bulbs ? Instead, I exclusively use ONLY standard 40 Watt Incandescent Bulbs in all my room lights. They don’t last as long, but I think it’s well worth the trade – off ! Nancy

    • Thanks for your comment Nancy. You’ll be happy to know, if you’ve not already seen the news, researchers at M.I.T. have created an incandescent lamp (through new filament technology) that’s more efficient that LED lamps. RTA is preparing a blog post on the issue.

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