The House of Representatives voted on a repeal of the so-called “bulb ban” on July 12, 2011, but failed to reach its needed two-thirds majority, concluding with 233 members in favor of the repeal and 193 against it.

The controversial measure is part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which requires all general service lamps within a range of lumen output to be 30 percent more efficient than the standard incandescent lamps at that time. The law will go into effect beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

However, even though the original measure received bipartisan support, the issue has since been shrouded in political controversy. While the law will effectively phase out incandescent lamps as Thomas Edison designed them in 1879, it does not explicitly ban incandescent lamps.

“The law sets a minimum efficiency standard of about 30 percent for general service light bulbs. It does not ban any technology from being used to meet that standard,” said Joseph Higbee, director, marketing and communications, National Electrical Manufacturers Association. 

He said there are three technologies on the market that meet these standards: incandescent, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). 

Higbee recommended that contractors educate customers about the difference between lumens and watts and that power usage does not effectively mean light output anymore. He said some of the new incandescent lamps produce the same light output but use approximately 30 percent less power. Similarly, CFLs and LEDs achieve the same light output while using about 75 percent less power. He said contractors’ customers will benefit by saving money.

Cost is a concern, however, and while the new energy-efficient lamps pose greater upfront costs, they claim to save money in energy expenses over the life of the lamp. According to NEMA, the average American household will save $143 on electric bills.

“There are two costs to a light bulb,” Higbee said, “the purchase price and the cost of the energy to power the bulb. There are three technologies available, each offering a different cost benefit—incandescent, CFL and LED. People are able to choose which technology to purchase after weighing the initial cost and long-term energy cost. It would be important to include the lifetime rating of the bulb when analyzing a purchase from a cost perspective.”

Regardless, the lighting portions of the Energy Independence and Security Act remain intact, and the nation is moving toward a future that, all things considered, will be just as bright but more efficient.