Read the Label

By Craig DiLouie | Jan 15, 2012




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Common household lamps (light bulbs) now carry uniform labeling to facilitate educated decisions focusing on light output and energy costs, not watts, helping consumers transition to more efficient lamp types.

People typically purchase traditional incandescent lamps based on wattage. Energy-efficient lamps—such as compact-fluorescent (CFL), light-emitting diode (LED) replacement and energy-saving general-service screw-in halogen lamps—compete with lower wattages, while providing a range of ratings for light output, rated life and color appearance. As common household incandescent lamps start to be phased out starting this month (Jan. 1, 2012) (100 watts), 2013 (75W) and 2014 (40–60W), consumers need to make informed choices about what substitutions are right for their sockets.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which imposed higher energy standards on incandescent lamps, also required the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to consider current labeling requirements and alternative approaches, resulting in new requirements under the Appliance Labeling Rule (16 CFR Part 305).

The result is the Lighting Facts label, similar to the Nutrition Facts labels found on many food items. For examples, visit The Lighting Facts label covers various components of lamps.

• Brightness is the amount of light the lamp produces. It is measured in lumens. Technically, this is luminous flux, or light output, not “brightness,” but research indicated consumers preferred the term, so the FTC kept it. Common lumen ratings for incandescent lamps include 1,700 (100W), 1,200 (75W), 850 (60W) and 500 (40W). To compare the relative efficiency of lamps, we would take light output divided by wattage, which is efficacy, similar to the miles-per-gallon metric for comparing automobile efficiency.

• Energy cost: The estimated annual energy cost based on three hours of operation per day at an electric rate of $0.11 per kilowatt-hour (kWh)—the national average residential electric rate in 2009 (an average that will be updated every five years). The label states that the consumer’s real cost will depend on actual use and electric rate.

• Rated life is estimated lamp life based on three hours per day of operation.

• Light appearance is the lamp’s color temperature and placement on the white light color spectrum from warm to cool color appearance. Light sources are generally classified as “cool,” or bluish-white (greater than 4,000K); “neutral,” or white (3,000K–4,000K); and “warm,” or orangish--white (less than 3,000K). Typical incandescent lamps are visually warm (less than 3,000K).

• Input watts is the amount of electric power required to operate the lamp.

In addition, if the lamp is compact-fluorescent or LED, the label may include the Energy Star mark if the product meets the applicable Environmental Protection Agency criteria. If the lamp is compact-fluorescent, the label will also notify the buyer that the product contains mercury and to visit to learn more about cleanup and safe disposal.

The new labeling rules went into effect in mid-2011, but manufacturers were granted an extension until the end of the year, as they needed more time to comply. Lamp packaging will carry partial information on the front—lumens and estimated annual energy cost—and the complete Lighting Facts label on the side or rear. The labeling requirements cover general-service screw-in, reflector and three-way lamps.

This simple label is important because it enables consumers to easily compare products based on the most important metrics—how much light does the lamp provide and how much will it cost to operate each year at a given kilowatt-hour rate. While basic critical information is included, the Lighting Facts label does not tell the whole story about the product, however, such as whether it is dimmable and, if so, with what types of dimmers.

Contractors familiar with the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Lighting Facts label used on LED replacement lamps ( may find them to be very similar. In fact, they are nearly identical, with some notable differences. For example, the DOE label provides color rendering index (CRI) rating and efficacy (lumens per watt) while omitting expected life. The FTC label is mandatory, intended for all medium screw-base lamps and is oriented to consumers, while the DOE label is voluntary, applies to solid-state lighting products (both replacement lamps and lighting fixtures) and is oriented to retailers, utilities and lighting professionals. The FTC does not verify reported data, while data on the DOE label, based on the IES-LM-79 2008 standard, is verified as part of the product’s registration. The DOE no longer encourages its label on replacement lamp packaging, but the label may still be found in manufacturer marketing materials and specification sheets.

As the common household 40–100W incandescent lamp is phased out over the next two years, consumers will enjoy a broad range of choice among more efficient lamps, from halogen to CFL to LED. The new labeling will help them make more educated choices and may help contractors as well.

DILOUIE, L.C., a lighting industry journalist, analyst and marketing consultant, is principal of ZING Communications. He can be reached at

About The Author

DiLouie, L.C. is a journalist and educator specializing in the lighting industry. Learn more at and

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