Phasing Out the Inefficient Incandescent Light Bulb

As the U.S. phases out incandescent light bulbs, we look back at the light of our lives, and look forward to new generations of CFLs and LEDs.

As light bulb efficiency standards phase in between 2012 and 2014, we’ll start bidding goodbye to Edison’s classic. The incandescent era is giving way to the compact fluorescent (CFL) generation, which lower energy costs by 75%, burn 10 times longer, and are more expensive. LED lights are likely to become popular as well; they can last for an average of 100,000 hours — 10 times as long as a CFL and 130 times as long as an incandescent bulb.

Manufacturers can still produce incandescent bulbs, so long as those bulbs are more energy-efficient versions of the old standard. Many have already retooled their production lines to make more efficient bulbs.

As a tribute to the former light of our lives, we’ve pulled together a little quiz on the old bulbs. It’s our way of saying farewell, old friend: It’s been great to glow you.

Q. Who invented the incandescent light bulb?

A. Likely, you’ll guess Thomas Alva Edison. But German watchmaker Henricg Globel was the inventor of the first bulb in 1854. Edison, in 1879, was the first to place a carbon filament in an oxygen-less bulb that burned for 40 hours.

Q. How many light bulb facts can we squeeze into one sentence?

A. Let’s see…

Edison tested more than 1,600 materials to find the right filament, including coconut fiber, fishing line, and hair from a friend’s beard, finally finding success with carbonized bamboo that burned for 14.5 hours and eventually evolved to the incandescent bulb that today burns 1,000 hours, accounting for 10% to 20% of a home owner’s total energy bill, which is one reason the U.S. government in 2007 decided to ban incandescent bulbs in 2014.

That was 10. And we’re just getting started.

Q. How many light bulb jokes does it take…?

A. Incandescent light bulb jokes became popular in the 1960s as a way to poke fun at cultures, beliefs, and occupations. The original seems to be:

Q.  How many (insert group to stereotype) does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Ten. One to hold the light bulb, and 9 to turn around the ladder.

Among our favorites:

Q. How many bureaucrats does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A. Two. One to assure everyone that everything possible is being done while the other screws the bulb into the water faucet.

Q. How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?

A. One. But the light bulb must really want to change.

Q. What’s so great about CFLs?

A. A compact fluorescent light bulb can burn up to 10,000 hours and produces less heat than incandescent light bulbs, making it more efficient. A 13-watt CFL produces the same light as a 60w incandescent bulb. According to Energy Star, each CFL can prevent more than 400 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime.

Q. What’s the lowdown on LEDs?

A. Light-emitting diodes are even more efficient than CLFs and light-years from incandescent bulbs. LEDs use only 2 to 10 watts of electricity and lose only 10% of energy to heat: 90% goes to light. Here’s the kicker: LED light bulbs can burn more than 100,000 hours.