Are Edison bulbs banned?

Are Edison bulbs banned by the new law which is phasing out incandescent light bulbs in the United States? Edison bulbs are of course incandescent bulbs, so will they continue to be available in the U.S.?

The short answer is that there are some forms which will still be legal, and some which may disappear.

Edison bulbs with candelabra bases, tube shaped bulbs, and globe shaped lights larger than 5 inches are exempted from the law. The rest may disappear, so stock up now.

Why Ban Incandescent Light Bulbs?

The ban on incandescent bulbs isn’t a ban on incandescent bulbs at all actually. I’ll come back to that shortly. The law is called the Energy Independence and Security Act 2007. The stated goal of the Act is:

To move the United States toward greater energy independence and security, to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers, to increase the efficiency of products, buildings, and vehicles, to promote research on and deploy greenhouse gas capture and storage options, and to improve the energy performance of the Federal Government, and for other purposes.

In order to move toward greater energy independence, this act calls out new efficiency standards for everything from vehicles to renewable fuels, household appliances, residential boilers, electric motors, battery chargers, and of course light bulbs.

The cause of energy independence seems admirable enough. Although for reasons of complex global relationships it’s very unlikely that the U.S. would provide itself with 100% of it’s own energy even it could. So maybe there’s another ulterior cause.

In reading the Act, it provides millions of dollars for the development of new more energy efficient technologies. In an industry where many technologies have stagnated, this is an opportunity to re-energize (pun intended). Clearly this benefits researchers and manufacturers of nearly anything electrical. This could, and should, mean more jobs and the development of new technologies.

Back to the comment about this not being a ban on incandescent light bulbs. The Act requires certain efficiency standards for light bulbs, and especially focuses on the ‘general service incandescent lamp’ – the typical light bulb. The reason that the once-standard filament light bulb is affected is that the technology does not meet the new requirements, at least in today’s implementation. Halogen lamps are also considered incandescent and that technology can meet the standards, by the way. If the filament bulb can not meet the light output required at given power consumption (lumens per watt), then it will be banned by this Act. (see our article on Edison bulb brightness if this doesn’t make sense)

What’s Next for the Light Bulb Industry?

So how can the incandescent bulbs which provide 85% of the lighting in American homes be saved? It’s apparent that they won’t. In fact there has been a surge of sales for incandescent bulbs by people stockpiling them to avoid the ‘dark days’ ahead.

It’s possible that the greatest minds in the lighting industry have studied this problem and resigned themselves to the fact that the technology just isn’t efficient enough. In fact, did you know that filament light bulbs primarily give off heat energy – the light is a secondary use of the energy they consume? They are really just small heaters which happen to glow very well.

Another possibility is that light bulb manufacturers would like to use the government funding to develop a new lighting technology and sell everyone a new light bulb for every one they have. Light bulb sales are likely pretty flat since the market is mature. At best, they follow the new home market which hasn’t been that strong of late.

It’s probably a mix of the two – the technology was developed in a time when conserving natural resources wasn’t a big concern so is now dated, and businesses must grow.

Are All Incandescent Light Bulbs Banned?

There is reason that the future of the Edison bulb may be bright. Within the Act, there are several exemptions. There are 22 types of incandescent bulbs which are not covered by the law. The exempted bulbs are:

Appliance bulbsRough-service lamps
Black light bulbsShatter-resistant lamps
Bug lampsSign service lamps
Colored lampsSilver bowl lamps
Infrared lampsShowcase lamps
Left-handed thread lamp3-Way incandescent lamps
Marine lampsTraffic signal lamps
Marine signal service lampsVibration service lamps (ceiling fan bulbs)
Mine service lamps“G” shaped lamps with a diameter of 5” or more
Plant light lamps“T” shaped lamps less than 40 Watts and longer than 10”.
Reflector lamps (although another section of the law applies to these)“AB”, “BA”, “CA”, “F”, “G16-1/2”, “G-25”, “G30”, “S”, and “M-14” lamps which are 40 Watts or less

The best opportunity for Edison bulbs is in the exemptions for specific shapes and bases.

The “CA” and “F” shape bulbs are candelabra bulbs. Edison bulbs with a candelabra base and the flame or torpedo shaped bulbs are not affected by the Act.

The “G” shaped bulbs are the globe-shaped bulbs. They must be 5” or larger to be exempted, but globe shaped Edison bulbs exist today.

The “T” shaped bulbs are the tube-shaped bulbs. The “T” designation includes both the fluorescent tube, with connecters at both ends, and the screw-base tube which you can buy Edison bulbs in today.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 does allow for another type of exemption. If the market for a particular bulb is growing rapidly, anyone can petition the government for that type to be exempted from the law. The criteria in terms of numbers are not outlined. While Edison bulbs are a fairly recent trend and the market is likely growing, it’s unlikely that it’s significant enough for any of the bulb manufacturers to pick up this cause and petition for an exemption of Edison bulbs.

The standard light bulb which many of us grew up with will become a thing of the past. Incandescent and Edison bulbs banned forevermore. Lawmakers had the foresight to make exemptions for certain applications. It’s regrettable that an exemption for a category of “decorative” bulbs wasn’t made. Edison bulbs can continue to be manufactured and imported, but the selection will be reduced to some certain bulb shapes. If manufacturers don’t see a big enough market for those, they may choose to discontinue their production. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

In the meantime, stock up on the Edison bulbs banned by the law: