In 1879 Thomas Edison received a U.S. patent for a carbon filament electric light bulb that far exceeded the performance of many earlier versions created by other inventors, and the incandescent light bulb, as we know it, was January 2013 light bulbborn.  Today, over 85% of the lighting in our homes is still produced by incandescent lamps …  but, we are on the pivot point of change regarding this technology that has served us well for over 120 years.

In 2007 our legislators passed The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) establishing higher energy standards for lighting.  We are mid-point in the period which these standards must go into effect – from 2012 to 2014. The new performance standard requires that all light sources operate at a level that is minimally 25-30% more efficient than its 2008 counterpart.   It does not ban the incandescent lamp and currently more efficient versions continue to be produced; however, as these standards continue to evolve and manufacturers focus on retooling to produce better, more efficient sources of light … it’s just a matter of time before incandescent lamps will be phased out.

Fluorescent and the newer LED (light emitting diodes) technology are light sources most homeowners recognize.  Compact fluorescent lamps have slowly replaced incandescent bulbs in many homes, and eventually LED will replace fluorescent as this technology will also become dated.  As a designer of lighting systems, I find that many people hesitate to consider fluorescent and LED options for three primary reasons – flexibility, quality of light and cost.  But there is good news on all three of these fronts.

Flexibility is important to create ambience in a living space. Reducing or increasing light levels has been easy to achieve with incandescent lamps through the use of ‘dimmer’ switches.  Unfortunately this flexibility has been a challenge with fluorescent and LED, but manufacturers are working fast and furious to produce good dimmable versions of both.  Though it’s not quite here … we are on the brink!

Fluorescent and LED provide good illumination but the ‘quality’ or ‘color rendering’ has been less than desirable.  Picture the blu-ish tone of the first LED Christmas lights and then envision that throughout your home.  Not too appealing!  Fluorescent lighting is available in varying levels of color quality – from cool to warm to ‘daylight’ and several degrees between, but it hasn’t always been easy to source these lights that reproduce the warm comforting glow of incandescent lamps. This also is changing and the technology is much closer to achieving the warm quality we prefer in our homes.

The initial price of energy-efficient bulbs is higher than traditional incandescent, but the newer bulbs cost less to operate, consuming 25% to 80% less energy, so they will save you money over the life of the bulb. They also last 3 to 25 times longer than traditional bulbs so you won’t need to replace them as often – also a cost saver.

The race to create a better light bulb is ‘on’ …and it’s moving at break-neck speed.  I can hardly wait to see what technology is just around the corner!


Rebecca Gullion Lindquist, CMKBDI am a columnist for Duluth Superior Magazine, a monthly publication dedicated to the finer attributes of life in our Northland.  My column appears in the Style section and is titled ‘Living by Design’.  The following column was published January 2013.

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