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New Light Bulbs Last Forever

Shopping for light bulbs used to be as easy as choosing between 60 and 75 watts. But in January, when new government regulations under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 take effect, you might find yourself confused by new choices. The regulations mandate greater efficiency in light bulbs, which should result in lower electric use. Packaging will carry information about energy use, the color of the light and how many lumens (brightness) each bulb emits.

In an effort to unravel the new rules, I headed to my local hardware store where the owner, Chuck McCormack explained that incandescent bulbs, the ones most commonly used, are not being outlawed, just made more efficient. Starting in January, 100-watt bulbs must generate the same amount of light but use only 72 watts of electricity. "The only thing my customers ask right now," McCormack says, "Is 'how much longer can I buy regular bulbs?'" He says the rumor that incandescent bulbs will be banned after next year is not true. The new rules will extend to 75-watt bulbs in 2013 and to 60- and 40-watt bulbs in 2014.

The most commonly used light bulb -- the incandescent -- is inexpensive but surprisingly inefficient. Most of the energy output is heat, not light. The three main alternatives to incandescent bulbs are halogen-incandescent, compact fluorescent ( CFL ) and light-emitting diodes ( LED ).

Halogens are the most similar to incandescent, both in the way they distribute light and in the type of light they emit. They are about 25 percent more efficient than incandescent. CFLs are 75 percent more efficient, and the new generations of CFLs now feature warmer tones. Many are dimmable, too.

Industry experts say the future of lighting lies in LED bulbs, which are the most energy efficient of them all. The bulbs contain silicone chips that throw light in one direction, which makes them ideal for specific tasks, such as lighting artwork or in the kitchen. LED bulbs last thousands of hours, but for now they come with a hefty price tag.

McCormack says his most popular seller is a 75-watt indoor flood that lasts for 1,500 hours and costs $7. An LED bulb with the same amount of lumens costs $20 but it lasts 20,000 hours and uses only 10 percent of the electricity. "The upfront cost is higher," he says, "But the light is fantastic and the bulb lasts forever."

Have you started exploring new light bulbs?

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