Bright Idea: Better Light Bulb Labeling Ahead

Starting in 2011, light bulbs will be labeled with brightness and cost to operate, making it easier to comparison shop.

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The Federal Trade Commission announced last week that, starting in mid-2011, light bulb labeling will no longer be just about watts (a measure of how much electricity a bulb uses) and will include lumens as well (a measure of how much light a bulb puts out).

The change will affect all types of bulbs: incandescents, compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The new labels will also include estimated average annual energy usage, expressed not just in energy consumption but in dollars and cents, as well as a bulb’s estimated useful life.

Under direction from Congress to re-examine the current labels, the FTC announced the new labeling as a “final rule,” meaning the new labels will start showing up next year, absent any changes resulting from public feedback.

The new labeling proposal stems from a desire to make it easier to compare different types of light bulbs. For decades, the only choice was incandescent, so the “watts” label was sufficient to make apples-to-apples comparisons of different bulbs. However, with the introduction and growing acceptance of more efficient technologies, the FTC wants to make it easier for consumers to compare the amount of light offered by LEDs, CFLs and incandescent bulbs, as well as the cost to operate each.

Lighting Facts Per BulbHere’s what the FTC’s press release has to say:

Under the new rule, the back of each package of light bulbs will have a “Lighting Facts” label modeled after the “Nutrition Facts” label that is currently on food packages. The Lighting Facts label will provide information about:

  • Brightness.
  • Energy cost.
  • The bulb’s life expectancy.
  • Light appearance (for example, if the bulb provides “warm” or “cool” light).
  • Wattage (the amount of energy the bulb uses).
  • Whether the bulb contains mercury.

The bulb’s brightness, measured in lumens, and a disclosure for bulbs containing mercury will be printed on each bulb. A sample of a mercury bulb labels appears below:

New Back Label for Bulbs Containing Mercury

If you think this new labeling will be illuminating, expect to start seeing it in about a year. But if you think the folks at the FTC aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box, now’s the time to comment on the proposed change. Information on how to submit public comments can be found here.

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