What a Bright Idea

The light bulb has become a staple of our daily lives and a classic design permeating media and art from cartoons to canvas, but with the new energy bill the president signed today, the familiar incandescent bulb will be phased out beginning in 2012.

For firms that keep the lights burning throughout the day and night, that could eventually mean a lower electricity bill, but it also could mean additional upfront costs while converting to new bulbs.

Bill Prindle, energy expert and deputy director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said small firms shouldn't fret too much.

He's heard a lot of concern expressed about the cost of future light-bulb technology, but said businesses should expect to see "in a short period of time that standard products in the [industry] will tend to come down."

The more energy-efficient choice on the market is the compact fluorescent light bulb, or CFL, and it costs about $3 a bulb versus less than a dollar for an incandescent. However, a CFL can last up to five years instead of just a few months and it uses about 75 percent less energy.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program offers a free online resource addressing ways small firms can become more energy efficient.

The electric industry has been working on alternatives to CFLs. Other current options include the LED bulbs, which are more efficient than both incandescents and CFLs. However, they can cost upward of about $40 per bulb at a big-box store like Home Depot.

"[The new law] sets no technology limitations on what can go into the light-bulb sockets," notes Prindle. "[The new technologies] just need to meet certain lighting performance standards and lighting makers were quite adamant in their discussions over the bill that they had to sell products that would be affordable."

But CFLs contain a significantly higher amount of mercury. So for those of you congratulating yourself for helping the environment in making the switchover, think again before you toss a CFL in the trash can.

The EPA offers a map listing facilities in each state that accept light bulbs for recycling.

Local health food shop My Organic Market accepts old CFLs. They have a handful of locations throughout Maryland and Virginia.

Small Business readers: Do you have other suggestions where a small business can recycle old incandescents and CFLs?

By Sharon McLoone |  December 20, 2007; 8:00 AM ET Regulation Legislation , Tools and Tips
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Comments

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While they mentioned the good points about CFLs and a couple of the bad, they left out the fact that in rooms where the lights are turned on and off often or where it can get cold, the life of the CFLs decrease quite a bit negating the savings. How the light produced is not as good as the bulbs now being used and evening bothering some people.

Also I don't like the government forcing me to buy something and then saying I have to do special things to discard them. If I choose to buy something that is a different story, I will do the extra but only when I chose it not the government.

Posted by: RCHayes | December 24, 2007 10:08 AM

I think we deserve advice regarding the negatives of cfl's. Particularly how *much* are the 'savings' diminished or negated by using them in locations where, say, the light is only on for 15 or 45 minutes. We need a little science here.

Posted by: Danno | January 4, 2008 2:11 PM

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