The New LED Laws for 2023: Understanding the US Ban on Incandescent Light Bulbs

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A hallway with a houseplant and a flushmount light.
Dala LED Flushmount by Francesca Smiraglia for kdln 

Residential and commercial design in 2023 will see new regulations and standards for light bulb uses by the middle of the year. In April 2022, President Biden’s Energy Department passed two new rules that set stricter energy efficiency for light bulbs. Essentially, these new standards will phase out the sale of most new incandescent bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient LED bulbs

Update: The federal ban on incandescent light bulbs took effect on August 1, 2023.

A Matter of Efficiency 

Although incandescent bulbs are the dominant light bulb in use, they are actually incredibly inefficient at converting energy into light. Less than 5% of the energy put into an incandescent bulb is converted into visible light—the remainder is lost as heat. For comparison, an incandescent bulb produces just 16 lumens per watt (lm/W), whereas compact fluorescent bulbs produce 60 lm/W and some LED lamps produce a whopping 150 lm/W. A 2007 study by Professor Peter Lund of the Helsinki University of Technology found that the heat from incandescent bulbs makes it more difficult to cool rooms and buildings that use air conditioning, and conversely, the heat from incandescent bulbs is so inefficient that it’s better to use a home heater than rely on bulbs to heat the space. With this and the looming effects of climate change in mind, it becomes clear why the move away from incandescent bulbs to energy-efficient LEDs is paramount. 

The New Rules 

In September 2019, the Energy Department under President Trump announced a repeal of new energy standards that were set to go into effect on January 1, 2020. In April 2022, the Energy Department under President Biden passed two new rules, reversing the Trump decision. The first rule expands the definition of general service lamps (GSLs) and the second rule bans the sale of incandescent bulbs that produce less than 45 lm/W, effectively banning the sale of new incandescent bulbs. 

The new standards are estimated to save Americans a collective $3 billion in energy costs per year. These rules could also prevent 222 million tons of carbon pollution over the next 30 years—the equivalent of what 48 million vehicles emit in a year. 

Although the rules have already taken effect, the Energy Department will allow the import of inefficient incandescent bulbs through January 2023, while American retailers may still sell them through July 2023.

The full ban takes effect in August. 

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