New Lighting Labels

— Written By Trudy Pickett and last updated by

Much has changed in the area of lighting, including how consumers purchase light bulbs. In the past, consumers bought bulbs based on watts. The more the watts, the brighter the light would
 be. Wattage is not a measure of brightness, however. Instead, wattage is a measure of the amount of energy used to power the bulb. The higher the watts, the more energy used. New energy efficient lighting has changed our approach to purchasing because new bulbs use considerably fewer watts (energy) to create light. The amount of watts used for newer bulbs does not indicate the amount of light provided by the bulb. Understandably, this change has led to confusion among consumers about how to purchase the right bulb for the preferred amount of light.

The new way to purchase light bulbs is not by how much energy is used (watts) but, instead, by how much light is emitted from the bulb. How much light a bulb provides is measured by lumens. The higher the number of lumens, the greater amount of light output. For example, a 100-watt bulb produces 1600 lumens and a 40-watt bulb produces 450 lumens.

In addition to light output (lumens) on the label, there are a number of other items for consumers to consider when purchasing bulbs.

To help consumers even more, the Federal Trade Commission has created a new packaging label for light bulbs. This is designed much like nutrition package labels and it provides valuable information for consumers on brightness, average yearly costs of using the bulb, life expectancy of the bulb, light appearance, watts used and whether or not the bulb contains mercury. Look for these words on the new lighting labels:

Brightness: This refers to the amount of light output. The higher the number of lumens, the greater the light output.

Estimated Yearly Energy Cost: This monetary figure is based on a specific number of hours used at an average cost of electricity. This number is an estimate. It may increase or decrease depending upon the amount of time the bulb is in use and the cost of electricity in the user’s location.

Energy Star: The Energy Star logo will appear on the label if the bulb has earned this rating. Not all bulbs will meet this standard.

Life Expectancy: This number is an indication of how long the bulb should last if used for a specific period of time each day. As with costs, this is an average and the number will change based on actual use.

Light Appearance: This information is expressed as a number with a K behind it. This number stands for Kelvin (named after Lord Kelvin, a nineteenth century Scottish physicist who developed the Kelvin Scale for temperature measurement), and relates to the color temperature of the bulb. The lower the number, the warmer the light color produced. The higher the number, the cooler the light produced. To help put light color and temperature into perspective, candlelight is near 1800K, a 75 watt incandescent 
is around 2800K, a cool white around 3500-4000K, an overcast sky is near 6000K, and a clear sky is 10,000K and above.

Energy Used: This information tells consumers the amount of energy (measured in watts) the bulb uses when in operation.

Contains Mercury: If the bulb contains mercury, it will
be clearly stated on the label. Additionally, the label will provide information on where consumers can find out more about clean up and disposal of these bulbs.

Source: N.C. Cooperative Extension, NC State University