Never Judge a Light by its Wattage

An announcement from the FTC last week will mark a significant change for the lighting industry.   Consumer packaging of incandescent, compact fluorescent, and LED light bulbs will be required to have a new “Lighting Facts” label.  The label will be similar to the Department of Energy’s Lighting FactsCM label, and the requirement will go into effect mid-2011.

If consumer packaging requirement changes don’t sound like a big deal to you, read on.  With this ruling, the FTC will effectively transform the way people buy light bulbs.  For years, people have purchased a light bulb largely based on number of watts.  For a super bright light, a consumer would simply buy one with a higher wattage.

With lower-efficiency bulbs like CFLs and LEDs, watts are becoming less relevant.  Technically, watts measure the amount of power consumed – not how much light it outputs.  Light output is actually measured by lumens.

The new energy efficient light bulbs bring lumens into the picture.  An LED recessed downlight uses just 11-12 watts of power, but it produces around 600 lumens of light.  That light level is the equivalent of a 40 to 60 watt incandescent.  Clearly, there’s no way to judge an energy-efficient light by its wattage.

With the new FTC ruling, consumer packaging of light bulbs will highlight lumen levels rather than watts.  Since lower-efficiency bulbs are being phased out beginning in 2012, this couldn’t come at a better time. The FTC commented on the change:

While watt measurements are familiar to consumers and have been featured on the front of light bulb packages for decades, watts are a measurement of energy use, not brightness. As a result, reliance on watt measurements alone makes it difficult for consumers to compare traditional incandescent bulbs to more efficient bulbs…

The DOE also has a Lighting Facts label, but it is more geared toward retailers, wholesalers, lighting designers, and energy efficient programs to evaluate products.  The new FTC label will be for consumers.

How quickly do you think consumers will adapt to the new labels?  Do you think this is a necessary change for energy efficient lighting?  Please comment below!

Emily Widle

Emily graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. She enjoys scouring the news to report on the latest in the lighting industry as well as bringing valuable remodeling tips and exemplar home projects to light.