Michele Bachmann's Bright Idea

From the toxic right, a surprisingly healthy notion?

Compact fluorescents already make up about a quarter of new bulb sales and are likely to pick up an even bigger share of the residential-lighting market after the law takes effect. But they’re hardly the only alternative lighting technology on the market, and experts expect that in the long run, other lighting technologies will take more of a leading role.

“The CFL is a fairly mature technology by now,” says Leslie. “The price isn’t going to drop much more for them.”

Not so for other up-and-coming technologies poised to take over big chunks of the lighting market as soon as they become more affordable. Chief among these are lights that use light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

Photograph by Anton Balazh
Natural Resources Defense Council

With extremely long lives, high efficiency, programmability, and an ever more diverse range of lighting tones available, LED lights might well be the future of residential lighting. But with prices still at $30 to $40 per bulb, they’re not flying off the shelves quite yet.

Leslie expects that will change quickly.

“For a long time, compact fluorescents were pinned in the $12 to $15 range, and they didn’t make much penetration,” Leslie says. “It was only when they began to drop down to around the $8 range that people began to take notice. Now you can get them for $2. I expect LED lights will go through the same progression, and we should see the price drop significantly in the next year.”

Even with LED lighting coming of age, compact fluorescents, complete with their one to 30 milligrams each of mercury, will continue to be a big part of residential lighting.

“We’re seeing a rapid increase in the use of CFLs now,” Leslie says. “LEDs will increase, too, and eat into that, but we’re going to see a substantial number of CFLs for many years to come.”

Michele Bachmann’s efforts to stop the lightbulb regulations have failed twice, and with less than four months to go, it seems certain the new standards will go into effect, starting in January.

But though the shrill lightbulb libertarianism of Bachmann and her fellows might ignore the overall environmental benefits of efficient lighting, the complicated protocols and alarming mixed messages contained in much of the available safety literature leave home owners like Dan Perkins ambivalent about the role of CFLs in their homes.

“We still use CFLs in some parts of our house but not in lamps that can get knocked over and certainly not in our son’s room,” Perkins says. “That was just such a crazy situation. It isn’t happening again.”

« Previous Page