new light bulb labelsAs many consumers interested in saving money (and perhaps the planet) replace their incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient ones, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced new packaging rules to help them determine a bulb's true brightness.

Light bulbs have been marketed for decades according to their wattage -- but watts measure energy use, not brightness. For instance, a 23-watt compact fluorescent bulb can produce the same amount of brightness as a 100-watt incandescent bulb, rendering wattage-based labeling obsolete.

Under the new FTC rule, beginning in mid-2011, consumers shopping for light bulbs will notice new labeling on packaging designed to help them choose among the different types of bulbs on the market, be they traditional incandescent bulbs or newer high-efficiency compact fluorescent (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

The new labeling will emphasize a bulbs' brightness as measured in lumens, rather than its output in watts. The new front-of-package labels also will include the estimated yearly energy cost for the particular type of bulb. The FTC says the new packaging, which resulted from a Congressional request to re-examine current labels, will save consumers money by helping them select the most efficient bulbs to fit their lighting needs.

Under the new packaging rule, the back of each package of light bulbs will have a "Lighting Facts" label modeled after the "Nutrition Facts" label currently on food packages.

The Lighting Facts label will provide information about:
  • Brightness
  • Energy cost
  • Life expectancy
  • Light appearance (for example, if the bulb provides "warm" or "cool" light);
  • Wattage (the amount of energy the bulb uses)
  • Whether the bulb contains mercury
In addition, a bulb's brightness (measured in lumens) and a disclosure for bulbs containing mercury will also be printed directly on each bulb.

As many countries around the world have already done, new energy standards mandated by Congress will phase out traditional low-efficiency incandescent bulbs from the U.S. market during the next few years, making the new labels useful as consumers move to more energy-efficient types of bulbs.

The FTC is also seeking public comments on several issues that might be relevant to future changes to light bulb labeling requirements, such as whether new labeling requirements should be applied to candelabra bulbs. Information on how to submit public comments can be found in a Federal Register notice that will be issued by the FTC.

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