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Originally published Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 10:03 PM

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Money tip: Energy-efficient lighting is financially efficient

Chicago Tribune

How many tips does it take to change a light bulb?

A few more, apparently.

Despite avid media coverage and education campaigns by the government and environmental groups, consumers still aren't flocking to newer, energy-efficient light bulbs.

Even in states with long-running and well-funded programs to promote compact fluorescent lamps, only 20 percent of household sockets contain those bulbs, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Sales of CFLs peaked in 2007 and have declined since, the report says.

But a switch could be good for your wallet. And besides, you won't have much choice soon.

A federal law passed in 2007 requires manufacturers to make light bulbs that emit the same brightness using less energy.

Traditional incandescent bulbs can't do that, so they'll effectively be dropped from production over the next few years.

As a consumer, you can continue using incandescents, but eventually you won't be able to buy any more unless it's a specialty bulb.

A phase-in of the new rules starts next January with 100-watt bulbs. That's news to a lot of people.

Just 20 percent of consumers know about the 100-watt bulb's impending extinction, according to a recent survey by lighting manufacturer Osram Sylvania.

Some consumers aware of the coming change — 13 percent — plan to stock up on incandescent 100-watt bulbs while they can get them, the survey found. A Consumer Reports blog referred to them as "Lightbulb Luddites."

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That's probably because consumers have a better alternative to hoarding inefficient 100-watters.

That is, switching to new energy-efficient bulbs, probably CFLs and perhaps halogen incandescents or light-emitting diodes (LEDs), experts say.

"People don't like change, even when it's good for you," said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. "This is a change that can do good for your pocketbook and not do harm to quality of your life or the quality of your light."

Here are questions and answers about energy-efficient lighting.

What's changing? The demise of traditional 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be followed by 75-watt bulbs in 2013 and 60- and 40-watt bulbs in 2014.

The new regulations actually don't ban or promote any particular lighting technology. They require bulbs to be about 25 percent more efficient. Traditional incandescent bulbs can't meet the new standard.

What about specialty fixtures? You'll still be able to buy the same incandescent versions of decorative, appliance and other specialty bulbs.

What should I buy instead? The most popular and affordable replacement is the CFL, many of which have a swirl design.

"CFLs are a pretty good technology, and they're getting better," said Maria Vargas, spokeswoman with the federal Energy Star program. "But it's not an exact replacement for incandescents, because it is a different technology."

Today's versions are far superior and come in sizes that fit most standard light fixtures.

"CFL manufacturers have responded favorably to all the historical consumer complaints," said Terry Drew, director of energy efficiency and sustainability for CSA International, which tests and certifies light bulbs.

More than 85 percent of consumers report they are satisfied with the performance of CFLs, according to the report by the Energy Department.

But halogen and LED lights are available, too, and have advantages. For example, LEDs and halogen bulbs are fully dimmable, come to full brightness instantly and contain no mercury. But they cost more.

Are there drawbacks? CFLs still don't work well in most dimmable switches. And while you'll get most of the light right away, it might take a minute or so to achieve full brightness.

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