The Future of Incandescent Light Bulbs

Thomas Edison perfected the incandescent lightbulb. For 131 years, it has burned brightly in the U.S. But the ulbs may soon be dimmed. Next year, stores will begin phasing out incandescent bulbs. By 2014, they will not be available in stores. A government order in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 says incandescent bulbs (with some exceptions) must be removed from store shelves by 2014. Consumers will be forced to purchase either compact florescent lightbulbs (CFLs) or other energy-efficient bulbs such as LEDs.

The ban is intended to save energy and cut back on pollution. A similar phase out of incandescent bulbs is planned in Europe. But not everyone is in favor of the ban. Should incandescent bulbs be phased out?

Incandescent bulbs haven't changed much since Edison's day. They remain energy inefficient. Less than 6% of the energy a bulb uses goes into producing light. The rest of the energy is given off in heat. By comparison, CFLs last 10 times longer and consume 75% less energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL in every U.S. household would have the same environmental benefit as taking 7.5 million cars off the road. CFLs are more expensive, but experts say they pay for themselves within a few months since they last much longer. At 10 cents per kilowatt, five years of light costs $65.70 with a CFL, compared to $262.90 with an incandescent bulb.

But CFLs are not ideal. They emit a light-bluish glow that many complain is less pleasing than the yellowish glow of an incandescent bulb. CFLs can flicker and take longer to turn on. CFLs, which typically have a spiral shape, also contain a small amount of the metal mercury. Exposure to mercury is hazardous. If a CFL breaks, consumers risk exposure to mercury. That is why used CFLs need to be disposed of carefully. They should be recycled, not tossed in the trash. LED bulbs are another energy-efficient alternative to incandescent bulbs. But they are expensive.

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi from Wyoming is against the bulb ban. He has introduced legislation that would repeal the ban, called the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act (BULB). He says consumers should have a choice when purchasing bulbs. "If left alone, the best bulb will win its rightful standing in the marketplace. Government doesn't need to be in the business of telling people what light bulb they have to use," Enzi says.

What do you think? Should incandescent bulbs be phased out? Or should consumers have a choice? Explain your opinion in an email to Your writing could be featured in a future issue of TIME For Kids. Please include contact information for your teacher or parent if you want to be featured.

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