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As incandescent light bulbs fade away, customers stock up

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GREENFIELD — After making a career crafting lampshades and lamps, it stands to reason Ursula Dorsey would have an opinion on the federal government’s pending regulations on 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs.

It’s a dim one.

“I have yet to have a customer in here who likes the new light bulbs,” said Dorsey, who has owned Ursula’s Lamp Shop in Greenfield for 20 years.

That’s a problem since as of Jan. 1, standard-issue 40- and 60-watt bulbs can no longer be manufactured or imported under the terms of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed into law by President George W. Bush on Dec. 18 of that year.

Part of that law set energy standards for light bulbs, the first of which went into effect two years ago with the old 100-watt incandescent going the way of the Model T. A year later, 75-watt bulbs were phased out.

With the transition, the squiggly compact fluorescent and LED bulbs have begun occupying more space on the store shelves.

This year might be curtains for traditional light bulbs, but as with all things in Congress, there’s a catch.

Attached to the $1.1 trillion spending bill Congress sent to President Barack Obama last week was a rider that prohibits the federal government from enforcing the energy bill’s light bulb energy efficiency standards.

The rider doesn’t change the law, the efficiency standards, the move toward new light bulb technology or Donna Sartini’s desire to get her hands on as many of the old-style bulbs as she can.

“It doesn’t matter what they say; these are brighter,” Sartini said Wednesday as she loaded nine four-packs of 60-watt incandescent bulbs into her shopping cart at Home Depot.

Like many folks, Sartini is convinced the new, energy-efficient lights simply are not as bright as the tungsten filament lights generations grew up with.

“I have to work in my room, so I have to have enough light to see my computer,” she said. “I’ll be coming back to get these as long as they’re here.”

Standing before a 10-foot-high aisle end cap stocked full of 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs just inside the Home Depot entrance, Judy Ferrill, who’s been a Home Depot service desk associate for seven years, knows what customers are saying.

“We hear that a lot,” Ferrill said. “They say they’re not as bright.”

Ferrill said customers also complain that the hue cast by the new fluorescent and LED lights are distracting.

“The colors are definitely different,” she said.

And then there’s the cost.

While a four-pack of the old 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs stacked from floor to ceiling at Home Depot can be had for about $1.50, the price is significantly higher for the CFL and LED versions.

A package of four, 40-watt CFL bulbs can start at about $5, with a similar LED light starting at $10, with prices running upwards of $30.

The reasoning behind the transition is energy efficiency.

According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the standard 60-watt incandescent bulb provides 13 to 14 lumens (measure of emitted visible light) per watt, while an equivalent CFL produces between 55 and 70 lumens per watt; and a similar LED ranges between 60 and 100 lumens per watt.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s website, www.energy.gov, claims that CFL and LED technologies use 25 percent to 80 percent less energy and last between three and 25 times longer than standard incandescents, thereby saving Americans money while conserving energy.

Dorsey doesn’t buy it.

“They’re not as bright, so you have to use more. I’ve changed all my lights (in my store), and my light bill has not gone down.”

Ferrill said the biggest factor seems to be simply the element of change, and there are good things to like about the new lights and other things people will just have to get used to.

One significant difference, Ferrill points out, is that a CFL bulb contains mercury and needs to be disposed of or recycled appropriately.

“People can bring those lights here to Home Depot, and we recycle them for free,” she said.  

Then there’s light bulb aesthetics to consider.

“It looks a little funky,” Ferrill said of the corkscrew CFL bulbs.

Dorsey, who makes her money taking lamps to the next level with a custom-made shade, is a bit more direct.

“They don’t look good,” she said.

Whatever the reason and regardless of whether the government will have the funds to enforce the phaseout, the reality is that at least in some quarters there’s a run on Edison’s bulb.

“Every weekend, we have people coming in just to get the light bulbs,” Ferrill said. “They’re stocking up on them like crazy. They’ve been coming in for the last six months, and they keep getting more and more.”

Though Dorsey is no fan of the new bulbs, she does see something positive about the new technology.

“The only good thing about them is they don’t get as hot, so my lampshades don’t disintegrate so fast.”

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