Cover Story: New Light Bulb Rules

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Shining light on new changes coming to your light bulbs.  It's the beginning of the end for old-fashioned light bulbs.

Starting Sunday new rules will begin to phase out some of the old light bulbs you're used to seeing.

A lot of people are confused about exactly what is happening.

It is the biggest change in lighting for more than a century.

The bulb we all relied on for what seems like forever will get a makeover in the New Year.

After Thomas Edison came out with the light bulb in the 1880s one of the first places you'd been able to buy one in Charlotte would have been Little Hardware in the SouthEnd.

Gray Little, a third generation of the family, runs the store now along with other relatives.

Thirty-four years after Edison perfected the incandescent light bulb the Littles began stocking them.  As they still do today, but not for much longer - at least the 100-watt.

Will they miss it?

"The only time we'll miss it is when you try to explain to somebody who wants that 100-watt light bulb that we don't have them any more and they think you're crazy," says Little and he's not crazy.

Starting January 1, 2012 companies won't be able to make the 100-watt incandescent light bulb for sale in the U.S.

A bill passed by Congress and signed into law in 2007 requires light bulbs use at least 25-percent less energy and that endangers the good old fashioned Thomas Edison bulb.

The bulbs won't disappear immediately because the law unfolds in phases.

The 100-watt goes out next year.  75-watt incandescent is out January 2013.  And in 2014 we'll be saying good bye to the 60 and 40-watt versions.

Why tinker with the venerable incandescent?

It's notoriously inefficient.   It wastes 90-percent of its energy as heat rather than light which is why it's so hot when in use.

Enter the next generation of bulbs - the CFLs - compact fluorescent lights.  But they don't come cheap.

"This one's about nine dollars and this one's about two."

Concerns over prices have even reached the campaign trail.

Said Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recently:  "I believe in liberty for light bulbs."

And the public agrees.  One third of Americans say they actually prefer the incandescent version to the new CFLs that are out on the market now.

Which is why they're being gobbled up like hotcakes.

If you're not a fan of the CFL - hold on - a better version is on the way:  LED lights like what they're using at the Speedway.  They burn warm like incandescent and save energy like CFLs.

If you can just get past the government meddling.

"As far as the debate about Big Brother nobody likes to be told what to do but the fact is how many folks will change if they're not forced to in some way," said Little.

Stores can keep selling the 100-watt incandescents until they run out and that should take awhile.  There's a big supply of them in the marketplace.

But this change over in lighting is a big deal.  There are 4.7 billion sockets in the U.S. alone.

Some in Congress tried to keep this law banning incandescents from taking effect in January 2012.  Opponents took the teeth out of it - taking away funding to enforce it.

But manufacturers have already started phasing out incandescents.  They're not making as many as they used to.

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