The April/May Industry Exchange question addressed one of the more interesting and contentious debates to face the lighting industry in recent memory—What will be the fate of the incandescent lamp? Lighting designer and IALD president-elect Jeff Miller offered his thoughts on the subject in the April/May issue. The discussion continues this month with three additional perspectives. ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING magazine welcomes all comments on current and past Industry Exchange questions. You may add your comments on the article page, or responses can be submitted directly to or

What will be the fate of the incandescent lamp? With so many recent proclamations to “Ban the Bulb,” politicians and manufacturers seem to have made a cut and dry case against incandescent sources. But is there a legitimate complaint? Are compact fluorescent lamps the solution, as this “Ban” would advocate? Or is it a far more complex issue with numerous factors that go well beyond the simple incandescent lamp itself, which has served us for the last 125 years?


Much has been written about the potential ban of incandescent lamps, and their replacement with compact fluorescents. Very important points have been discussed about fluorescent dimming costs, low-end range, and cooler color. Also, if compact fluorescent lamps are made in third world countries and shipped to the U.S., how much has the carbon footprint really been reduced? Once they burn out, will users really take them to hazardous waste facilities for disposal, or simply toss them in the garbage?

I'm going to take the political angle. Is Big Brother trying to micro-manage our lives? I can't think of such a minor item in peoples lives that the government has decided to ban. Evidently, A-lamps are worse for us than legal things such as cigarettes, cheeseburgers, alcohol, gambling, or handguns.

Compact fluorescent lamps are more prudent than incandescent lamps in many scenarios, but their use should be encouraged, not mandated. As more fluorescent lamps are made and sold, their cost of purchase and dimming will decrease. And as the cost of energy continues to rise, the payback period will shorten. Market forces will do to the A-lamp what they did to the VCR, 8-track tape, and the typewriter.

Government currently uses taxation to prompt their desired behavior. Mortgage deductions, low-income housing tax credits, and charitable deductions are examples of this concept. What if incandescent lamps were taxed like cigarettes or gasoline, with the proceeds used to develop solar, wind, and geothermal power? Are A-lamps really worse for us than handguns?


Recognition of the choices we make and its impact in the reduction of our carbon footprint is both refreshing and hopeful. Recent proposed legislation to reduce energy consumption in California and at local levels are laudable actions taken by a ground swell of concerned citizens and politicians to make a difference. This is the right direction to take.

To make an impact, we need to look at both the energy generation side and the consumption side. It is sensible to look for things that can make a difference in a relatively painless fashion. However, banning a specific type of lamp in the name of reducing energy consumption can be problematic and create unintended consequences. Banning incandescent lamps will create a huge opportunity for illicit importation of this type of lamp from neighboring states, or countries if the law is not universally applied to all states.

The right approach should be a performance-based benchmark, essentially a technological neutral approach by setting a minimum standard lumen per watt requirement for all light sources. This will set a target for manufacturers to improve the energy efficiency of existing technology, such as incandescent and quartz halogen lamps, and compete on equal footing. While the energy consumption of compact fluorescent lamps is significantly lower, however, nobody is addressing seriously the issue of recycling, and the mercury contamination problem in land fills. Again, not targeting a specific light source, but set a standard for low toxicity in waste stream. Government should not pick winners or losers in lamp technologies, but set standards for minimum efficiency requirements and maximum toxicity allowances, and heavily tax those that do not meet the requirements.


The incandescent lamp has been with us and served us well for so many years that we have perhaps forgotten just how useful and low cost a source it really is. Although compact fluorescent retrofit lamps are a good substitute in many cases (I use them extensively in my own home) they are not the universal panacea that some individuals would make them out to be. For example, disposal of these retrofit lamps poses a real problem, and if you break one in your home the State of California suggests rather draconian methods of clean up. I, for one, would welcome some legitimate studies that look at “cradle-to-grave” costs, energy use and environmental impact of compact fluorescent lamps starting with the mining/refining of rare earth phosphors and mercury through the manufacturing process and all the way through their life to the disposal of these sources in hazardous waste facilities. Will the compact fluorescent lamp still prove to be more “green” than the incandescent lamp? We really don't know.

California Bill AB 722, was introduced in the California State Legislature on February 22, 2007. The bill states: “On and after January 1, 2012, a general service incandescent lamp shall not be sold in the state.” The law defines this lamp as a “standard incandescent or halogen type lamp that is intended for general service applications and has all of the following: (a) a medium screw base, (b) a wattage rating no less than 25W and no greater than 150W, (c), a A-15, A-19, A-21, A-23, A-25, PS-25, PS-30, BT-14.5, BT-15, CP-19, TB-19, CA-22 or equivalent shape as defined in the American National Standard Institute C78.20-2003, (d) a bulb finish of frosted, clear or soft white type.

I offer that trying to implement such a ban will most likely promote a thriving black market as homeowners reject the ban flat out. We have already experienced the phenomenon of new home builders in the State installing the Title 24 mandated “high efficiency” luminaries—until the inspector has visited—then ripping them out to install the incandescent fixtures they actually want. The education of the consumer has not caught up to the fact that lighting done well can make these “high efficiency” systems very pleasant to be around. Regardless, there is still a place in responsible, well-executed design for the sources proposed to be banned.

I don't agree that pushing connected load allowances ever downward or banning the incandescent lamp are the answers to energy efficiency. One of the elements often not taken into account is energy use over time. An important consideration related to energy use is if the lighting is off or reduced when it isn't needed. Right now, there has been a general removal of encouragement/incentives to include sophisticated lighting controls in projects. Looking at alternate models for energy efficiency that consider kilowatt hours rather than connected load would seem to make a whole lot of sense.

In general, I think most people would agree that we live a large part of our lives in built environments illuminated by electric light. As such, the well-designed (or badly designed) illuminated environment affects every aspect of our lives, both physically and psychologically. What we don't want is to impose unhealthy, unpleasant or poorly productive illuminated spaces on the human environment. Forcing designed spaces into formulaic approaches with extremely limited solutions is not the answer. Beauty and joy can still be maintained while remaining responsible environmental citizens of the world. It is a balance and must be considered holistically.