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The old-fashioned light bulb is disappearing

It's the end of an era that once illuminated a bright new technological age.

Starting Jan. 1, traditional incandescent bulbs, the ones still favored by more than half of light-bulb buyers, will begin to disappear from store shelves. 

The old 100-watt and 75-watt incandescents are already gone, their sales ended by a federal energy bill signed six years ago by President George W. Bush. That bill staggered the phaseouts, and now stores will start selling through the last of their inventory of old 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs.

This will come as a surprise to many. Three in five Americans don't know the bulbs are being phased out, according to a recent survey by lighting company Osram Sylvania. A small percentage of shoppers say they plan to stock up on bulbs while they can, and for a few months at least they should be in luck. The national light bulb merchant for The Home Depot (HD) thinks his company will continue to sell the old bulbs through about the middle of next year, according to USA Today.

There's one main reason for the phaseout: Old light bulbs are wasteful. Some 90 percent of their energy goes toward giving off heat instead of light, which is why they're so hot you can't touch them when lit. That heat creates even more waste in the summer, because some homes need more air conditioning to offset the warming bulbs.

New light bulbs must be more energy efficient. And some of the new halogen incandescents do meet those standards. Customers can also choose from compact fluorescent lamps, known as CFLs, and light emitting diodes, or LEDs.

As if that wasn't confusing enough, wattage will no longer be the best way to measure light because the new bulbs use less power to give off the same amount of light, according to Noah Horowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council. In the future, bulbs will be measured in lumens, not watts. For now, bulb packaging will say something like, "replaces 60W bulb"or "13W = 60W" to describe a 13-watt CFL, Horowitz writes on his blog. (This guide from the council may help.)

The new bulbs last longer, but they can be much more expensive than the traditional incandescent. A six-pack of 60-watt dimmable light bulbs from Cree (CREE) was selling for $78 on Home Depot's website over the weekend.

Experts say the prices will come down, but until that happens, there may be some hoarding of the old-fashioned incandescent for a while.
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