Home Depot Shines A Light On Bulb Choices

Most incandescent light bulbs were supposed to be phased out starting Jan. 1. But tucked inside the House's omnibus spending bill, there's a provision barring the Energy Department from enforcing more energy-efficient standards for light bulbs. For those who still want them, there are increasing options for efficient bulbs. Renee Montagne talks to Bill Hamilton, merchandising vice president of electrical at Home Depot, which sells about a third of all light bulbs in the U.S.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Don't write the obituaries for the good 'online incandescent light bulb just yet. Those bulbs dating back to Edison were supposed to be phased out nationally starting January 1st. But tucked inside the House's omnibus spending bill is a provision that block the Energy Department from enforcing new energy-efficient standards for light bulbs until next October. Still, for those ready to make the switch without the nudge from the law, there are increasing options for efficient bulbs.

To learn more, we reached Bill Hamilton. He's merchandising vice president of electrical at Home Depot, which sells about a third of all light bulbs in the U.S. New energy-saving bulbs are more expensive than incandescent, but Hamilton says you have to think about the life of the light bulb.

BILL HAMILTON: Consumers really need to realize that about 20 percent of the cost of operating their home comes from their lighting. And the biggest expense of their lighting is not the actual bulb; it's the energy that it consumes. So, by having an energy-efficient product in there you can save up to 85 percent on your energy bill of that 20 percent cost that you incur.

MONTAGNE: When this first came up - the law, which was signed into effect by President Bush back in 2007 - it seemed like the only alternative to the lovely incandescent that we've all grown up with was this ugly spiraling fluorescent bluey(ph) sort of light. Do you think there was maybe bad PR or it was maybe a little ahead of itself?

HAMILTON: Well, a couple things. On compact fluorescent technology, it's really evolved into a very good light source. When it was originally introduced, it had a lot of problems. There was tremendous consumer dissatisfaction, and rightfully so. They hummed. They didn't have good color. They weren't instant on. Today all of that's gone.

MONTAGNE: So, for these other alternatives, give us a quick thumbnail of what they do.

HAMILTON: OK. It'll be energy-efficient halogen and energy-efficient halogen will be 30 percent more efficient than standard incandescent models. They're a very bright white light. The next would be compact fluorescents. Compact fluorescents come in a wide variety of colors. They're about 75 percent more efficient than standard incandescent lamps and they last about eight to 10 years.

And then you have LED technology that is really the emerging technology, and really where I think where consumers will go in the future. You still get great coloration of light similar to what you have out of your standard incandescent lamps. They're controllable, fully dimmable. They work great in extreme temperature, so heat and cold. But consumers will have choices for every type of light socket they have in their house today. And the good news is they'll all be more energy efficient than what they're putting in there today.

MONTAGNE: Well, one thing that consumers will have to do, though, I think, is think differently about light bulbs. That is, they're going to have to think in terms of spending a fair amount of money to buy a light bulb but that light bulb will last a long time.

HAMILTON: They will. And we've done a lot of our own consumer research and consumers have told us make it simple for me. Tell me what my choices are. Tell me the three things I need to know to make a good choice. I haven't had to think about it for the last 130 years. I don't want to learn the new technology now. Just tell me what my choices are.

So, we work really hard and we've got a lot of campaigns. We're really trying to make it simple for consumers so they can make, you know, the right choice for themselves.

MONTAGNE: Bill Hamilton is merchandising vice president of electrical for Home Depot. Thanks very much for joining us.

HAMILTON: Well, thanks for having me.

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