Flashback: The old Thomas Edison-like stalwart for more than a century, is inefficient. Starting in 2012, this bulb will change or be phased out. (Photo by Robert Durell)

Clearly, however, old habits die hard. Sales figures from the industry group the National Electrical Manufacturers Association show incandescents still clearly in the lead. CFLs, the second-runners, account for only one in four bulb sales.

Still, in 2010, 60 percent of respondents to a national "socket survey" commissioned by Sylvania said they had switched at least one bulb to a more energy-efficient version in the last year.

But respondents ranked the amount of energy the lightbulb uses only as fourth most important on a list of attributes.

So wake up, kiddos.

The bulbs aren't the be-all.

The lingo is changing, too.

Watts are on the way out. Eventually, we'll all have to learn lumen-speak.

Lumens are a measure of brightness.

Watts are simply the power needed to light the bulb, which worked as a proxy when we had only one kind of bulb. But now you can get an LED bulb that's as bright as a 60-watter but consumes only 12 watts.

New labels are headed our way, probably this summer, designed by the Federal Trade Commission.

They'll resemble food nutrition labeling, showing how bright the bulb is, its expected life, its light appearance, the energy used, and the estimated yearly energy cost.

Advocates like the NRDC's Horowitz say the best is ahead, both in light and in savings.

"Today's consumers have no idea what a bad deal that 25-cent 100-watt incandescent bulb was," he said.

Ever enlightened
The bulbs they are a-changin' -- for the better. They'll be sources of savings as well as light.

Thomas Edison's stalwart for more than a century, it's cheap to buy, but expensive to use because it's inefficient. With national standards starting in 2012, it will change or be phased out.

Uses about 30 percent less energy than incandescent and lasts 2 to 3 times longer. Slightly cheaper than CFL and dimmable. The closest relative to the incandescent, so a good first step for those reluctant to change.

Uses about 75 percent less energy than an incandescent and lasts 10 times longer. Light quality has improved greatly. Some are instant-on and dimmable. Price coming down, but they contain small amounts of mercury.

Uses about 80 percent less energy than an incandescent and lasts 15 times longer. No mercury. For now, expensive, as in $40 a bulb for some bulbs. Not all products are of equal quality, so choose carefully. Great improvements expected.

Vu1 Bulb
One of the latest innovations, it uses cathode technology. Efficiency and price roughly between CFLs and LEDs. Instant-on, dimmable, no mercury. Available online, for now only as a ceiling-can downlight.


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