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Learn Your Lumens

January 4, 2011

(As Posted to CleanTechies 9/28/10)  New labels for light bulb packaging will arrive in 2011 with the emphasis on Lumens instead of Watts as the measure of light output (brightness) and primary benchmark.  This is a much anticipated overhaul by the Federal Trade Commission which will help in the marketing and comparison of CFLs and LEDs to the old incandescent bulbs being phased out.

Traditionally one might say I need a 60 watt bulb.  This would refer to a 60 watt incandescent which has been the common everyday bulb since Edison’s 40 hour bulb in 1870.  When Compact Fluorescents came out they realized the consumer’s understanding of light and included a ‘incandescent watt equivalent’ on their packaging to demonstrate the savings.  With the variety of lighting options in today’s market this antiquated way of benchmarking lights is ineffective and will soon be gone.  Now brightness (lumens), light color or appearance (Kelvin temperature), life (hours) and energy consumption will all be factored on the product label much like reading a nutritional label.  The new label will push consumers to ditch the watt description in place of lumens and energy cost.

There is still room for improvement by logically combining the lumen output and cost/year into a  lumen/watt ratio (luminous efficacy) on the labels which could serve as the rule of efficiency for lighting much like miles per gallon does for a car; simply comparing input to output.  Labeling as mundane as it may initially seem is vital to any market.  Proper labeling is the key driver to market transformation and enables consumers to vote with their dollar, therefore driving change.

Hopefully the building market can follow the lighting and car market and mandate ‘Building Energy Performance Labels’ for all residential and commercial buildings so consumers will know immediately how certain homes, offices or buildings perform in regards to energy consumption.  The US Green Building Council’s LEED Rating System serves as an example to the industry of what proper labeling can do to value.  Their certification levels and LEED Facts label have helped quantify environmental benefits in the building sector as well as producing an easy to understand overview of the building’s sustainability aspects.

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