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The Incandescent Light Bulb Ban

 incandescent lights bulb

By now you have probably read about the incandescent light bulb ban that has been made official as of August 1st, 2023. Over the last few years most retailers have slowly decreased their inventory of incandescent bulbs in favor of LED alternatives. Manufacturers have been planning for this shift in technology and have already produced ample alternatives to the incandescent bulb. Many other nations around the world have already enacted similar versions of the incandescent ban, and now the US has officially made the major step towards energy efficiency. What exactly is this ban, and how will we be affected?


144 Years of History

Early models of the incandescent bulb

The incandescent bulb, patented by Thomas Edison in 1879, has been the standard in lighting technology for over a century. Incandescent bulbs dominated the market once homes were electrified, and the familiar glow produced by the filament bulb has been essential to entertainment lighting since the early 1900s. Even today there are places around the US, such as the Cave of the Winds in Colorado Springs, that are in possession of original Edison bulbs, and these original bulbs are celebrated each year with their own lighting ceremony.

Incandescent bulbs have faced competition over the years with the popular rise of fluorescent tubes in office design, CFL alternative bulbs, neon, and LED fixtures. For many years these alternatives couldn’t hold a candle to the warmth of a standard edison bulb, and the brightness of LED diodes could not match what an incandescent fixture naturally output. 

With the increase in brightness and consistency of LED diodes, we are finally seeing a time when LED bulbs have become an affordable replacement for the incandescent bulb. LED technology allows for color-changing diodes, color-mixing multiple diodes, and much brighter white light (this solved a long-standing issue for stage fixtures). With a viable alternative in place, what are the specific parameters of the ban itself?


The Incandescent Light Bulb Ban

As defined by the Department of Energy, a single light bulb must now emit a minimum of 45 lumens per watt, beginning August 1, 2023. A lumen is a measure of visible light energy. Watts are a measure of electricity. A traditional incandescent bulb, the old 60-watt standard, emits around 15 lumens per watt. Halogen bulbs average 10-20 lumens per watt. These are by no means staggering numbers, but for many years this technology was the most reliable, while LED proved too costly. Flourescent alternatives? These fixtures average from 50-100 lumens per watt, but the quality of light is uninspiring. 

Today’s LED bulbs have improved in efficiency greatly, and LED bulbs now average 75-110 lumens per watt. We also have access to LED bulb technologies that mimic incandescent and retro lighting fixtures.


How will the incandescent ban affect the events industry?

There are types of bulbs that are not affected by the ban so far: appliance lamps, black lights, bug lamps, infrared lamps, plant lights, flood lights, reflector lamps, showcase lamps, traffic signals, marine lamps, and other specialty lamps. All of these types of lamps should still be available for purchase. For the entertainment lighting industry, we are not feeling the sting (so far) of the incandescent light bulb ban. The leading source of light in incandescent stage lighting is the ETC Source 4, and you can find these fixtures in thousands of venues across the country – middle and high schools, universities, houses of worship, regional and community theatres, professional theatres, road houses, and theme parks all still actively use the HPL 575 lamp as the bread and butter bulb. These ETC fixtures have always been relatively inexpensive, and are roughly 1/5 the cost of a modern LED ellipsoidal.

Three common incandescent theatrical lamps: HPL 575 (left), FEL 1000W (center) Par64 1000W (right)

The HPL 575 is a standard tungsten-halogen, single-ended lamp that was designed for use with the ETC Source 4 family of fixtures. At 575 watts, the lumens output by this fixture is 16,520 and this leaves the HPL 575 at an average of 28 lumens per watt, well below the 45-watt threshold. While we have not seen any ban for these theatrical lamps so far, you can imagine the difficulties venues will be facing once these lamps are no longer produced. ETC does offer an LED kit to replace the HPL 575w housing, but these kits only fit newer models of the Source 4 ellipsoidal. 

An LED Color Source Ellipsoidal outputs light via a series of diodes, grouped by the colors red, green, blue, and lime. As seen above, the diodes spread into a hive when the degree lens is removed from the front of the unit.

The modern LED versions of the tungsten-halogen ellipsoidal are found in multiple manufacturers. ETC has produced the Color Source family of LED fixtures alongside the Lustr and Desire series. Chauvet has found great success in the LED fixture market alongside Elation and Martin. Many fixtures are being built as outdoor-rated, and sometimes they will include wireless dmx and Bluetooth communication. 

The latest fixtures from ETC are the Color Source V line.


Industry shift while improving our product

As venues are being built and renovated around the country, we are seeing the full removal of standard dimming systems as the use of LED technology in lighting fixtures is streamlining how we approach our power disbursement in performance spaces. Simply put, we get more light on stage with less power required. There will be growing pains, that is certain, but removing the reliance on incandescent fixtures is, simply put, a fact of life. As a company, we are relying less and less on incandescent fixtures, and we are subsequently changing how we approach our shows. We reduce and remove heavy dimmer racks, we significantly reduce the amount of heavy cable needed for shows, and we cut down labor while reducing the overall need for fixtures. When multiple colors were needed in the past for stage wash looks, we would hang multiple systems of colors over the stage, sometimes doubling and tripling the amount of fixtures and cable. Now we hang a single system of fixtures that can color change and power-link across multiple fixtures (as opposed to one fixture per circuit per dimmer in the rack). Our load-in time for a large crew has been reduced and traded in for programming time for one operator.

While our industry still remains unaffected by the incandescent light bulb ban, we as a company have readied ourselves for the inevitable discontinuing of energy-inefficient lamps. This shift in energy-efficiency has proven to be the most significant step forward our industry has seen the invention of the light bulb itself.


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