How many Chattanoogans does it take to change a light bulb? Starting today, the task might be more complicated than you think.
Very soon, replacing light bulbs won't be a matter of just grabbing a few 60- or 40-watt bulbs at the local hardware store. Starting today, a federal law signed in 2007 halts the manufacture of such incandescent bulbs. Higher watt bulbs went out of production last year, according to the Energy Independence and Security Act. But this year is lights out for old-style bulbs.
To stay out of the dark, consumers will have to buy new energy efficient bulbs and decide how many lumens they need, what color light they want and whether they need a halogen bulb, a compact fluorescent or a light-emitting diode -- or LED lamp.
Those options stump a lot of customers, according to Chris Scutella, manager of the Ace Hardware of Southside at 2700 Broad St. And the price of the new bulbs just plain frustrates them.
"There's a lot of educating customers we do, just to help people find what they need. We did a big reset last year to prepare for the new rules," Scutella said. "But when you are used to spending $3.50 for bulbs that now run $8 or $9, people get frustrated."
An old 40-watt bulb puts out between 400 and 599 lumens, a unit used to measure visible light. Meanwhile, a big boy 150-watt bulb cranks out between 1,960 and 5,000 lumens, according to Scutella.
Customers have to decide if they want the warm, yellow tones of a traditional bulb, or the ultra bright white of the latest fluorescent -- and everything in between.
Instead of paying more for the new bulbs, many costumers have been buying up Scutella's older incandescent stock.
"Pretty much what we've done is keep the 60s, 75s and 100s in the warehouse and stockpile them. But the 60-watts are the only ones we have left," he said.
Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West said the light bulb restriction is government overstep.
"The incandescent light bulb debate is just another example of the government trying to influence the free market in a particular direction, when the free market will move in the right direction on its own. If there is energy efficiency, people are smart. They will move in that direction when the time is right," West said.
Meanwhile, Electric Power Board spokesman John Pless says lower energy bulbs are a good thing. And the power board encourages its customers to look for ways to use less energy.
"By switching to a more energy efficient bulb, you will be using a fourth or a third of what you used before," Pless said.
But there are other ways to save even more power, he said.
"Home lighting is probably the lowest consumer of electricity in your home. So if you were to [use only low energy light bulbs] there will be some savings, but most of your savings will come from a higher efficiency HVAC or a water heater with higher efficiency," Pless said.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at email@example.com or at 423-757-6481.