The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recently announced that there will be a new labeling system for all light bulbs that will start appearing on packaging in approximately one year. This new system is designed to make it simpler for consumers to understand the different types of light bulb options that are available to them. This is terrific since we are seeing an increasingly broad range of different lights with their own benefits and drawbacks. However, you do have to be able to understand what you’re reading on the labels or the information won’t be of much use to you. This guide should help you to get a solid grasp on that important information.

Basics About the New Labeling

The new labeling will help you to better understand the options that you have for buying light bulbs. The labeling will appear on traditional incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs and the increasingly popular LED light bulbs. These bulbs all have their pros and cons; being able to read the labels accurately will allow you to choose the right bulbs for each of the different light fixtures in your home. The new labeling will include front-of-package labeling with information about brightness and cost of the bulbs as well as in-depth back-of-package labeling (described below).

Why It Matters That You Choose the Right Light Bulbs

If you select the best light bulb for each of your home lighting needs then you can achieve the following benefits:

  • Save money. Cheaper light bulbs are appropriate in some places in the home. Longer-lasting light bulbs that save more money over time are appropriate in other places. Choosing the best bulb for each fixture allows you to save the most money on your lighting.
  • Save energy. Selecting the most energy-efficient light bulbs for your home will allow you to conserve energy. This green action can further save you money on your electricity bills.
  • Obtain ideal lighting. The right light bulbs will provide high-quality lighting for your home, making it more comfortable and more aesthetically pleasing.

What Will Be on the New Labels?

The new light bulbs labels will include the following information:

  • Brightness of the bulb in lumens. The most important thing that you will see on the new light bulbs is a measure of the brightness of the bulb in lumens. We are traditionally used to seeing this information labeled in “watts” (which will also be available on the labels). However, watts are actually a measurement of energy use and don’t accurately convey the true lightness of a bulbs. Lumens measure brightness, which means that you can compare different types of bulbs (such as CFLs vs. LEDs and easily see which bulb will be the brightest).
  • Estimated yearly energy cost. The new labels will provide an educated guess about the estimated cost of using the light bulb for a single year. Of course, true costs will vary depending on the cost of energy where you live and the frequency with which you use the light bulbs. Nevertheless, this estimated amount can help you see which light bulbs will cost the least for you to use over time.
  • Estimate life expectancy of the bulb. You will be able to quickly and clearly see how long the light bulb should last. You definitely want long-lasting bulbs in areas of the home where the light bulbs are hard to change so this information can be very helpful.
  • The appearance of the light from warm to cool. Each label will show a spectrum of “warm” to “cool” with a marker for what the light should look like in your home. This is important when you are thinking about home design because there are areas of the home where you want warmer light and areas where a cool light may be more appropriate.
  • Mercury warnings. Some light bulbs contain mercury, which is a toxic chemical that requires special disposal of the light bulb. Instead of having to remember which types of light bulbs contain mercury, you can simply look at the label for a mercury warning. If it doesn’t have one then the bulb doesn’t contain mercury.

How to Use the New Light Bulb Labeling System

The new light bulb labeling system may seem complex at first since it contains so much different information. However, it actually significantly simplifies the process of choosing lighting for your home. You’ll simply want to ask yourself the following questions before you go shopping (and use the answers to guide your purchase as you read the labels on your light bulbs).

  • What type of light do I want for this area of the home? Should it be bright or dim? Should it be warm or cool?
  • How long do I want this light bulb to last?
  • Am I willing to deal with light bulbs that contain mercury?

After answering these questions, you can compare the bulbs that meet your criteria with an eye towards immediate cost and estimated yearly energy cost.


The new light bulb labeling system has been compared to the nutrition-style labeling system that we are used to seeing on our foods today. Just like with the nutrition labels, the important information on the label is useless if you fail to understand what you’re looking at. Take the time to get to know more about your light bulb options so that reading these labels will make your light bulb shopping easier. Once you figure it out, it will make light bulb shopping easier. And as new types of lights hit the market, you’ll be able to make educated decisions about whether or not to use them based on the information from these labels.

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