DOE Seeks to Restore Energy-Efficiency Standards for Billions of Lightbulbs

Sustainability and Green Building

Under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) conducts rulemakings to determine federal energy-efficiency standards for a variety of consumer products. One covered product includes certain types of lightbulbs, with some exemptions. Although the average consumer may not think about the daily energy that the lights in their home use, the electric demand needed to supply older, inefficient lightbulbs throughout building in the United States can add up.

To address inefficient products, DOE recently proposed a rule that would bring back revised definitions of general service lamps (GSLs) and general service incandescent lamps (GSILs). Under the Obama administration, the DOE had originally published two final rules on Jan. 17, 2017, that adopted new definitions for GSLs and GSILs, but the Trump administration withdrew the revised definitions before their effective date on Sept. 5, 2019.

The current notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) would restore the revised definitions from 2017, affecting bulbs that are used in recessed lighting, track lighting, vanities and other decorative fixtures. The proposed rule would help ensure that these types of lightbulbs don’t waste energy by requiring them to meet a Congress-set backstop of at least 45 lumens per watt (how much visible light is emitted for a certain amount of electricity) that many of today’s LED lightbulbs meet.

More specifically, DOE is proposing to include GSILs in the definition of a GSL, which means GSIL components include:

  • A standard incandescent or halogen type lamp that is intended for general service applications;
  • Has a medium screw base;
  • Has a lumen range between 310 and 2,600 lumens or, in the case of a modified spectrum lamp, not less than 232 lumens and not more than 1,950 lumens; and
  • Is capable of being operated at a voltage range at least partially within 110 and 130 volts.

The expanded definitions as proposed would eliminate certain GSLs from exemption under the EPCA, thus requiring more lightbulbs to meet federal energy-efficiency standards. According to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report, having a backstop of 45 lumens per watt for lightbulbs in the proposed expanded definition for GSLs would save an estimated 27 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs) and a consumer net present value of $120 billion over 30 years.

Builders and interested stakeholders can register to attend a public meeting on Sept. 30, 2021. Public comments are due Oct. 18, 2021.

To stay current on the high-performance residential building sector, with tips on water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and other building science strategies, follow NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building efforts on Twitter.

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