Coming soon to your socket: A $50 light bulb

Osram Sylvania's LED bulb gives off as much light as a 100-watt incandescent but consumes 20 watts and lasts many years longer.

Fifty dollars for a light bulb? Osram Sylvania announced this week it's begun shipping a new LED light bulb that gives off as much light as an old-fashioned 100-watt incandescent. The government is phasing out traditional bulbs, starting with 100-watt bulbs earlier this year and ending in 2014 with the 40-watt.

The response from manufacturers has been innovation. Sylvania's new LED is slightly longer than a traditional light bulb but it looks more like the bulbs you grew up with. None of that swirly CFL tubing. So what do you get for a $50 light bulb?

"You get the chance to have that light bulb for years and years," says Marianne DiMascio, outreach coordinator at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. "You can put it in when your child is born and take it out when your child goes to college."

DiMascio says you also don't get the mercury that comes with CFLs and LEDs won't wear out as quickly from being switched on and off. Jeff Harris at the Alliance to Save Energy expects LED prices to come down in time, just as CFL prices have. He says recently bought some CFLs on sale for 50 cents each, comparable to what you might pay for traditional light bulbs at the grocery store.

Harris says despite some congressional protests last year, the government hasn't banned incandescent bulbs. He says manufacturers will still make incandescents but they have to meet the government's new efficiency standards. It's sort of like gas-powered cars having to meet higher mileage ratings.

"What they've banned is the traditional and inefficient incandescent light bulb," Harris says. "The ones that are being sold today to replace them are 25-30 percent more efficient and last about the same amount of time."

Of course, those "advanced incandescents" still cost more than the old kind right now.

You can buy Phillips' EcoVantage bulbs, for example, for about $1.60 a piece on some websites.

Harris points out you can still find the old 100-watt bulbs as companies sell off their remaining stock. Some were recently selling on the website 1000bulbs.com for 49 cents each. Antique collectors, get 'em while they last.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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