FTC proposes new output-based labels for light bulbs

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is proposing significant changes to its light bulb labeling requirements, which could see an end to statements such as "equivalent to a 60-watt light bulb."

The proposed amendments apply to common household (medium screw base) light bulbs, including general service incandescent bulbs and CFLs, and would also apply to medium screw base LED lamps.

The FTC published a press release in late October, and then a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) was published in the Federal Register on November 10 (download Notice, PDF, 660 KB).

Written comments must be received on or before December 28, 2009.

Fig.1. Proposed FTC lamp labels
Current FTC regulations require that most incandescent and CFL packages display information about the product’s light output (in lumens), energy use (in watts), and lamp life (in hours). The package disclosures also must provide the following statement: "To save energy costs, find the bulbs with the light output you need, then choose the one with the lowest watts."

The proposed package labeling amendments create a two-panel labeling format: a front panel with brightness and energy cost information, and a Lighting Facts label with additional information on the side or rear panel (see Fig.1).

The two data points on the front of the package are those shown by focus groups to be most important to buyers when trying to compare products. The Lighting Facts approach is similar to the labels introduced by the DOE’s Solid State Lighting Quality Advocates program.

Fig.2. FTC label with mercury content
The choice to emphasize lumens, not watts, as the measure of lamp brightness is significant. Focus group research showed that consumers interpret wattage to measure brightness even though wattage is a measure of energy use. One conclusion was that ‘‘respondents mistakenly understood the measure of brightness to be wattage, and this was how they selected bulbs.’’

The labels also would require disclosures for bulbs containing mercury (see Fig. 2).

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