Flipping the switch

Jessica Perry//November 21, 2011

Flipping the switch

Jessica Perry//November 21, 2011

With all of the new lighting technologies becoming available, working in the lighting industry is a lot like being a teacher these days.

With all of the new lighting technologies becoming available, working in the lighting industry is a lot like being a teacher these days.

Just ask Cathy Choi, president of Moonachie-based light bulb manufacturer Bulbrite Industries Inc. Her company has launched a website, Lightopedia.com, to educate consumers about new, more efficient bulbs.

“Consumers can really make such an impact by switching out their light bulbs,” Choi said. “I just don’t think they know what their choices are.”

Informed choices will become more important Jan. 1, when a federal law phasing in new energy efficiency requirements for light bulbs takes effect. Those tougher standards mean manufacturers like Bulbrite will no longer make certain types of inefficient incandescents, though consumers can still use them, and stores can sell out their stocks. Starting next year, traditional 100-watt bulbs will no longer be manufactured; in 2013 and 2014, 75-, 60- and 40-watt bulbs will be phased out. Many specialty bulbs were exempted from the legislation.

As consumers go to upgrade their lighting, Choi said they’ll find three basic types of bulbs to choose from: Halogen incandescents, which look similar to traditional A-shaped bulbs but are more efficient; compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs, which have a spiral shape and a longer life; and light-emitting diode bulbs, or LEDs, which are the most expensive, but also the most efficient, and longest lasting.

“We’re big fans of the halogen, in particular, because it’s the closest to what people are used to right now, in terms of the shape and the brightness,” Choi said. Halogens are about 30 percent more efficient, and are most comparable in cost to traditional incandescents.

At Spectrum Lighting, a wholesale commercial lighting distributor in the Whippany section of Hanover, President Joel Rubinfeld said customers sometimes react with sticker shock when they encounter the price of the more-efficient bulbs. He encourages clients to think of the lighting transition as an iceberg.

“The tip of the iceberg — the part you see above the water line — is the cost of the light bulb,” he said. The part below the surface is the energy use, the longer bulb life and other such factors. For instance, a customer who opts for a $3 CFL bulb in lieu of a 50-cent incandescent will spend an extra $2.50 up front. Over the 8,000-hour life of the CFL bulb, however, a typical customer will save about $65 in electricity bills, according to a calculator on Spectrum’s website.

Kateri Callahan, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance to Save Energy, said her group has formed the LUMEN, or Lighting Understanding for a More Efficient Nation, Coalition to help consumers understand the law and their choices. She said the Federal Trade Commission also is issuing new labels to help consumers distinguish between different types of bulbs. But she said understanding will take time.

“It’s going to require a long-term and sustained consumer education campaign,” Callahan said. “Just like anything else, people need to hear things and understand things several times so that they can get it.”

A side benefit of the change, Callahan said, is that many of the new bulbs are manufactured domestically, whereas most incandescent manufacturing has long been done overseas.

For businesses, the savings can also be significant. Over the past four years, Heller Industrial Parks has installed more efficient lighting in about one-quarter of its 16 million square feet of warehouse space, said John Porcek, vice president of I. Heller Construction Corp.

Porcek said Heller partnered with a Wisconsin company, Orion Energy Systems, to convert its lighting. He said many times the conversion is done without paying the high costs up front.

“Many times, tenants will just work along with us and Orion to come up with an agreement where they don’t have to do any money up front,” Porcek said. “It’s an agreement over a period of time where they get their lighting replaced and pay monthly fees, which come out of their savings.”

Choi said the lighting industry is getting used to change.

“We’ve been in business for 40 years,” Choi said. “The company was actually started by my father, Andrew Choi. He said, ‘My God, more is happening in the lighting industry in the last five years than in the previous 35 years.'”

Asked if she thinks the industry will continue to change at a rapid pace, Choi said, “Absolutely.”

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