Energy Source Builder

EPACT Promotes Energy-efficient Lamp Substitutes

The Energy Policy Act of 1992

Lighting accounts for 19 percent of all the energy used in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy. However, energy used for lighting could be reduced dramatically if more efficient products already on the market were used. Unfortunately, homes, factories and other buildings are full of inefficient lights. And when those lights burn out, retail stores are chock full of inefficient lights to replace them.

That should begin to change on October 31, 1995, when lighting efficiency standards set by the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT) take effect. Under the new law some of the most common and least efficient lamps (light bulbs and fluorescent tubes) cannot be made or imported into the U.S. Fortunately, the market has an ample supply of highly efficient substitutes.

Lumens not Watts

There was a time when lighting decisions were simple. How many watts? More watts meant more light. Now choices are much more complicated. Instead of one standard light bulb, consumers choose between half a dozen different lighting technologies. Instead of asking about watts, consumers need to ask about light output (lumens) and efficiency.

Lamps Affected

EPACT sets minimum efficiency standards for some of the most common products: incandescent reflector lamps (R), parabolic reflector lamps (PAR), 4 and 8 foot fluorescent lamps and U-bent lamps (U). However, the most universal lamp--the common light bulb (A-lamp)-- is exempt from the standards. Also exempt are elliptical reflector lamps (ER), bulb reflector (BR) and a host of specialty lamps (colored, decorative, etc). Products banned by EPACT will be available only while existing inventory lasts. After that you'll have to look for substitutes.


New information required on packaging and product literature will help you compare products. The information includes lumen output, estimated efficiency (lumens per watt) and lamp life. Fluorescents will also list Color Rendering Index. Although they are exempt from the efficiency standards, A-lamps and compact fluorescents must be labeled. The information can help you compare light output and pick the appropriate lamp for the job.

The Shapes of Things to Come

Fluorescent Lamps

Today, the standard full-size fluorescent lamp is 1.5 inches in diameter-- a size designated as "T12." It uses 40 watts to generate 3050 lumens. The typical fluorescent is also notorious for bad color, with a Color Rendering Index of about 50 to 60 on a scale of 100. EPACT nudges the lighting industry and consumers to lamps that use energy more efficiently and provide better colors.

The most efficient replacements are the skinnier T-8 lamps, which are only 1 inch in diameter. In addition to being sleeker, T-8s are more efficient and have excellent color. Currently, you'll still pay more for a T8 than a T12, but prices are dropping rapidly. However, greater efficiency and longer life make T8s more economical in the long run. T-8 lamps need a different ballast than T12s. To achieve best efficiency install electronic ballasts, although you can finds suitable magnetic ballasts too.

Directional Lamps

Incandescent reflector lamps (R-lamps) used in recessed downlights and track lights have also been affected by EPACT. The best alternatives are halogen PAR lamps (PAR30 and PAR20), although it's only about 15 percent more efficient than older incandescents. There are two issues to keep in mind with PAR-lamp replacements. First, they have a slightly narrower beam spread than the older R-lamps. This might cause uneven illumination in some downlight applications. Second, some PAR lamps are shorter than R-lamps, so some light is trapped in the fixture. Long-neck PARs or socket extenders can solve this problem. In spite of these limitations, PAR-lamps are currently the best replacement for most situations.

Low voltage halogens (MR16s) offer another option. In addition to saving energy, the small filament allows a very efficient reflector that directs more of the light in the desired direction. The combination of energy and optical efficiency make low voltage halogens a good choice for accent lighting.

Compact Fluorescents

Energy efficiency and high-quality color are hallmarks of compact fluorescent lamps, so they easily meet the requirements of EPACT. Compact fluorescents now come in many sizes, shapes and light outputs. Thousands of fixtures are designed specifically for CFLs. Somewhere, there is a fixture that meets your needs and your budget. The problem can be finding it. Retailers may be reluctant to carry fixtures dedicated to compact fluorescents and have been known to discourage buyers. However, with a bit of research, your supplier should be able to offer several options.

Retrofit kits can convert many fixtures from incandescent to fluorescent, including downlights and surface-mounted fixtures. In a pinch, you could even replace R-lamps with reflector-equipped, screw-in compact fluorescent lamps.

Achieving the right light output with CFLs can be tricky. Packages and product literature often list incandescent to CFL "equivalents." The actual lumen output of a CFL is affected by heat, lamp position and ballast issues. Most of the equivalents are optimistic. Actual light output could be 10-30 percent lower. Enclosed fixtures with poor ventilation are especially prone to problems.

When replacing incandescents with CFLs, you can compensate by switching to a lamp with a slightly higher output, say from 1200 lumens to 1800 lumens or more. In new construction, you also have several options. Switch to a higher wattage fixture, install more fixtures of the same wattage, choose fixtures that project light better or some combination of these.

Consumer Strategy

In new construction or remodeling you often have several options. You can select the right combination of fixture, lamp and control for each situation. If you start from an existing fixture, your options will be limited to the lamps that will fit or conversion kits.

More efficient lamps are more expensive, too. Fortunately, you'll save money every time you use them. Because many consumers focus on initial cost instead of lifetime cost, expect manufacturers and resellers to offer (in some cases promote) substitutes that barely meet the EPACT requirements. These products might appear more attractive at first glance. It will pay to look more carefully.

A good example is what Randal Smith, the technical librarian at the Lighting Design Lab in Seattle, Washington calls the "no free lunch replacement." "Say, you replace a standard fluorescent 40-watt T12 with the so-called "energy saving" 34-watt T12. That cuts energy use by 15 percent. You also get 15 percent less light. No free lunch," says Smith. He recommends converting to 32-watt T8 lamps with electronic ballasts. You get excellent color (up to 85 CRI) and the same amount of light you had before. However, you'll cut energy use by 20 percent. The system should pay for itself before you replace the lamps the second time.

Incandescent R-lamps are similar. "Newly developed R-lamps lamps have been tweaked to improve efficiency," says Smith. "They just barely meet the EPACT efficiency requirements, but they cost more than the old lamps." A more efficient substitute is the 50-watt PAR30 halogen, which gives more light and burns twice as long as the tweaked R-lamp.

Sort the Options

Consumers will find more information on packages and in point-of-sale literature. Each of the "big three" lamp makers offers a printed guide to help you choose replacements for the discontinued lamps. The Osram-Sylvania guide Relamping America is especially informative. With all the new choices, you need to use this information to be a wise light buyer.


GE Lighting:

800 GE Light (800-435-4448)


800-255-5042 residential

800-842-7010 commercial




EPACT Lamp Standards



Lumens per Watt














up to 35



over 35



up to 35



over 35



up to 35



over 65



up to 100



over 100



*EPACT took effect on April 30, 1994 for these lamps.

This article appeared in Energy Source Builder #41 October 1995
©Copyright 1995 Iris Communications, Inc.