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The light bulb aisle at a Toronto Canadian Tire last week. Retailers say demand for incandescent bulbs is lower than a year ago. (Chris Young For The Globe and Mail)
The light bulb aisle at a Toronto Canadian Tire last week. Retailers say demand for incandescent bulbs is lower than a year ago. (Chris Young For The Globe and Mail)

Canada dims the light on the incandescent light bulb Add to ...

A seminal event occurred at the start of 2015, and hardly anyone noticed: the death of the incandescent light bulb.

Well, it is not quite dead, but as of Jan. 1, 60- and 40-watt incandescent light bulbs can no longer be manufactured or imported into Canada, an extension of the ban on 75- and 100-watt bulbs that came into effect a year earlier. These were moves made by the federal government to cut energy consumption.

While existing inventories of the bulbs will continue to be sold over the next few months – and a few specialty incandescents will still be available – this is the end for the basic bulb that was invented by Thomas Edison more than a century ago.

Last year, many buyers stockpiled the 100-watt bulbs as they faded out of existence, but this year the transition has been more low key, retailers say. Most consumers have come to terms with the change, and the continuing drop in price of LED (light emitting diode) replacements has made the switch to that technology far more palatable.

Consequently, the rush to stock up on 40- and 60-watt bulbs has been much more muted.

“Last year there was quite a spike, but this year we have seen very little of a rush at all,” said Ron Cleary, senior merchant for electrical products at Home Depot Canada Inc.

One factor is the wide availability of halogen incandescent bulbs, a transitional technology that is similar to the old incandescents, but more efficient. These bulbs use 28 per cent less power than the old bulbs – not nearly as much of a power saving as with LEDs or compact fluorescents (CFLs) – but just enough of a reduction to meet federal standards. They are more expensive than the old-style incandescent bulbs, although not as costly as CFLs or LEDs.

But it is the lower price and wider acceptance of LEDs that is really making a difference, Mr. Cleary said. These bulbs use 90 per cent less power and last 25 times as long – as much as 25,000 hours versus 1,000 for incandescents. Five years ago an LED bulb cost $50-$60, he said. Now some are under $10, and prices will continue to fall. “Over the past 12 months consumers have shown they are absolutely comfortable in changing [to LEDs],” Mr. Cleary said.

Canadians spend about $300-million a year on light bulbs.

At Canadian Tire, there have also been far fewer customers stocking up on the old incandescent bulbs, said Corey Halyk, the chain’s category business manager for light bulbs. He too said the fall in LED prices is key. “They have come down to much more reasonable levels,” Mr. Halyk said. “The customers know now that the bulb essentially pays for itself over the life of the bulb.”

There is now also a much broader variety of LEDs, and many are similar in shape and colour to old incandescent bulbs. They can also be dimmed, unlike most CFLs.

People who can’t let go of the old bulbs will still have a few options. “Rough service” incandescent bulbs – more expensive heavy-duty 40- and 60- watt bulbs – will still be available. And incandescent bulbs for decorative lamps, three-way fixtures, ovens and refrigerators will still be sold.

And the inventory of old 40- and 60-watt bulbs will be around for a few months. Mr. Halyk said Canadian Tire stores will have some 40s and 60s until around the end of March.

Sales of compact fluorescents are likely to slow down, the retailers say, since they are no longer dramatically cheaper than LEDs. There is also continuing concern over CFL’s mercury content, which can spill or leach into the soil if not disposed of properly. Some retailers, including Canadian Tire, Rona and Ikea will take back spent CFLs and recycle them.

Indeed, environmental concern over CFLs was one reason for a backlash against the government’s initial plans to phase out incandescent light bulbs. One Conservative federal MP, Cheryl Gallant, lobbied hard to have the government cancel the phase-out of incandescents, and organized an online petition. She appears to have given up the fight.

In the United States, the opposition to a similar ban – which went into effect ahead of Canada’s – was even more fierce. Opponents characterized the legislation as an assault on individual freedoms, and said the ban was a conspiracy among big government, lighting manufacturers and environmentalists.

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