It has hardly been a stampede, but Canadians have stepped up their purchases of old-style incandescent light bulbs, as buyers stockpile them in the wake of the first phase of a ban on manufacturing the power-guzzling product.
Retailers report a jump in sales as a result of the Jan. 1 implementation of federal rules that prevent 75-watt and 100-watt bulbs from being made or imported into Canada. At the end of this year, 40- and 60-watt bulbs will also come under the ban.
But the rules allow sales of the existing inventory of the 100-watt bulbs (very few 75-watt bulbs are sold in Canada), and retailers have lots in stock that they say will last for months.
"We've seen a spike, there's no question," said Ron Cleary, senior merchant for electrical products at Home Depot Canada Inc. But he expects the flurry to burn out quickly as customers realize there are many other options.
Home Depot will likely have inventory of the old 100-watt bulbs until at least March, Mr. Cleary said.
At that time the retailer will have stocked up with 72-watt halogen-incandescents, a slightly more expensive bulb that looks and behaves much like the old ones but which meets the new federal rules because it uses 28-per-cent less electricity to generate the same amount of light. It also lasts much longer than old style incandescents.
Other alternatives include compact fluorescents (CFLs), which have fallen sharply in price in recent years, and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, which are still expensive – as much as $30 per bulb – but have also come down in price recently. Both use dramatically less power than incandescents and last much longer.
Despite the higher-cost bulbs, the government says lower household energy use means that consumers will save more than $750-million by 2025.
Canadians spend about $300-million a year on light bulbs.
Still, there is resistance among some consumers to give up the old-style bulbs. Ontario Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant has been lobbying to have the government cancel the phase out of incandescents. She has an online petition (stopthelightbulbban.ca) on the go to try to get the rules repealed.
In the United States, the backlash is even stronger, as some see the rule change as a conspiracy among big government, lighting manufacturers, and environmentalists. One website (freedomlightbulb.org) channels the views of those who say the ban on incandescents makes no sense and is an assault on individual freedoms.
The United States is actually well ahead of Canada on cutting out incandescents. It banned manufacturing or importing of 100-watt bulbs in 2012, and eliminated 40- and 60-watt bulbs on Jan. 1 of this year. British Columbia is also ahead of the rest of Canada, banning 100-watt incandescents in 2011.
In both countries, specialty incandescent bulbs – such as decorative lamps and those used in ovens, refrigerators or three-way fixtures – will be allowed indefinitely.
Among the more widespread complaints about the changeover is that most CFLs do not work with dimmers, and that they contain mercury so they must be disposed of carefully. LEDs do not face these issues, they are still considerably more expensive. While some consumers didn't like the look of early CFLs and LEDs, both now come in a range of of hues (from yellowish warm to cooler bluish).
Sales of incandescents have been "gradually dying out for the last few years," said Alison Rennie, operations manager for the Living Lighting chain, as alternatives have come to market and people warm to the idea of energy-saving bulbs.
A delay in the incandescent ban (Ottawa originally planned it for 2012 but pushed it back to 2014) gave bulb-makers time to improve their replacement products, she added. "I'm glad we had the two-year delay because the manufacturers weren't ready."
Selling light bulbs that cost substantially more but will last for years requires a different marketing approach, said Rina Varano, a merchandiser for lighting and electrical products at Rona Inc.
She said that in the past, light bulbs were often used as loss leaders – a way to get consumers into the store. Now they are sold as an environmentally friendly technology that is worth a higher price because of the long life. Eventually sales will decline as the long-life bulbs become more ubiquitous.
While most consumers are willing to make the change, it can be an expensive up-front investment for businesses buying large quantities of bulbs, even though energy savings will help defer the costs over time.
Andrew Cowan, an independent consultant who sells lighting systems and products in Toronto, said his commercial customers – restaurants, office buildings and condominiums, for example – are scrambling to get the old bulbs because they like the look they create, and the fact that they are easily dimmable.
With the 100-watt incandescents no longer being manufactured or imported into Canada, and the ban on 60-watt bulbs looming, the pricing of remaining inventory has risen, Mr. Cowan said. He used to be able to sell them in bulk for as low as 39 cents each, but now charges around 89 cents.