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Halogen bulbs sneak onto store shelves

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Posted at 8:33 AM, Sep 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-14 13:08:43-04

Retailers are unscrewing hot, wasteful and outlawed incandescent light bulbs.

But the replacement for many isn’t an LED or fluorescent bulb – it’s a halogen bulb that looks and feels the same as Edison’s.

You might have already bought one and not even noticed. That’s on purpose.

“Nobody really cares -- it’s a light bulb,” said Walmart’s senior hardware buyer, John Prince. “To the average customer you can’t tell the difference.”

Prince said many shoppers throw them in the cart without looking at the package.

“The average consumer: ‘There’s my four pack, put it in my basket, I’ve got more stuff to go get.’ That’s what we see,” said John Strainic, general manager of General Electric Consumer Lighting.

Halogens burn a tungsten filament, just like Edison’s old bulb. The trick is a bit of halogen gas, which allows the filament to burn with 30 percent more efficiency.

“Halogen looks the same, performs the same, is dimmable,” Strainic said. “It is your incandescent light bulb, just a little more efficient.”

GE has bet big on halogen. With most incandescent bulbs outlawed by Congress, Strainic said GE expects halogens to secure a majority of the new bulb market – that’s about a billion bulbs sold each year.

They’ll be made in the U.S.A.

In partnership with Walmart, GE has outfitted three existing plants to produce halogen bulbs at plants in Bucyrus and Circleville, Ohio as well as Mattoon, Illinois. A $30 million investment will create 150 jobs that were previously in Mexico, Strainic said.

By October, Walmart expects to have the bulbs in all of its stores. By then, leftover incandescent supply will have dwindled and Walmart will promote the new bulbs.

The goal, Prince said, is to promote the bulbs in terms customers understand – price, energy savings and Made in America.

He said shopper’s number two concern is country of origin. Price was first.

“The key on this is we have both,” Prince said.

Halogen lights aren’t perfect. They’re not as efficient as LED or CFL bulbs. Unlike an LED, which can last decades, halogens only last about a year.

Halogens were previously associated with high powered floor lamps, which were notorious for catching fire. The new bulbs burn cooler and don’t pose a risk, Strainic said.

Strainic said the phase out of incandescent bulbs has caused anxiety – even fear – for many customers who don’t like florescent or LED lights.

“They appreciate the fact that there’s an option that’s familiar. And gives them a choice,” he said.

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on twitter @GavinStern or email him at gavin.stern@scripps.com