Codes + Standards

What if 80% of the lamps in your house had to be fluorescent?

The residential section of the 2009 version of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), recently published, has a new Section 404, which covers residential lighting.

It’s the first time IECC has covered residential lighting efficiency.


The entire section reads simply:

“404.1 Lighting equipment (prescriptive). A minimum of 50% of the lamps in permanently installed lighting fixtures shall be high-efficacy lamps.”

In the definitions at the beginning of the code, a “high efficacy lamp” is defined:

“Compact fluorescent lamps, T8 or smaller diameter linear fluorescent lamps, or lamps with a minimum efficacy of: 1) 60 LPW for lamps >40W, 2) 50 LPW for lamps >15W to 40W, and 3) 40 LPW for lamps 15W or less.”

This strangely includes screw-in CFLs in incandescent fixtures, which could theoretically be changed out as soon as the owner moves in. There are several things to worry about with this type of approach, but I’ll leave those aside for now to focus on some big news. The International Code Council (IECC), the organization that creates and maintains the IECC, recently held a meeting and rumor has it they are considering raising this number to 80% for the next version of the code.

CFLs are not universally dimmable and special, more expensive products are needed. Currently, many dimmable CFLs exhibit operating issues on most incandescent dimmers. I put in a dimmable CFL in my house, which is mostly dimming and few CFLs, and it flickered intensely like Dr. Frankenstein’s lab until I dimmed it down to about 40%, when it cut out abruptly and started strobing like a hazard light. Both the dimmer and CFL were from reputable manufacturers with brands you’d recognize at first glance.

Faced with a choice, I kept my dimmer. My energy savings aren’t as big, but I can save 20% (average dimming, according to one study) and I hardly ever change light bulbs because dimming extends incandescent lamp life. My family lives a very “green” lifestyle and we don’t mind being inconvenienced to do so, but we’re not really into compromising the basics. For example, we’re not going to accept bad lighting just as we wouldn’t consider switching to cold showers.

This is why I was so disappointed when GE announced it was stopping work on its high-efficiency incandescent (HEI) project. That leaves the energy-saving version of the Philips Halogena screw-in halogen lamp series as the only incandescent/halogen lamp in compliance with the Energy Independence and Security Act, which begins to become phased into effect in 2012.

GE is shifting its resources to work on LEDs. So has Philips. Incandescents are considered out, and even CFLs are being considered a transitional technology.

I just hope the new LED lamps work on my dimmers. It’s not going to be very green to have everybody rip their dimmers out of their walls and throw them away.

In the meantime, I am hoping ICC will do what lighting designer and code expert Jim Benya encouraged them to do during the public review process for 2009 IECC, which is adopt language similar or identical to California’s Title 24 energy code, which is very simple, effective and flexible.

  • Jeff Gephart February 13, 2009, 11:06 AM

    So it seems that your aesthetic issues trump maintaining the planet as a habitable space for human kind? This is the opinion of someone who I assume is a lighting expert? The cost of some dimmer replacement (and throwing away some old dimmers)is miniscule compared to the building’s energy use over time. Just wait until our buildings begin competing with our transportation needs for electrons (2010 with the plug in Prius and the Chevy Volt and more to come), you’ll be screaming for 100% high efficacy lighting.

  • Craig DiLouie February 13, 2009, 1:34 PM

    Thanks for your comment, Jeff!

    Your points are of course valid but remember: Dimmers do save energy–about 20%. Combined with an energy-saving halogen lamp which saves about 30%, this is good energy savings but without compromising lifestyle. Not as high as a CFL, but you are saving energy without the very significant environmental and real cost of ripping controls out of the wall and then driving to a store to buy different controls. Remember, I’m talking about your house, not a commercial building. We don’t make lighting to consume energy, we make it to satisfy human needs. If global warming were our only concern and we accepted the choice you posed (“my lighting needs or maintaining the planet”), we should skip CFLs and install high-pressure sodium lamps in our homes, as long as you don’t mind the glare of a single high-output point source and the orange light. Better yet, we should shut off the lights at night entirely. As for me, I am waiting for further innovation from the lighting technology community to satisfy my lighting needs while reducing energy. It’s coming … Energy codes and legislation are just starting to tackle residential lighting, which is going to encourage a great deal of innovation for that market.

    I’m suggesting that maybe we can have it all when it comes to our very basic need for light?

  • James Bedell February 14, 2009, 3:05 PM

    I think the answer with CFL technology is to drive consumers away from screw-in CFL which dims horribly, and toward fixtures dedicated to true fluorescent dimming. You’re correct in saying manufacturers are looking at CFL as a bridge technology to LED. However, LED is much much easier to dim on the standard wall-box dimmers in most homes. Take Heart!

  • Craig DiLouie February 14, 2009, 11:52 PM

    Welcome and thanks for joining this interesting discussion, James.

    The ideal solution as you say is to drive consumers towards products that are truly dimmable. The trick is these fixtures are more expensive and now we’re replacing more than simply a lamp, again resulting in a higher environmental and actual cost (I’m referring to existing homes here, of course, which has nothing to do with IECC). That’s why CFLs have had a fairly high penetration rate but dedicated (pin-based) CFL luminaires have penetrated only an estimated 4-6% of homes.

    But this does bring up another interesting issue about IECC 2009, which is that screw-in lamps are permitted–which means fewer dedicated dimming luminaires will be installed and, interestingly, another solution for homeowners, which is to simply tear out all the CFLs and install incandescents after occupancy. I’m pinning some hopes on NEMA. NEMA has set up a task force to look at dimmable CFL and dimming control interoperability issues.

    Regarding LEDs, it again depends on whether you are installing an LED luminaire or an LED retrofit product. Retrofit products are more prone to flicker and you have to check very carefully to ensure the lamp and the dimmer are rated as compatible. It’s an interesting dilemma common to both CFLs and LEDs–here’s an entirely new light source faced with the problem of being tasked to work in an existing structure–in this case, incandescent fixtures in millions of homes.

  • Michael Phillips February 24, 2009, 11:57 AM

    Very interesting discussion! As a person who design lighting for a living I understand the desire of the regulation bodies to try and ensure energy efficient products are used to reduce our energy footprint, but I am concerned about this blind push to adopt technology that may not, in the long run, really be an improvement. For example LED products are very material heavy – the printed circuit board to hold the LEDs, heat sink, driver etc. Also, LED are not currently “replaceable” in the manner of incandescent lamps so more waste material is generated when a product does fail. I feel that we as a lighting community ensure that not only do we not sacrifice lighting quality, but we also ensure that we understand the long term impacts of adopting new technology.

  • Marla Stauth February 24, 2009, 12:15 PM

    I use 20W MR16’s for artwork. They are usually dimmed and as Craig noted, the lamp life is extended. The beam is exactly where I want it. Until I can get an LED to shoot 15′ across my living room, I will keep what I have. A CFL cannot replace the function of these lamps. The source is too large to precisely control, and the rated wattage plus ballast would actually use more energy.

    I have experimented with replacement CFL’s in the downlights in my kitchen. The one that I do leave on above the sink for a night light and security has the CFL. The others are on and off so often that they burn out more frequently than the halogen, and do not put out enough light for me to do kitchen tasks. I have barely begun to lose visual function as a factor of age, but I do notice it. The halogens are back in.
    The corridors do have CFL’s, but are rarely on. They do not require the fc that other tasks do.
    My closet, laundry and restroom luminaires have all been replaced with linear fluorescent for color and higher light output. It makes sense. More light, less energy.
    I have pin-based 9W CFL exterior wall luminaires.

    These codes need to take into consideration the tasks, the controls and the length of time that the sources are actually used. Homes generally do not use the most light at peak hours since they are on at night. It needs to make sense and be thought out carefully. I hope that Jim is sucessful. Energy can be saved using many different sources and methods. One isn’t the answer.

  • Terry McGowan February 24, 2009, 1:01 PM

    Integrally-ballasted CFLs may not dim very well, but there is improved technology out there. Lighting for Tomorrow has added a CFL dimming component to their annual residential energy-efficient luminaire design competition for 2009 to help bring the improvements to market. There’s information at:

  • Ken Ball February 24, 2009, 1:13 PM

    What percentage of residences in the United States have light dimmers? Of these, how many are used on a regular basis? My guess is that the percentage with dimmers is low and those whose dimmers are used frequently are very low.

    If everyone were to use CFLs or LED lamps in only the two or three rooms that are lit at night in an average US home, the collective energy reduction would be significant.

    By helping each school age child understand the amount of money their family could save by replacing just one incandescent lamp with a CFL, we would not only help their family save money but also begin training the next generation about energy savings. This could be a good, practical math problem with lasting benefits.

  • Mark Anderson February 25, 2009, 9:58 AM

    There are new products being developed and launched that will address the dimming issue. I have heard a lot about dimmable CFLs from a company called PureSpectrum that are supposed to be launched later this year at LightFair in New York. Supposedly, their dimmable CFLs function similarly to an incandescent and reduce energy consumption during dimming. Does anyone think we just need to be patient and see what new products/technologies are introduced that meet both consumer performance standards and energy efficiency standards?

  • Andy Redpath February 26, 2009, 9:08 AM

    To CFL or not to CFL? That is the question.The idea of saving the planet by saving energy with CFLs, appears on the surface to make total sense from a GHG reduction standpoint. However, if you study the lifecycle of nearly all CFL lamps, it’s not so appetizing after all. First off, nearly 95% of all CFLs are manufactured in China (home of the dirty coal-fired power plant).They are of course often manufactured 1000miles or more from the coast(to which they are trucked after manufacture). Think of all those GHGs going into the atmosphere along the route. Then of course they go onto a freighter that belches all those GHGs across the water to us well-meaning consumers. They are then typically trucked (more GHGs) to our local stores for our consumption. Fair enough, but does it not bother anyone that even after these products have lived their useful lives out, they have one last ‘kick at the GHG cat’? Most communities in North America have no recycling program for these lamps. Either we throw them into the nearest landfill (mercury and all), or even worse for the environment yet, we truck them to some far-flung recycling program wherever that may be. So in essence, even after they are burnt out, they still produce more GHGs getting them to our well-intentioned recycling centers. Perhaps we might consider investing in manufacturing them here at home, and really giving the environment the benefit these lamps are capable of providing. Food for thought.
    Don’t get me going on Dark Sky either!


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