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Bulbageddon is upon us

The new year is bringing new efficiency standards that will spell the end for the common incandescent light bulb.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, incandescents; it tolls for thee.

Along with the start of a new calendar year, the changeover to 2014 will signal the dawn of a new era, one in which rising efficiency standards render 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs obsolete. The new standards will put an end to the Edison creation's century-long run as America's favorite light, and force consumers to turn to newer, more efficient technologies when replacing a burnt-out bulb.

In the big picture, incandescent bulbs seem to be going out with more of a whimper than a bang, as a recent survey showed that 6 out of 10 consumers aren't even aware of the new standards coming on January 1. Of the 4 in 10 who are aware, a majority are excited for the widespread usage of higher-efficiency lighting -- though plenty of consumers aren't so happy to see their beloved incandescents burn out for good.

Halogens like this one use incandescent technology, but are efficient enough to meet the new standards. Martin LaMonica/CNET

However, don't be too quick to mourn them. Though common incandescents will no longer be manufactured or sold in the US after standards go up, retailers will be permitted to continue selling their existing inventories, just as they were when 75- and 100-watt incandescents were phased out last January. Many stores were able to continue selling those bulbs on into the summer, so don't be surprised to see incandescent bulbs on the shelves well after the standards kick in.

In addition, keep in mind that incandescents haven't actually been banned -- efficiency standards are simply going up. The common incandescent won't be able to keep up, but a more efficient incandescent would still be fair game. The good news? This kind of incandescent -- the halogen bulb -- already exists. These bulbs trap the incandescent's filament within a tiny, harmless amount of halogen gas. This gas is able to "recycle" the evaporated tungsten back onto filament, making for a longer-lasting, more efficient incandescent bulb. Best of all, these bulbs don't cost much more than standard incandescents, so consumers looking for a cheap, simple lighting option will still have one.

Halogens are already readily available, and some retailers plan on doubling down on them in the coming year. At Home Depot, where a four-pack of 60-watt replacement halogens currently costs $5.97, the store's line of EcoSmart halogens will soon be expanded and re-branded as "EcoIncandescents." A spokesperson for Lowe's echoed a similar push toward a greater halogen selection.

Plenty of LEDs, like the Cree bulb on the right, will offer similar brightness and color to what you'll get from incandescents -- and they'll do so using a fraction of the wattage. Ry Crist/CNET

Consumers willing to pay for a more significant upgrade in their bulbs' efficiency and longevity will be happy to know that LED and CFL options will be expanding, as well. We've already seen high-quality lights like the Cree 60-watt Replacement LED drop well below the $10 mark in many parts of the country (Home Depot claims that instant rebates are available for the Cree bulb at over 400 stores). In addition, we're starting to see intriguing new designs like the Philips SlimStyle LED, which eliminates the bulky heat sinks commonly found in LED bulbs. Lights like these could signal that the next big step in LED tech is right around the corner -- along with significantly lower prices.

Whether you're anxiously stockpiling incandescent bulbs while you can, or celebrating the start of a more efficient era, the good news is that you're still going to have plenty of options when you head out to your local lighting aisle. The end of the incandescent doesn't have to mean the end of lighting that you'll enjoy living with, but with things changing so rapidly, taking some time to get to know your new options would be a very bright idea, indeed.