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Kevin Szmyd became obsessed with incandescent lightbulbs in the spring, a few months before new federal regulations effectively banned them in favor of more energy-efficient LEDs. Facing the prospect of losing access forever, he had a bright idea: He would stockpile as many lightbulbs as possible before the Aug. 1 cutoff.
He explained his mind-set at the time: “I’m panicked. I think that there’s a hard deadline, and I’ll never be able to buy them again,” he told The Washington Post. “I’m trying to get a lifetime collection before the ban.”
Szmyd, 25, spent about six weeks and roughly $1,700 hoarding more than 4,800 lightbulbs, a stockpile he estimates will last him some 75 years. Szmyd, waxing eloquent about light quality and current flows, talks about lightbulbs the way audiophiles insist that vinyl produces better sound than CDs or streaming services.
“It’s the gold standard at producing a sunlight-quality color, whereas LEDs . . . often they’re casting out more of a bluish-green light, which is just terrible,” he said.
Szmyd, who lives in Portsmouth, N.H., found his latest passion just in time, according to Insider, which first reported the story. Last year, the Energy Department finalized rules requiring manufacturers to sell bulbs that emit more light using the same amount of energy. The new standard of 45 lumens per watt effectively banned the most common incandescent bulbs, which produce about 15 lumens per watt. Biden administration officials estimated that the rules will save people $3 billion a year in energy costs and cut U.S. carbon emissions by 222 million metric tons over the next three decades.
Federal officials forced manufacturers to stop making incandescent bulbs on Jan. 1 but gave retailers and distributors seven more months to sell off their inventory. They made several exceptions to the ban, including for blacklights, bug-zapping lamps and lightbulbs used in traffic signals and household appliances like microwaves and refrigerators.
Szmyd said his vague awareness of the looming ban led him to learn more earlier this year. He asked his parents, who “love old things,” if they had any incandescent lightbulbs they would be willing to give him. His father took him down to the basement and gestured toward a filing cabinet. Opening it, Szmyd found a soft-pink Sylvania-brand 60-watt bulb. Szmyd put it into a light fixture and turned it on.
“The light it was casting was so pretty, Szmyd said. “I wanted more of that.”
Little did Szmyd know that he had stumbled upon the Sylvania 10576, an incredibly rare specimen. He spent months looking for more – even one – and struck out again and again. He couldn’t find them in stores. He couldn’t find them online.
Finally, he happened across a guy who was selling 11 soft-pink Sylvanias on Craigslist – not the 60-watt bulbs he was looking for, but close enough. After he bought them, the seller confided to Szmyd that he had just secured what were possibly the last soft-pink Sylvanias in the United States.
“It was probably the highlight of my year,” he said.
The soft-pink Sylvanias lit the fire in his belly. Szmyd figured out the array of lightbulbs he would need throughout his three-bedroom, 1.5-bath home. His house, which is just under 2,000 square feet, uses about 50 lightbulbs at a time, which he said is pretty standard.
Szmyd went to stores. He contacted sellers on eBay, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. He said that he probably hit up everyone selling lightbulbs within 250 miles of Manchester, N.H. He created a spreadsheet to keep track of his inventory to ensure he had enough of each type of lightbulb. By the end of July, he had a stack that filled up 125 cubic feet in his basement.
Since then, he has watched the price of the now-illicit lightbulbs skyrocket online. A 25-count box that he bought for about $15 in June is now selling for $150. Tempted, Szmyd considered capitalizing on the nascent lightbulb black market. But then he calculated the fines that the Energy Department might levy against him for breaking the rules. If he sold every bulb he had, those fines could top $2.6 million.
Szmyd decided to use the lightbulbs himself.
People have told him that his efforts have inspired them to get their own incandescent bulbs, although he suspects some are humoring him. Some dismissed what he’s doing as a futile exercise in trying to march against time. And others denounced him for “killing the planet,” which provokes Szmyd to counter that, unlike LED bulbs, which are made of plastic, incandescent bulbs consist of glass that can break down to sand.
“To anyone that just thinks that people aren’t allowed to like things for the sheer purpose of liking things – they’re grinches,” Szmyd said. “I meet a lot of lightbulb grinches out there who just don’t want to have fun, they don’t want me to have fun and they want to poo-poo it.”
“And I think that’s silly. Let people enjoy things. If I want to like lightbulbs, let me like lightbulbs.”
Szmyd sees himself as a pioneer in the world of collecting incandescent lightbulbs but doesn’t believe he’ll be alone in the years to come. Now that the lightbulbs are no longer being made, he expects others will join as scarcity breeds a newfound appreciation for what has, up to this point, been overlooked as an unremarkable tool.
“Nobody was an automobile collector,” Szmyd said, “before the first Model T went out of production.”
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