Who makes the light bulbs imported to the United States?
In brief this article looks at where are light bulbs made. Specifically where the light bulbs we buy here in the USA come from.
Recently I looked at whether light bulbs were manufactured here in the United States. In that article the answer was pretty much no. So I wanted to know where our light bulbs are actually made.
According to the U.S. Energy Department we bought 7.5 billion light bulbs in 2018. Without a doubt that is a lot of light bulbs. And where do they all come from? Well, unfortunately not here in the United States. In our previous article “Are light bulbs made in the USA?” we noted that there is only one working light bulb factory left in the US.
So we took a deep dive into the import number provided by the U.S. Census Bureau data site. These should tell us where our light bulb are being made.
Different Types of Light Bulbs
Before we get into countries and import figures lets look at what we mean by light bulbs.
There are four major types of light bulbs that we use in our homes and offices.
These are the old style light bulbs with a wire filament. When a current passes through it the filament glows brightly, generating light. They waste a lot of power generating heat rather than light making them very inefficient.
Like incandescents, halogen bulbs have a filament that glows when a current passes through it. The difference being that the element surrounding the filament contains only halogen gas. The gas increase the light produced and also extends the life of the filament. This makes them more efficient and gives a longer lifetime than incandescent bulbs. But still not as efficient as CFLs and LEDs.
Compact Fluorescents or CFLs are fluorescent tubes, like the ones used in offices and stores. The manufacturing process folds the tubes into a compact shape so that they fit in a normal light bulb socket. Light is release when a current passes through the mercury vapor within the sealed tube. Unfortunately mercury is a neurotoxin. As such you need to careful disposal of CFLs.
Light Emitting Diodes or LEDs are small pieces of semiconductor. They emit a light when a current passes through them. Within an LED light bulb there are 3 separate LEDs, one red, one blue and one green. These three different colors of light combine to produce a white light.
How we arrived at the numbers?
As I have noted the United States does not produce its own light bulbs. Thus, the bulbs we buy are made overseas and imported. The United States Census Bureau allows anyone to access economic data. In our case import of goods.
However it is not quite that simple. The Census Bureau groups uses HTS codes to group its data. I know, I had never heard of them either. HTS stands for Harmonized Tariff Schedule. In brief they are 10 digit codes used by the customs people. They classify goods imported or exported.
Light related tariff codes
Of course there is not one handy code for light bulbs. Rather spreading them across various areas. The groupings in the lighting section are below.
- 940510 – Chandelier Ceilng/wall Lghtng Fttng Ex Public Lght
- 940511 – Led Chandeliers, Other Elec Ceiling/wall Lighting
- 940519 – Chandeliers, Oth Elec Ceiling/wall Lighting Nesoi
- 940520 – Electric Table Desk Bedside Or Floor-standing Lamp
- 940521 – Led Elec Table,desk,bedside,floor-standing Light
- 940529 – Elec Table,desk,bedside,floor-standing Light Nesoi
- 940530 – Lighting Sets Of A Kind Used For Christmas Trees
- 940531 – Led Christmast Tree Lighting Strings
- 940539 – Christmas Tree Lighting Strings, Not Led
- 940540 – Electric Lamps And Lighting Fittings, Nesoi
- 940541 – Led Photovoltaic Luminaires And Lighting Fittings
- 940542 – Led Electric Luminaires And Lighting Fittings
- 940549 – Electric Luminaires And Lighting Fittings, Nesoi
- 940550 – Non-electrical Luminaires And Lighting Fittings
- 940560 – Illuminated Signs, Illuminated Nameplates And The
- 940561 – Led Illuminated Signs, Name-plates Etc
- 940569 – Illuminated Signs, Name-plates And The Like, Nesoi
- 940591 – Parts For Lamps Etc. Of Glass 940592 Parts For Lamps Etc. Of Plastic 940599 Parts For Lamps And Lighting Fittings, Nesoi
In fact for this article we are going to focus on one section. That being “Electric Lamps And Lighting Fittings, Nesoi” . Before we do that though lets explain what lamps and fixtures are. Also, in case you are interested Nesoi means Not Elsewhere Specified or Indicated.
What are Lamps and Fixtures?
In truth lamps is just the technical name given to light bulbs. Specifically a lamp is any device that generates light from electricity.
Fixtures are either the mounting for a light source or a complete unit that contains one. So, not just the light bulb. Rather the fittings that go round it. And possibly the bulb if it is a sealed unit. So if you have a recessed spot light in your ceiling the the fixture is the part that mounts in the ceiling.
Import Figures 2021
So now we understand what items fall into the category Electric Lamps And Lighting Fittings. It would be nice if this group split in half as we really want to know just about the lamps part. That said, we must can draw some interesting information from the figures provided.
Keep in mind that the numbers include both light bulbs and fixtures.
Top 10 importers by country
Total Import Value (US$)
As shown above China is the major importer into the United States with an import value of close to $2 billion. The total import value for this grouping is $3.9 billion. So China accounts for roughly half of all imports. The next major importer is Mexico, followed by Cambodia and Vietnam. Taken together they import $1 billion worth of goods.
How much of this is light bulbs?
As I noted earlier the Census Bureau data does not distinguish between light bulbs and fixtures. However the Energy Department does provide a breakdown of sales for 2019. Note that the figures only cover the LED part of the market.
In 2019 the total North American luminaire market was worth $11.6 billion. To explain, luminaire is another technical word. It means fittings. In this case it also includes light bulbs. I know, confusing.
Of this $10.2 billion was the United States markets. Next we take off the 25% retailer markup and come up with $8.14 billion in goods. In that year U.S. imports were $4.7 billion. With the result that $3.4 billion was U.S. domestic manufacture.
Of the $4.7 billion import figure $2.1 billion was LED light bulbs. So roughly 45% of the import was for light bulbs.
If we apply that percentage to our 2021 figures we get a total light bulb import value of just less than $1 billion worth of light bulbs made in China and imported into the USA.
In Conclusion: Where are our light bulbs made?
To sum up. From what we know 50% of the light bulbs and fixtures that we import come from China.
Also the US Energy Department wrote that 94% of LED light bulb imports to the United States in 2019 were from China.
This tallies with my experience of buying bulbs at my local home goods store light bulb supplier. Every bulb had made in China written on the packaging.
However, taking light bulbs and fittings together they also come from Mexico, Cambodia and Vietnam. Moreover, not everything comes from countries with cheaper manufacturing costs. Albeit in smaller amounts fixtures also come from Canada, Germany, Italy, the UK, Japan, Finland and France.
Additionally roughly 40% of light fitting used here in the U.S. are manufactured or assembled here.