12/12/2011 04:43 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2012

Radiant Gifts for the Holidays

Thanks to President George W. Bush and his brilliant idea to sign into law in 2007 a federal energy bill establishing energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs, inventiveness in the lighting sector has been unleashed and manufacturers are on fire with excitement about all the new products they're bringing to market this year. (The standards go into effect in January.)

All of this has me beaming too, and it has made this year's gift-giving a whole lot easier: light bulbs for everyone!

I'm kidding, right?

Actually, I'm quite serious, and given all the great new lighting options -- including halogen incandescent bulbs that look and work as well as the ones you're used to -- only 30 percent more efficiently; CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights) that give good light quickly; and LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes) that now cast light omni-directionally; I'm positively aglow thinking about just how personal these gifts can be.

Lights are the new throw pillows, and the inner interior decorator in you is going to love browsing through all the options. Back in the day, we'd buy bulbs based on how much light we needed (say, 60- or 100-watt bulbs). But now it's really all about the quality of the light, as well as its suitability with the colors in the room and the way it gets distributed. (Did someone say feng shui?)

True, confronting all the choices out there can be intimidating -- what with considering everything from brightness, warmth, and energy-efficiency, to life span and EnergyStar standards. But we'll figure it all out eventually, just as we've learned to operate those TV remotes. (Okay, maybe that's not the best example.)

It's going to take some time, admits Konstantinos Papamichael, a director of the California Lighting Technology Center at the University of California, Davis. Speaking with Bob Tedeschi, author of The Pragmatist column in the New York Times, Papamichael suggested that we'll need to do some experimenting "with different light versions" to really appreciate what's available. Having neither the time nor the inclination to do a lot of comparison shopping, I'm thankful that Tedeschi tested a whole bunch of new bulbs in his home and reported the results in a recent column. is also a terrific resource, as are the information displays at the Home Depot and Lowe's stores, where many of the new bulbs are sold.

It's also worth printing out the National Resources Defense Council's Lightbulb Guide and sticking it in your wallet. It decodes the new Lighting Facts label we'll see soon be seeing on all light bulb packages. Take it along so that you can choose the best bulbs for your task -- whether it's chopping vegetables in your peach-toned kitchen, working long hours at a slick glass desk, or shining some light on a cluttered back hallway.

Anyway, back to the gifts. Here's my list so far:

For my husband, who spends endless hours in the kitchen but, like me, detests having to climb the ladder to change the bulbs on the ceiling, I am getting the EcoSmart 75-watt-equivalent dimming LED bulb. The light is soft and diffuse -- perfect for reading the paper at the breakfast table. (True, paying $30 for a light bulb will take some getting used to, but I remind myself that LEDs have a very long life -- 25,000 hours, as compared with 6,600 for equivalent CFLs, or 1,000 watts for an incandescent bulb -- so it could well be 2025 before either of us has to mount that ladder.)

Another good light for the kitchen, especially the food-prep areas, is G.E.'s $10 Bright From the Start Energy Smart CFL, a 75-watt-equivalent in soft white. It has a halogen component that lights up immediately while the fluorescent component is kicking in.

For my sons, niece, and a couple of nephews -- all of whom work long hours at a desk -- I"m thinking of Home Depot's three-way EcoSmart Soft White CFL. EcoSmart also offers an omni-directional LED bulb that casts a nice sharp light for reading. (A definite possibility for the business grad student poring over all those problem sets.)

For a niece who works in retail and needs to look good on the floor, I'm deciding between the EcoSmart G25, a 40-watt-equivalent, globe-type CFL bulb in soft white ($10 for two) and a standard halogen bulb.Halogens throw off light on the warmer end of the color spectrum and in all directions -- qualities that work well in warm-hued bathroom settings.

I've found just the right light for my Dad who likes to read in his recliner, and my two oldest nephews whose kids love bedtime stories -- the new Philips Ambient LED 75-watt-equivalent which is a steal at $40. My brother and sister-in-law entertain endlessly, so they'll get halogen lights for the dining room -- either the Sylvania SuperSaver ($7 for four) or the Philips EcoVantage ($3 for two). Both are 100-watt-equivalents and are dimmable.

Working my way down my list, I'm feeling pretty satisfied about everything, when it hits me: what about my school-aged nephews? If I give them each a light bulb, I'll surely soar to the top of their worst-ever-gift-giver lists. But then a light goes on in my head: LED headlamps! They can read in bed after the lights have been turned out and play spy games under the stars. They'll love them.

So that's it -- my holiday gift list. Illuminating, don't you think?