It's cheaper, uses less energy and lasts longer. What's there to think about?
Thomas Edison will long be remembered as the man who invented the electric light bulb, but we’ve come a long way since Edison’s day. Technological advances now grant us access to light bulbs that can produce as much light as a traditional incandescent bulb using just a fraction of the energy. Upgrading to these more efficient bulbs is an easy and cost effective way of reducing both your energy use and power bills.
LEDs are the way to go
Lighting has evolved from incandescent lamps, to halogen lamps, to CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), and now ultimately to LEDs (light emitting diodes). Like all new technologies, LEDs were initially expensive, but their costs have recently tumbled. You'll now find them taking over the lighting shelves in supermarkets and hardware stores. They are highly efficient and potentially* have very long lives, making them much cheaper in the long run and so well worth the upfront investment.
Choosing the right light
There are a few considerations to make:
- How much light? We used to choose lights based on their watts - but that's how much power they use. Now, we choose them based on their lumens, how much light they produce. There are many factors involved, but to give some basic guidance, less than 700 lumens is a relatively dim blub, 700-900 lumens is moderate, and more than 900 lumens is a relatively bright bulb.
- What colour light? Most people prefer 'warm white', which has a colour temperature of 3000K. This is akin to the colour of light from a campfire, so nice and cosy for your lounge room. 'Cool white' (5000K) is closer to the colour of sunlight, but most people find it too blue, making their home feel cold. We prefer to use warm white for all household applications, but others say kitchens and bathrooms are best lit with a higher colour temperature. 'Daylight' (4000K) might be a good compromise.
- *Quality? Notice we said LEDs have potentially very long lives? That's because they are very sensitive to temperature. A quality bulb will be designed and build to not overheat and will last a very long time (50,000+ hours). But some of the cheaper, lower quality models can overheat and fail disappointingly quickly. So, there's a good chance that cheap bulbs might actually end up more expensive. Look for a warranty of at least 2 years, and keep your receipts!
Problems with downlights
Downlights (ones that are recessed into the ceiling) cause problems for ceiling insulation and draught-proofing, especially halogen downlights. The problems are fourfold:
- Downlights of all kinds require a hole in your ceiling, often allowing warm air to escape, especially around gimbals (lights that can rotate).
- Halogen lights are inefficient, so waste a lot of energy.
- Halogens get hot and so, to minimise fire risk, large gaps in insulation are required. This reduces the effectiveness of the insulation.
- The combination of the hole created by light fittings and the heat produced by halogens produces a 'chimney effect' (hot air rises), actively drawing warmth out of your home and into the roof cavity!
New LED downlights with an IC-F rating eliminate most of these problems as they can have insulation place directly over them. This is because they are so efficient they produce very little heat. You still need to be careful about draughts between the light fitting and ceiling, and concerns have also been raised about the lifespan of LEDs being reduced if they are insulated over, but we're yet to see the extent to which that happens.
Our advice is as follows...
- If you've got halogen downlights, replace them with IC-F LED versions (see the product options below), and add ceiling insulation. Make sure they are suitable for the same size hole that is already cut into your ceiling.
- If you're building or renovating, avoid recessed downlights altogether. There are plenty of other elegant options that don't require you to put a hole in your ceiling and compromise insulation / draught-proofing as a result.
DIY or professional installation?
If you already have standard Australian power outlets in your ceiling then replacing your downlights is a simple DIY job... Pull the old downlight down from the ceiling, unplug it from the power outlet, plug in the new downlight, and fit it into the hole in the ceiling (ensuring you don't create any gaps in insulation coverage in the process).
If you don't have power outlets in the your ceiling (i.e. the existing downlights are 'hard-wired') then you will need a licensed electrician to change them over. Get the electrician to install power outlets so you can do it DIY next time and save money.