You understand that LED lighting is the way of the future. The new building code basically requires it as they now impose a limit of only 5 watts of artificial lighting per square metre of a house. So 4 x 50 watt halogen downlights in a 4m x 4m room will greatly exceed the limit. Also you have heard the obvious benefits:
- They last much longer - 25,000+ hours means they last more than 25 times a standard halogen downlight
- They use far less energy - you will save 80 % to 90% of the energy used by equivalent halogen globes
- Light quality is great - warm white colours suitable for household use and dimmable bulbs are now available
- Much lower heat output - far lower heat output, not hot to touch, reduced fire danger and increased range of installation options
- Environmentally friendly - no harmful mercury or dangerous gases, and produces far less CO2 than a standard halogen globe
However, there is still a lot of confusion as to the wide choice, all the weird and wonderful types, the huge range in price, and various claims of quality. LED lights have had a mixed review - there has been inconsistency, mixed quality, and a lack of clear information. Part of the issue is that LED technology has been been constantly changing and the competitive landscape is changing with it.
What is important is that the opportunity to change your existing lights to LED (a retrofit) or the opportunity to install them in a new house, is massive. Lighting typically counts for about 50% of a domestic power bill - and if you can cut the power usage of this component by 80 to 90% then it is great for your pocket and for the environment.
So how do I pick a LED Light?
We want to summarise the most important things to consider - and we will keep it to 4 tips and assume that we are talking about down lights just to keep it simple. Firstly, it is important to understand there are really two ways to install LED lighting:
1. Install LED globes into existing halogen or other incandescent light fittings
2. Install a new "Integrated LED Light Fixture"
1. Think of it as a new light, not a new globe
Proper LED light fixtures are being designed to last for maybe 25 years or more before they need changing. You have to discard the mindset of needing to change globes or of replacing your current halogen globes with LED globes. There are benefits in changing the entire light fitting to an LED compatible fitting - and when you realise that you will understand that just changing the halogen globe to a LED globe will not give you a lot of those benefits. A lot of the LED long-life technology is to do with the heat sink of the light's design. The bigger and better designed the heat sink, the better the light is at keeping the LED chip cool - and it will last longer. When a LED light is manufactured to be the size of a standard halogen globe then the heat sink is much smaller. This affects the light's lifetime expectation.
Take the time to replace the entire fitting (the in-ceiling transformer, and the light fixture) so you can install an integrated LED light fixture. That way you know it will perform as designed and you should not need to touch it for 25 years +.
2. LED globes can be cheaper, but there can be problems
Whilst buying a cheaper LED globe and simply changing your halogen globe is as simple as changing a light bulb, there can be hidden costs and performance issues. The transformer connected to the halogen light is typically designed to deliver between 20 watts and 60 watts of power. When you connect a 5 to 10 watt LED globe to it it can make the light flicker, or worst, it can burn it out. Interestingly, some of the large lighting companies have included expensive electronics in their LED reto-fit globes that essentially trick the halogen transformer into thinking it is delivering 50 watts to improve the compatibility between the globe and the transformer. However, the downside of this approach is these 'smart' LED globes are hideously expensive. Also, LED globes are not yet powerful enough to meet the same light output as a 50 watt halogen globe. Some are starting to claim they are but they have had to make the globe much bigger than the globe they are replicating, and in many cases it will not suit your old fittings.
An integrated LED light is typically a superior light output to a LED globe, and it comes with the correct compatible transformer (driver) so you know there are no expensive compatibility issues.
3. Buy something that is made for Australian conditions
Unfortunately Australia has a unique electrical environment to most of the rest of the world. Our voltage is high, and our surges and spikes are also higher. Many LED lights and drivers on the market are not specifically made for these conditions and the light performance can be compromised. Also there are many places that are selling globes that do not strictly meet the Australian standards - they may argue that they are a 12 volt product so they do not need compliance. That is incorrect - ask for evidence of the SAA compliance and look for a c-tick logo on the packaging or product (both light and transformer) with the unique registration number. Only then can you be sure it is certified for Australia. However, it is difficult to judge whether it is specifically designed to tolerate the Australian conditions - we have found that most do not and it is worth researching to find one that is built specifically for our market.
Look for the Australian c-tick compliance logo. Globes can be more difficult to assess as they are often shipped from overseas or the merchant claims they are a 12 volt product and do not need compliance. We recommend to buy an integrated LED light kit where the entire kit has the c-tick and SAA compliance, and it is clearly a light marketed for Australian conditions.
4. Pick a colour that will suit the room
Colour? Yes, but not disco light colours - there are various shades of white light when it comes to lighting. The most common by far is warm white (2800K in technical language). There is also Natural White (~4000K) and Cool White (~6400K). Warm white is great for living areas. Some people prefer natural white for work areas and utility areas like bathrooms and laundries. Cool white is not usually purchased for households unless you practise dentistry and need such a clinical white light! It is recommended that you do not mix lights within a room - keep them all the same colour.
We recommend to go warm for everywhere except where you really want higher brightness. Laundries, some bathrooms, home offices and kitchens are the usual exceptions. Buy some warm and a natural and try them out then make the decision.