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Do LED lights for home use impress?

Light emitting diodes or LEDs have long been talked about as the sustainable and cost efficient future for lighting. It’s only now that LED lights for home use have emerged from being a tantalising possibility to a mainstream option that can match huge energy savings with the right sort of light at sensible prices, albeit with some caveats.

New water-proof LED light system designed to flex round curved features

LED lights past

LEDs were first developed some 50 years ago but, like many emerging technologies, producing viable LED lights for home use has been a rocky road. Key issues have been poor light output, poor colour, short lamp life and flickering – some anecdotal reports have even suggested that they induce headaches – but these problems appear to have been largely overcome, especially by the more reputable manufacturers.

The workings of LEDs are considerably more complex than an incandescent lightbulb which simply contains a filament that glows when heated by a current passing through it; with these traditional lamps only 10% of energy consumed actually results in light.

The main components of an LED lamp are the LED chips that emit the light, the electrical components needed to control the LED, a heat sink to dissipate heat away from the LED chip, lenses to control the light performance and beam angles, and the mechanical components used to contain the lamp and provide a connection to the light fitting. The challenge for manufactures has been packing all this into a unit of an acceptable size.

Radiant Architectural Lighting’s new LED picture lights.

LED light fittings

The range of LED lights for home use was small but has dramatically increased. There is now no need to bin existing lighting fixtures as LEDs are offered for all standard fittings and the new generation of retrofit lights are a direct replacement for standard bulbs, be they downlighters, spotlights, floodlights or strip lights.

12v versus 240v LED lighting

A key question is whether 240v LED lights or 12v LED lights are best. There’s no simple answer. ‘Spikes’ in the system or poor wiring can cause problems or failure with LEDs and transformers or ‘drivers’ that produce a 12v output can smooth these out. Drivers are also a good way of moving the heat away from the lamp – LEDs hate heat and it can impair performance and shorten life.

LED lights present

Over the last two years LED lighting has improved significantly and, by all accounts, this trend looks set to continue with manufactures predicting that, within another couple of years, new build housing will be completely lit by LED.

LED downlighters

Megaman’s 6W Dimmable GU10 LED downlighter is an alternative to 50W halogens.

With halogen lighting the 12v downlighter became ubiquitous. A vast array of LED reflector lamps is now available for downlighters and these can be retrofitted relatively simply, even if the decision is taken to switch from 12v to 240v by removing the transformer and installing a GU10 fitting.

Dimmable LED lights

LED lamps that are dimmable are now widely available but it’s vital to remember that, due to the low power consumption of LED lamps, LED compatible dimmers are required.

Sensio’s new LED linkable strip lighting.

LED light strips

What’s often forgotten is the added design versatility that LEDs offer in previously difficult to light areas. LED light strips are easily installed inside wardrobes, below wall units and above cupboards to illuminate coving at ceiling level. Little heat is given off from the front of LED lamps so, with under cupboard lighting in the kitchen, they have the benefit of providing an attractive light while the butter left on the shelf below isn’t in danger of melting!

Pros of LED lights for home use

Megaman’s 15W AR111 LED lamp replaces a 50W halogen.

The low wattage of LED lights means that they can use up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. In addition, they are capable of lasting up to 25,000 – 40,000 hours compared to just 3,000 hours with halogen fittings. This means substantial reductions to electricity bills and carbon emissions so payback is good.

LEDs were once thought of as producing a cold, blue light. Now they are available in different colour temperatures (measured in Kelvin) from cool white to warm white. Another consideration is the CRI (colour rendering index). Although LEDs with CRIs of 65 or 70 are adequate in some situations, they can appear a bit dull and grey so these are due to be phased out. A CRI of 80 or above ensures that we see the colour of items better.

Cons of LED lights for home use

High costs are undoubtably still an issue but prices are falling rapidly. It’s worth noting that lifetimes vary massively and are difficult to prove. Buying a lamp with thousands of extra hours of life may not be the best option as the performance and colour of LEDs is improving every few months so the long-life model could quickly be out of date. Reduced light output at end of life is another factor to consider.

Megaman LED lights in use.

LEDs put to the test

The only way to truly understand the qualities of LED lamps is to try them. See them displayed on an exhibition stand or at a retailer and they appear to be very similar to a halogen lamp when it comes to brightness and colour: the real test comes when they’re installed in your home, so this is what I did.

Replacing four 50w, 12w halogen lamps in the ceiling downlighters of the room used as my office with four 6w 240v GU10 LED lights was revealing. Yes, the light quality is very different – far less ‘crisp’ and white – but the overall effect is satisfactory. I’m quite happy for the LEDs to remain as the principal source of lighting, supplemented by a 50w, 12v halogen desk lamp.


The cost of LEDs will undoubtably continue to drop and their performance will carry on improving. At present they do not necessarily offer a total solution and a mix and match approach that uses various low energy lighting solutions may be the best way forward. That said, where a large scale retrofit is being undertaken it would seem foolish not to plan for a future based on LED lights for the home.