You might want to consider these aspects first.  But if you are unsure which LEDs are suitable for you, SimplyLED’s experienced customer service team are available to offer you advice and guidance.

Voltage

Some LED bulbs work with 230 volt mains AC (Alternating Current) electricity, for example the GU10 LED bulbs. Others, like the MR16 LED bulbs, run on 12 volt DC (Direct Current).

All LED bulbs require a ‘driver’ (a special type of transformer) to work properly. Mains voltage LEDs (such as GU10 and B22 bulbs) have the driver built in to the bulb. MR16 and other 12V bulbs use an external driver. If you are replacing existing incandescent 12V bulbs you will need to replace the transformer with a special LED driver.

Wattage and power

You can’t compare the wattage of LED and other types of bulbs directly – that’s because LEDs use a lot less electricity. You need to compare the approximate ‘equivalent incandescent wattage’ quoted on the bulb’s packaging.

You may also find the light output of bulbs quoted in Lumens, although this can be misleading as manufacturers don’t always measure this in a consistent way. If you have an existing 50 W GU10 halogen bulb, you can also choose to replace it with a cheaper, less bright bulb.

Size and base fitting

LED bulbs are designed to be direct replacements for existing bulbs. You need to make sure that not only is the base fitting the same, but the physical dimensions are the same. A  good example of this is the MR11 LED.

Although similar to the MR16 LED, the MR11 is a smaller size bulb. Don’t rely on a photograph or illustration – this caught many people out when they changed from incandescent bulbs to CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights).

As long as you match the base fitting code (a GU10 LED will fit the same base as a GU10 Halogen or CFL), you only need to check the new bulb’s dimensions against the old.

Colour

In this context, we’re not really thinking about red, green or blue, but rather the shade of white light produced. White bulbs are labelled according to their colour temperature (see our article on the Kelvin scale).

The industry standard term ‘warm white’ refers to bulbs with a colour temperature of 3000 K. This colour temperature is the nearest equivalent to normal incandescent and halogen bulbs.

Bulbs with a colour temperature of 6000 K are described as ‘cool white’ – they appear brighter and produce a bluish light which is ideal for feature and accented lighting. As the name suggests, ‘cool white’ bulbs can seem cold, clinical, or even harsh when used as the main domestic illumination, but are very common in commercial and public places.

Other terms you may come across include ‘pure white’ or ‘daylight’ – be sure to check the colour temperature of these bulbs.

Beam angle

The beam angle describes how wide or narrow the beam of light is coming from the bulb. A narrow 45° angle (for example the Crompton GU10 COB) produces a narrow focused beam, suitable for highlighting an object or small area, and you’ll be able to see a clear circle of light.

With a higher beam angle, the bulb may not appear as bright as a narrow beam bulb because the light spreads over a much larger area – the circle of light may not be visible, or have very hazy edges. The wide beam light is suitable for more general illumination such as areas in a kitchen.

Life expectancy

The long life of LED bulbs is one reason they save you so much money (the other is the small amount of electricity they use). Most manufacturers say you can expect about 50,000 hours’ life from an LED.

Other manufacturers are more conservative quoting 30,000 hours, while some recent claims of 100,000 hours are difficult to verify. Compared to the typical  2,000 hour life of a halogen bulb, your LED bulbs should last 25 times as long – that’s over 17 years at 8 hours a day! In case you were wondering, LED bulbs usually come with a 1 year warranty.

Dimmable LEDs?

Have you got dimmer switches? The lack of dimmable bulbs is often quoted as a problem with CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights), leaving many people without a low energy option. Enter the dimmable LED!

During 2010, LED manufacturers recognised the need for low energy dimmable bulbs, and now dimmable LED versions are available for many types of bulb. If the type you need isn’t available yet, it soon will be as manufacturers add to the range of dimmable LEDs. Dimmable LED bulbs are a little more expensive, but they will still give you huge savings compared to incandescent bulbs.

Price

Yes, LED bulbs are more expensive to buy compared to incandescent, halogen and energy-saving CFLs. New technologies produced in small numbers are always more expensive to start with – remember how much flat-screen TVs used to cost?

But even with the current purchase price of LED bulbs, you’ll probably be making savings within the first year. And when you consider your LED bulbs could last 15 of more years, the savings will continue to mount up.

In commercial or public premises where lots of lights are on for extended periods, a change to the cooler-running LED bulbs will reduce the need for air conditioning to keep the temperature down, with a subsequent reduction in electrical energy use.

Prices have already reduced to the point where LED bulbs are now an affordable and viable alternative.

Some retailers may have kept their prices artificially high while LED bulbs are scarce and a novelty. Now LEDs are becoming a mainstream product, competition will ensured this practice doesn’t continue.

The Internet and a willingness to buy online has ensured there are often better deals on retailers’ websites than in traditional DIY and lighting stores. A further development has been the appearance of specialist companies and websites which often offer better deals when buying in quantity.

You should look out for websites which appear to be cheaper because they don’t quote prices including VAT, and have hidden delivery charges.

At the time of writing (Spring 2011), an LED bulb to replace a 50W halogen should be £15 (including VAT and delivery) or less individually, and closer to £10 each if 20 or so are purchased.

Environmental factors

With so much emphasis on the cost savings of LED bulbs, it’s easy to overlook the environmental advantages. As LED bulbs use a lot less electricity, less fuel is needed to generate the electricity, with a corresponding reduction in harmful emissions from power stations.

LEDs do not include hazardous chemicals. This is a further environmental benefit.  One major disadvantage of CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights) is the mercury vapour and other chemicals which are inside the tube.

Not only is manufacture hazardous, but disposal needs to be highly specialised. And if the CFL tube gets broken, the mercury and other chemicals escape into the atmosphere. Which ever way you look at it, LED bulbs are the green option.

What do you think? Is there anything else you’d like to know about before buying LED bulbs?

13 responses to “Before you buy your LED bulbs …”

  1. Marna Derouchie says:

    This is a great article. Thanks a lot for bothering to detail this all out for us. It really is a great help!

  2. happyday67 says:

    As a Newbie, I am constantly searching online for articles that can benefit me. Thank you

  3. Roger says:

    I have searched high and low but have yet to find an article that explains *why* I need a special led-driver instead of simply using my existing transformer when looking for an LED bulb to replace the 12v Halogen downlighter in my shower room. Is it that the LED driver produces a smoother, less spiky supply? Are LEDs susceptible to something that halogens arne’t (apart from heat)? Can we have an answer to this please? I want to make the switch but would struggle to justify the effort/cost of an expensive LED bulb *and* a special driver too!

    • Luke says:

      Hi Roger,

      Thank you for taking the time to read our blog!

      I will try to answer your question as accurately as possible:

      In some cases you may find that actually, a low voltage LED bulb will replace your existing Halogen downlight with no problems at all. However, generally it is still recommended to change to an LED driver as this will avoid unwanted flickering or poor performance that can occur when in use with legacy drivers/ transformers (the older style). Using an LED compatible driver with an LED bulb will also ensure you achieve the maximum lifespan from the lamp (generally up to 50,000hrs) as this style of driver will minimalism any spikes in power- As only a small amount of power is needed to illuminate the LED bulb, small surges in the supply will often cause the LED bulb to fail unexpectedly.

      We can understand that having to change all of your drivers over may seem daunting, to say the least and depending on how your circuit is configured (one driver per bulb or one larger driver that runs several bulbs) it can also be a timely and costly experience too. A lot of our customers will take advantage of our 14 day returns policy in this case and try a few of our bubs in their existing fittings (with original drivers). After trialling the lamps in your existing fittings you should be able to gauge the lamps performance and see if any flickering occurs etc. the worst case scenario being you have to send the bulbs back to us for a refund.

      Another option would be to consider changing over to a mains power bulb (GU10 spotlight LED). Whilst this will still involve a fair amount of work (changing the lamp holders over to the correct GU10 fitting) the prices will balance out (often changing over is a little cheaper) and you will be left with a more flexible bulb (these are mostly Dimmable if needed, unlike our own MR16 12v which are Non- Dimmable) and a bulb that has an integral driver (so you can get rid of the ones you have in place already).

      Finally, the easiest option…

      As you can imagine, you are not the first person to have this same issue; wishing to upgrade to LED lighting and save energy, but not have the added work of changing the drivers too. Some bigger brands, such as Philips, now manufacture bubs that are compatible with older style transformers. These bulbs are available through our site and are sold as a direct retro fit solution, but do come with a larger price tag. If you were willing to wait for this technology, we have actually finalized our own production of this style of bulb and are waiting delivery of our first retro-fit version MR16 lamps in the next 3 months. Whilst I cannot confirm a price per unit just set, they are set to be considerably cheaper than the current Philips offerings and priced closer to our existing MR16 lamps.

      I hope this email helps make sense of this issue a little or at least offers some solutions. I have including some links in this text to the various products I have described too.

      I thought that as the email was long enough already, I should not bombard you with too much more information, but of course if you would like some more help or clarification we would be more than happy to speak to you over the phone and advise you further. We can be reached via email or phone 9-5 Monday- Friday using the following details:

      0845 459 8010
      info@simplyled.co.uk

      Thank you again!

  4. Norris Kubasch says:

    Love your blog!

  5. WTF says:

    Hello chaps

    You mention above that one needs LED drivers when installing LED bulbs. I’m doing that today..the electrical shop didn’t (and I didn’t know to ask) for LED drivers.

    And of course it is Saturday 1400 and all shops are closed!

    However there are *no* products on your http://www.simplyled.co.uk/drivers/ page?

    • Catherine McGowan says:

      Hi there,

      Sorry about that our drivers are temporarily out of stock, but we are expecting more soon. I hope you managed to get one in the end.

  6. Ian Gregory says:

    I read with interest your blog, but from what I could understand, most Mains Led bulbs are equivalents to halogen bubs.

    I have replaced ALL the incandescent bubs in my home with CFL’s, however as they need to be replaced, I would like to replace them with the appropriate wattage mains LED bub/

    Would it be at all possible for you to give say an equivalent wattage for either a CFL and/or an incandescent fitting?

  7. Sanders says:

    Im trying to understand why i would need a driver for MR16 if i am wanting to use them to light my off-grod home which uses only 12v batteries for power. It seems crazy i would have to invert my power to AC then use a driver to create DC. However, ive been searching the web for months and no one talks about running these things off actual 12vDC current. Is it not possible?

  8. John Warren says:

    I would like to change my kitchen downlights (12v mr16 20w set of 8) to 5 watt LEDs they are currently powered from a 12v 160 watt transformer
    Will it be ok to replace the transformer with a single 40 watt LED driver and keep the existing wiring layout as it is?

  9. My trailer has 24 volts. Do I specifically have to have a 24 volt led bulb. I see bulbs for sell advertised as 12/24 volts. Thanks

  10. Dollie says:

    I replaced all my halogen bulbs for led ones and wish I hadnt! they dont seem to last for more than a few months before they flicker and dim. Im no electrician but did wonder if its the light fittings that are the problem as they are old (1987) . Its getting quite costly having to replace them, I never had any issues with the halogen bulbs, some I had were over 6 years old! Am considering going back to halogen bulbs.
    ( As Im in rented accomodation I can not change all the light fixtures)

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