How much money will you save by switching to LED light bulbs?
My electrician recommends I replace my halogen down lights with new light-emitting diode (LED) lights.
But at around $50 to $60 a bulb or "lamp" I decided to find out why LEDs are better than halogens. Lighting is a big power guzzler, making up around 12% of our greenhouse gas emissions.
Globally electric lighting generates emissions equal to 70% of those from all passenger vehicles.
I asked Philips, one of the big manufacturers, about LED lights.
Michael Downie, general manager of lighting at Philips for Australia and New Zealand, says: "LED lighting is arguably the most profound change the industry has witnessed since the invention of electric light itself."
Why? For a start, LEDs use 80% less energy than halogen and incandescent bulbs, which means savings on bills. And you don't have to change your light bulbs so often with LEDs.
They have a lifespan of 20 to 25 years while standard incandescent bulbs typically last for around 18 months. Philips' newly launched 12-watt master LED bulb, which is designed to replace a 60-watt incandescent light bulb, has a life of 25,000 hours, compared to 1000 hours for a standard 60-watt incandescent bulb.
LEDs last 10 times longer than the often corkscrew-shaped, energy-saving compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). They activate instantly and are dimmable, unlike CFLs. LEDs don't contain the array of heavy toxins such as mercury, lead, cadmium and others found in CFLs, or the by-products from halogens such as infra-red and UV radiation, so LEDs are easier to recycle.
LEDs are common in bicycle lights, torches, garden lights, street lighting and traffic lights. They are now available in down lights and in commercial and home lights.
But how is the quality of light? Energy- saving globes have a bad reputation because CFLs often emit a washed-out sort of light rather than the bright light from halogens.
I asked research and development group Brightgreen's chairman, Andrew Kuruc, who says: "Any LED replacement should be able to provide a bright, high-quality alternative. Brightness should be measured in terms of lumen output as the light leaves the lamp and it should be comparable between halogen and LED fixtures."
Brightgreen's D900 is a multi award-winning LED down light designed to match halogen brightness.
LEDs are more expensive at the outset but long term you can save serious money. Downie says LED bulbs pay for themselves in as little as 18 months while the contribution to the environment starts right away.
In my case I could save a couple of hundred dollars off my power bill in the first year by switching from halogens to LEDs.
Expect the price to come down on LEDs. Remember when compact fluorescent lights were expensive - about $20 per bulb in 2000? They currently sell for a few dollars.
Downie says that for every 1000 60-watt incandescent light bulbs replaced with LED bulbs, there would be a saving of approximately $13,300 in energy-related costs and 66 tons of carbon emissions annually.
Watch out for cheap LED imports as they can lack brightness, light quality, lifespan (and therefore warranty) and aesthetics, says Kuruc.
And just in case you're wondering, the federal government is yet to make a statement on where it stands on LEDs.
Halogen vs LED
You don't have to sacrifice the quality of light when you switch from a halogen to an LED light. An LED should be bright and of high quality.
You can measure the brightness from your halogen and LED lights by lumen output, rather than lux - which is often quoted by manufacturers.
The lumen measures the light that leaves the bulbs and should be similar so that you get the same bright light when you switch to an LED.
The quality of the light is measured by a colour rendering index. High-quality lamps generally produce 80 CRI or higher.
The cost of a halogen is lower than for an LED but the LED uses 80% less power and lasts 25 times longer. LEDs typically pay for themselves in 18 months.