Thinking of upgrading to or installing LED lighting but not quite sure what you are getting into?
This article will help you get up to speed on all the jargon as well as give you an idea of the various options and costs involved.
Just a few years ago LED lights were a niche curiosity and carried eye watering price tags. Back to the future and LED lights are on sale in supermarkets - no surprise given their energy efficiency and longevity. They are also available in a number of different forms for general, task or ambient lighting, indoors and outdoors
‘Smart’ LED bulbs are also being promoted, with embedded Wi-Fi that allows you to control them remotely, and change their colour - all done via an app. Then there is LED strip lighting which can be easily installed as task lighting, under a kitchen or bathroom cabinet.
No wonder the traditional incandescent bulb (remember them?) are fast becoming a rare sight in our homes.
Why should you install LED lighting?
LED lighting has a number of pros, including:
- being extremely energy efficient (up to 85% cheaper to run than an incandescent bulb)
- producing relatively little heat (compared to other bulbs)
- having impressive longevity (35,000+ hours is not unusual)
LED lighting does have some cons, most notably that they are expensive to purchase. Prices are dropping year on year, and it is likely they will soon be the default lighting choice throughout our homes.
How do LED’s work?
LED (light emitting diode) is a type of semiconductor that converts an electric current into a light source. Due to their small size they are commonly grouped together to create a more powerful light source.
A selection of LED bulbs with different approaches to generating light. (iStock)
Choosing LED lights - it's all about the lumens
So what do you need to look for when choosing LED lighting and bulbs?
If you are used to shopping for light bulbs with a ‘watt’ rating then you need to change your thinking when it comes to LED. You actually get the same light output - measured in lumens (lm) - from a much smaller wattage with LED technology. So don’t expect to find a 100w LED bulb to replace your old incandescent bulb with the same wattage. Rather look for lumens - a rating for light output - with higher values meaning brighter bulbs.
Bathroom cabinetry with integrated LED lighting. © Hettich Australia
To help you get your head around watts and lumens here are some come common incandescent wattages with their approximate LED equivalent:
- A 6W LED bulb will output in the region of 450 lumens, roughly equivalent to a 40W incandescent bulb
- A 10W LED bulb will output in the region of 1000 lumens, roughly equivalent to a 75W incandescent bulb
- A 25W LED bulb will output in the region of 2500 lumens, roughly equivalent to a 150W incandescent bulb
The packaging of your LED bulb will often detail the equivalent wattage, making choosing the right bulb a little easier.
When shopping for LED bulbs look for the lumen rating rather than its wattage
For a ‘warm’ feel choose LED bulbs labelled 'warm white', for a colder, blue light go for 'cool white'. You may also find LED bulbs labelled ‘natural’ which are somewhere in between these on the colour spectrum.
LED lights have different coverage, a rating expressed in degrees which describes the angle of coverage of the light beam. Higher values indicate wider coverage, for example, a bulb with a 60 degree beam will have narrower coverage than one with a 120 degree beam.
You also need to know what type of light fittings or connector you have. Common types include:
- E14 or E27 - traditional (Edison) screw type
- B22 - traditional bayonet fitting
- GU10 - mains voltage (240V) downlight with two pin fitting
- MR16 - low voltage (12V) downlight with two small pin fittings
A 12V LED downlight bulb with a MR16 fitting (iStock)
Each has a unique method of either screwing or pushing into the light fitting and are not interchangeable.
A 240V LED downlight bulb with a GU10 fitting (iStock)
LED lights and dimmer switches
Because of the unique circuitry of LED lights, you may run into compatibility issues with dimmer switches. Your LED light will flicker if it is not happy with your existing dimmer switch. You have two options:
- source LED bulbs that are compatible with your existing dimmers
- install (or replace your existing dimmer) with a leading-edge dimmer
LED downlights and safety
Improperly installed downlights have been implicated in a number of house fires. And while LED bulbs do run a lot cooler than halogens, they still generate heat - which is why they often have a heat sink built in (see image below). If you are installing LED bulbs in an enclosed space - such as a ceiling cavity, you need to look for units that are approved for this purpose. For your own safety ensure your licensed electrician installs:
- products that have been tested and approved for local conditions
- a suitable fire resistant barrier in compliance with AS/NZS 5110 (where required)
- clearance distances as described in AS/NZS 3000 (where required)
LED downlight being installed in ceiling. The silver fins are the heat sink that helps to keep the unit cool. (iStock)
If you are installing LED’s in an enclosed space, like a ceiling, make sure they are approved for this purpose
Replacing your halogen downlights with LED’s
Replacing or retrofitting halogen downlights with LED downlights is an increasingly popular option, with energy savings and longevity the obvious drawcards. The first step is to determine if your existing downlights are 240V (GU10) or 12V (MR16) . This will determine what type of LED bulb you need to buy. If you are planning to retrofit here are some factors that may affect the cost of your project:
- straight swap of bulb or entire light fitting
- number of fittings to be replaced
- ease of access to your ceiling cavity
- health of your wiring and electrical system
Who can install LED lighting?
Changing a lightbulb is one of the few electrical jobs that you, as a homeowner, can do yourself. For everything else, including retrofitting LED light fittings, installing new LED light fittings or working on any element of your electrical system
you need to use a licensed electrician
. Sparkies have the necessary qualifications and training for this type of work. They should also be licensed in the state they are working in. It’s as easy as asking them for their licence number, which can be verified online in a few minutes.
It is fairly easy to replace an LED bulb yourself. (iStock).
You need a licensed electrician to carry out any work on your home’s electrical system, including installing LED lights
How much does LED lighting cost?
So how much is LED lighting going to cost you?
It really depends on what you intend to do - replace your existing bulbs for LED, replace old light fittings for LED or install new LED lighting?
The good news is that installing or replacing LED lighting
is increasingly affordable.
If you are simply retrofitting LED bulbs prices are very competitive and will continue to drop as they become more widely adopted. Some prices for a variety of bulbs are:
- $7.43 for a 5.3W LED (GU10, 240V)
- $11.95 for a 5.5W LED (MR16, 12V)
- $12 to $18 for a 10W LED (standard globe replacement)
- $79.95 for a ‘smart’ colour changing bulb (Phillips)
You can also buy downlight kits that include the bulb, driver, fitting, lead and plug. Some typical prices are:
- $19.99 for a 12W downlight kit (single unit, low profile and dimmable)
- $28 for a 13W LED downlight kit (single unit, dimmable)
Expect LED lights to come with a 3 to 5 year warranty and last up to 50,000 hours (over five years).
Sparkie Robert Lawrence of RJ and AM Lawrence Electrical Contractors
, who services the Shellharbour area, says runnings costs are 75% cheaper with LED, so it make sense to retrofit. He charges around $60 per point for installing LED downlights. A price range for competitive quality fittings are between $22 to $35 each. He warns homeowners that if they buy cheap, they get cheap and not very good quality.
Sydney-based GLENCO Electrical Services
would charge around $75 for each LED light supplied and installed. This is for a quality product with good warranty, and includes the labour of a qualified professional electrician. Prices can also range depending on each client’s specific installation needs.
In terms of the cost of installation, expect an electrician to take 5 to 20 minutes per light for a simple replacement/retrofit of downlights. Installing new LED downlights is a bigger job that typically involves accessing the ceiling cavity and installing new wiring. This could take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours per room, depending on the number of lights being installed.
A good way of getting an accurate idea of cost is to get a range of quotes from lighting electricians. This will enable you to get a sense of what market rates currently are. You can also browse our gallery of LED lighting design ideas
for some creative visual inspiration.
* All the costs and prices quoted were sourced at the time this article was written. They are indicative, may vary locally, are subject to market forces and should only be used as a guide