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Are energy-saving light bulbs too cheap?

Energy-saving light bulb

Light bulbs are in the news again and it looks like their cost is about to rise. So should we all be rushing to snap up those ‘three for a pound’ deals while we still can – or does it pay to be more discerning?

How much do you spend on your light bulbs? This isn’t something I’ve considered much until now – after all, we’ve got loads of ‘free’ ones in the cupboard (courtesy of our energy company), along with more cheap ones from Ikea.

But, according to reports this week, the era of cheap light bulbs may soon be over. Why? Because traditional light bulbs are being phased out, causing stocks to dwindle.

Add that to the fact that light bulb mailouts from energy companies stopped last year (following a staggering 182m being sent out as a low-cost route towards meeting energy-efficiency targets) and it looks like keeping your home lit up is about to get pricier.

The true cost of light bulbs

So how could this impact our shopping bills? Where bulbs are currently available for 33p, costs could treble, with the cheapest light bulb going for £1.

While £1 may still seem affordable, it could be a high price to pay for the quality you’re getting (slow to light up, rubbish in cold temperatures, for example). And if you’re after real quality, a quick look at our Best Buys tells you that it already comes at a price.

But while none of the Best Buys give you much change for a fiver, surely the overall cost is worth it when you factor in the quality and longevity compared to the cheaper versions? And then weight this against the average life of traditional bulbs and they don’t seem so expensive after all…

Time to stock up?

Even if my argument hasn’t convinced you, we’ve got little choice other than to start switching to energy-saving bulbs. Traditional bulbs are already scarce – many supermarkets have already stopped stocking them and in September the 60W bulb will be following the same demise as the 100W and 75W bulbs.

We’ve already seen panic buying of dwindling traditional bulb stocks – will reports of rising energy-saving light bulb prices reignite those stockpiling shoppers? Or is it just time to switch on to the fact that today’s prices are artificially low and accept we have to pay more to light our homes in future?


I bought six Philips energy saving bulbs for 10 p each, so three for a pound seems expensive!

Low energy lamps generally contain a small amount of mercury and have a toxic coating on the inside of the glass tube, just like conventional fluorescent tubes.

When we buy new tyres part of the cost is to contribute to the cost of disposal of the tyre at the end of its life. The same should apply for all goods, especially those that require special disposal.


Absolutely agree!

I dislike being forced to have these bulbs which have a goodly number of drawbacks, even if they do save a little energy in the longer term.

Unless you get an expensive version (see Which? best buys and Hannah’s intro) they usually give out considerably less light than the traditional bulb that they are supposed to be equivalent to (this is due to a basic error in calculating the equivalent wattages, which you can read all the scientific details about on many web pages).
Similarly, all but the expensive ones (and not always 100% of them) have a vastly shorter life than the claimed “ten times” and similar used in advertising. This is especially true in fittings where they are switched on for prolonged periods, which of course is exactly where you want them most in order to save energy! Most of the ones I have been given in promotional packs have lasted less than 1 year, where incandescent ones have lasted 2, 3 or even 5 years.
My council refuses to empty the wheelie bin if they so much as think there is an energy saving bulb in it, and the centres for accepting them for recycling are very few and very far between in this area. Most shops do NOT want to take them back and are reluctant if you point out that they are obliged to do so if they sell them.
All, including expensive ones, appear to interfere with TV and Radio reception if used in table lamps near to the TV and Stereo and all seem to interfere with older CRT TV’s and computer monitors. They also interfere with Wireless computer network connections and, irony of irony, stop my Energy Monitor receiving it’s signal from the sensor on the meter!
They cannot be used with dimmer switches, so if you have dimmers installed already you face either having to stockpile incandescent bulbs, have an electrician take out the dimmers (why should we be forced to pay for something we didn’t want doing) or have an electrician replace dimmers with ones that can work with energy saving lamps (extremely expensive and again why should we be forced to pay?)
A great many decorative fittings and table lamps cannot physically accept even the newer, more compact, energy saving lamps – and again why should something we have paid good money for, or maybe even had handed down the family or bought as an antique, be rendered useless by government /EU dictat?

In principle I like the idea of the energy saving lamp, and I do use the (expensive) ones in places where it is convenient for me. However I object to being forced to have something that, like so many products, is pushed onto the market before it has been adequentaly tested and improved.

Not withstanding all of the above, in answer to the specific question on cost, if we are going to have these lamps then yes, the price should reflect the cost of the recycling and therefore sadly yes, the prices at present are artificially low.

Mordenman says:
26 January 2011

I don’t follow your explanation of the anticipated price rise. Why should the loss of tungsten lighting mean the alternatives must cost more ? I can’t see why not getting a few freebies should have the same effect either. Are you telling us that the current stock are being sold at a loss, or is there some sort of subsidy involved ?


Yes and yes.

Mordenman says:
26 January 2011

Then who is doing the subsidising ? Tungsten lamps are already so scarce and pricey that there doesn’t seem a need for competition purposes.
I havent noticed many failures in the cheap ones in my outside lights which must be on at least 80 hours per week. I have change probably three in the last three years out of seven, switched, in some cases, by photocell. I was changing at least one per month when they were tungsten. The saving is not ‘little’ If tungsten last five years you must surely be down on voltage somewhere.
I agree that the domestic lighting industry is hoplessly slow at making fittings that accept the new shapes although the small coiled varieties go in all the difficult ones I have.
My biggest gripe, is that there is so little choice of colour temperature or colour balance. 40 years ago,you could buy fluorescent tubes with 4 or 5 different colour characteristics from northlight to (my favourite) de luxe warm white, to enable a suitable spectrum to be used. All I see now in these little blighters,is white or warm white. None are consistent, and this is a shame, because properly blended phosphor mixes, or however it is done, can produce a light vastly better than gas filled tungsten and even halogen fittings …… although I do concede that you have to live with it for a while to appreciate the fact that you can see the colours in your curtains better !!


Dave Derwent wrote:

“All, including expensive ones, appear to interfere with TV and Radio reception if used in table lamps near to the TV and Stereo and all seem to interfere with older CRT TV’s and computer monitors. They also interfere with Wireless computer network connections and, irony of irony, stop my Energy Monitor receiving it’s signal from the sensor on the meter!”

I have never experienced problems with interference caused by energy saving lamps, although the dimmer on my one remaining incandescent lamp does interfere with Long Wave radio.

These lamps have been in use for more than 20 years so equipment should be designed to cope. It is best not to have them very close, so having a table lamp on top of the TV or stereo is asking for trouble.

It will probably not be long before LED bulbs become affordable and bright enough to be useful for general use.


LED is certainly the way forward and should be the favoured system and the one receiving the subsidy and promotion.

Dan James says:
26 January 2011

I’m afraid I wouldn’t buy them if they wre three for 10 pence I live in a huge block of flats and all the residents are elderly like myself —and what elderly folks need is immediate good lighting not having to wait for the bulb to become brighter before they can make a move. As mentioned above they interfere with hearing aids and other electrical equipment. I have stocked up with the good old traditional 100w bulbs as I also find that the heat from them is not as some experts say “wasted energy” it is extremely useful for as other experts point out the central heating may have to be turned up a notch to compensate—if you don’t agree just hold your hand over one and see if they are wrong—- you will be surprised at the heat you will have been enjoying from your good old faithful 100w bulb.



I’ve bought low energy bulbs when they were first introduced around 20 years ago – they were very expensive but were low energy saving at least 50% running costs – some are still working.

They were not as good as incandescent lamps basically because the manufacture’s misinformation about light output.

However they now produce LEBs that do give instant start up – constant output – sufficient light output – and long life. The only downside is disposing of broken LEBs as no local shop provides a facility – which means driving several miles to the council dump – so I have a box in my workshop that is taken when full.

Purely for Dan – as the lamp heat is mainly in the ceiling – very