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It’s the final switch off for incandescent light bulbs

Saturday 1 September was a day I’m sure many of you were hoping wouldn’t come. Yes, it was the day that the final incandescent light bulbs, 40 and 25 watt, were banned from sale.

Due to an EU directive, retailers will no longer be able to sell incandescent light bulbs of any form. Bans on 60W and 100W have been and gone, as I’m sure you know, but now 40W and 25W bulbs have joined them too.

It’s said that by 2020 the ban will save 39 terawatt-hours of electricity across the EU each and every year. The UK government has even said that it will save the country £108m between 2010 and 2020.

However, I know many Convo commenters aren’t happy with the switch off.

Poor performance of energy saving bulbs?

Apart from the annoyance of being forced by the EU into ditching your incandescent bulbs, many of you haven’t been impressed by the performance of energy saving light bulbs. Your complaints with the most common energy saving bulb (CFLs) range from the amount of time they take to warm up, to being difficult to dispose of responsibly.

However, Peter Hunt, chief exec of the Lighting Industry Association, has said the ‘phase-out has been very smooth’ and added:

‘Concerns about poor performance of replacement bulbs have been proved wrong. The new LED replacements for halogen downlighters that have come on to the market over the past year work just as well, for example. Price is still a barrier, but that’s coming down almost daily as volume increases.’

Are LEDs the answer?

Ah yes, LEDs. These are said to be game changers – the energy saving bulbs that will answer all our calls. They’re said to be much more durable than other energy savers (lasting as long as 25 years), will reach full brightness instantly and some will work with dimmer switches. Of course, they can cost quite a bit more than your old incandescents or CFLs, but the price is coming down. And since they are even cheaper to run than CFLs, they should pay you back over the years.

If we have a look at the Philips MyVision 5W LED, although it will cost you a pretty hefty £12 to buy, it will only cost you 73p to leave on for 1,000 hours. Compare that to the cost of its 40W incandescent equivalent and you’d be looking at £5.80 for the same amount of time. So, presuming you have this one light turned on for 1,000 hours per year, you’d make back that £12 in under three years.

Still, it would be nice to see the price of LED bulbs dropping sooner rather than later – if they were cheaper would you happily give up your old bulbs?

No way around the ban

Some have mentioned that you can get around the ban by going to specialist lighting and hardware stores. However, Peter Hunt told the Guardian:

‘The law is clear: they should not be sold for household use. It says so on the packaging. Any retailer is risking a visit from government inspectors if they continue to sell them.’

So it’s best to steer clear of that then! Though maybe you’ve been stockpiling incandescent light bulbs? Or have you taken to energy saving bulbs like a duck to water?

Are you sad to see the end of incandescent light bulbs?

Yes - I don't think energy saving bulbs are up to the job (56%, 604 Votes)

No - I'm happy to move to energy saving bulbs (44%, 472 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,090

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H.Richardson says:
7 September 2012

I use so called 60W CFL as a 40W.The EU is overstating the light output ! One gets used to being short changed by lots of organisations.Its a way of life.
Roll on cheaper LED`s which have no warm up phase.

Wiseman says:
7 September 2012

For years retailers have been excessivly charging for energy-saving bulbs. I have seen instances of big retailers eg B&Q charging £8 for 4 bulbs then discovered the equivalent in Poundland for £1 a pair. Don’t expect prices in big stores to come down anytime soon.

Fair comment if you are comparing exactly the same product. There are some cheap lamps on the market and I’m not sure how safe they are. I would be worried about fire risk.

I bought some Philips CFLs for 10p each from B&Q, albeit more than a year ago. I’ve seen the same ones on sale for more than £2. I will agree that B&Q is not usually the cheapest source.

If there was more demand for CFLs there would be more competition and prices might fall. The trouble is they last so long, at least for some of us. Even if you had to pay £10 per lamp you would recoup this in electricity savings. That is easy to calculate.

I think as far as pricing is concerned, the fact that for the first umpteen years of the aggressive campaigning to get us all to change over the Energy Companies were subsidising the cost of CFL’s so that they were being sold more cheaply in the shops, a fact which seems to have escaped the notice of many of the population until prices started to go up …..oddly at the same time that the first tungstens went off sale, what a strange co-incidence that was?! …. is probably why the larger stores are still selling at over-inflated prices. (I.e. to keep their profit margin where it was when the lamps were being subsidised.)

Of course, the cheap lamps in pound-shops may (or may not) be inferior quality too, I don’t know.

I do know that with every other “green” initiative or technology that I’ve had anything to do with, you have to buy the more (or most) expensive of whatever it is to stand a chance of making any real savings in the long run. I’m stopping short of saying that I believe that to be the case with CFL’s because I simply have not, and won’t for some time be, used enough of them. I have have a good number of bitter disappointments with cheaper CFL’s, especially the less-well-known brands, and I’ve had fantastic experiences with the Old Phillips ones, but bitter disappointments with newer Phillips ones. At present the best I have first-hand experience of are Crompton and Sylvania ones. Since mum’s house was re-wired almost 2 years ago all of her lights have had these brands in and all are still operating, even though she has lights on an awful lot of the time. That said, they still have had to be 30w plus to give the level of light that she used to get, and still requires for reading an needlework, from 150w and 250w tungstens, and getting hold of 30w of higher cfl’s is not as easy as I think it should be.

By and large in most circumstance I am happy with the change. However where the wall light fitting has a clear glass “shade” a clear glass incandesent bulb has no equivalent substitute.A very expensive change or an ugly replacement.

Brian Rex says:
8 September 2012

Every wall light switch in my home is a dimmer switch. Despite initial assurances all replacement bulbs appear to be non-dimmable. I have accumalated a largesh store of the forbidden product which, because most lamps when switched on are on low-dim, probably use as little power and last as long as the new lamps. This is with the excepion of LED lamp which should be availabe to use with dimmer switches.

You are right in saying that dimming an incandescent lamp makes it last very much longer but your guess that it will use much less power is completely wrong. Incandescent bulbs operated below full brightness are extremely uneconomical, though this is not well known. I am surprised they have not been banned for this and other reasons.

The traditional use of table lamps and wall lamps with smaller lamps at full brightness is far more economical. Dimmable CFLs can flicker. Beware that some LED lamps are unsuitable for dimming.

I am strongly in favour of saving energy and am generally comfortable with the performance of CFLs. My big gripe is that, to my knowledge, there is no CFL replacement for the “golf-ball” lamp. I have a set of 12 wall and pendant light units designed for golf-ball lamps; the smallest double-coil CFL is too tall and looks ridiculous in the fittings. I will be obliged to replace all the fittings when my stock of lamps runs out – and that’s a waste of the planet’s resources and energy which will take some time to offset by using CFLs in new fittings. CFL designers must do better!

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that CFLs will be made small enough to suit your needs, rocky. The problem is that the designers of light fixtures failed to plan ahead in the last 20 years. LED lamps might prove suitable.

Bell make some excellent LED gold ball lamps – exactly same size as tungsten ones and available in white and many colours. Only one they don’t do is clear. They’re real glass and they don’t have a huge electronics unit at the base. In fact, they are indistinguishable from Tungsten golf ball lamps.

Only down side that I know of is that they are only available in up to 4 watts LED, which are claimed to be equivalent to 25w tungsten but I’d say they are more like 15w tungsten. Might still be worth investigating for multi-light fittings.

Actually, I do also have a couple of CFL gold ball lamps. The actually globe is the same size as a tungsten golf ball, but the electronics unit at the base is quite large so may not be any use for your fittings rocky. These are (so far) the most long-lived cfl’s I’ve ever had and I use them in fully enclosed “brick light” exterior fittings. They’ve done longer in there (two years by the end of this year) than any other CFL’s I’ve had in the same fittings. Can’t remember the brand but they were not a big name brand. Got them in a local independent department store in a sale. If I remember, I’ll have a look inside one of the brick lights at the weekend and post the brand for you.

I’ve bought several LED GU10/MR16 bulbs for my kitchen, bathroom and hallway. I bought them in ones and twos over a period of time. The first ones were expensive, dim, blue, and ugly (up to 36 individual LED elements). The newer ones were cheaper, brighter, yellower (which I prefer) and more attractive (only between 1 and 3 individual LED elements).

I avoided CFL for a long time because they used to be slow, dim, and harsh. I now have a few and they are tolerable although I don’t like the special disposal requirements.

I also have so-called ‘low energy’ halogen bulbs in living room and bedrooms. But I plan to replace these with LED.

I’m very happy with the improvements in LED so far. If they get better, that will be great.

J Hughes says:
14 September 2012

I live in the Far East where mini-fluorescents have been de rigeur for years. They seem to fail, though, way before their ‘guaranteed’ life span (write the date of installation on the base!). And often the very same component.

In the past year economically priced LED lights have become available and boy, are they good!

Out the window with the old complaint of the mini lights are too harsh white light. No more “can’t be dimmed”.

In addition to the simple task of dimming, the bright white light can be modified by replacing a few white LEDs with red and orange and yellow LEDs to achieve the light ‘colour’ as in warm white, etc., that you desire.

And the running costs … laughable … and quickly pay for the light added cost (at present) of LED lighting. Have an outside spot or floodlight – check out the LED versions. Money in your pocket.

How come a comment I have just posted here has installed itself in the September listings?

I changed all my bulbs back from CFLs to incandescents; My vision was failing, the rest of the family were complaining about the same thing, it just became difficult to see properly. We tried different CFLs nothing changed, 2 reception rooms have multi bulb chandlers and up-lighters, even with all bulbs lit it felt as if we were in perpetual twilight, It was worse than the old gas lamps and candles [for those who remember]. As soon as we changed back we could see properly again. Just 1 60W clear incandescent lamp enabled us to see properly when 10 CFLs failed to.
I have no idea if it is something to do with the wavelengths that make up of the white light being loaded at different ends of the spectrum, but I fear if I continue to use this type of bulb I will go blind.
Having read this, maybe It’s time to get out the old RS catalogue and start experimenting with LEDs again.

I think the problem is partly related to using small CFLs rather than larger ones. They have been created to meet the demand for direct replacement of incandescent bulbs but CFL ‘candle bulbs’ are rather pathetic and perhaps appropriately named.

Whereas an incandescent bulb produces a continuous spectrum, a fluorescent lamp emits light at certain frequencies depending on the phosphor coating on the inside of the tube. Looking at a typical CFL through a hand spectroscope I can see a complex spectrum including purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red.

LED lamps may well be the answer for you, and they seem to be evolving fast. I remember choosing some new-fangled LED panel indicators from the RS catalogue (probably still Radiospares in these days) in the 1970s. I don’t have any mains powered LED lamps but those in torches etc appear to produce a continuous spectrum.

“White” LEDs are in fact blue / ultra violet LEDs with a phophor to convert it into a visible spectrum, but still with the peaks you get with fluorescent lamps.
I doubt the fluorescent spectral distribution is the cause of the problem – they are pretty good at having a good spectral distribution with modern phosphors. I suspect it is using CFLs of too low power – as wavechange says, small physical size does only permit low light output. If you can fit larger lamps, check that their light output (given in Lumens on the package) matches or exceeds that of your incandescent (allow 12 to 14 lumens per watt for a traditional incandescent bulb, and 15 to 20 lumens per watt for the more efficient tungsten halogen lamps that you can still purchase – these may be a better solution for you than CFL)

Thanks Malcolm. I have a feeling this is the second time you have told me how white LEDs work. 🙂 One thing I have noticed is the subtle differences in colour available, already greater than we have seen with CFLs.

Having had a look at prices, if I wanted to replace small bulbs I would choose halogens until better LED lamps are available and the price has fallen.

As I mentioned previously, I have replaced some CLFs with LEDs and they seem to do everything I want. They turn on immediately, are dimmable and give a nice white light. My only criticism is that they are relatively low in light output and I need to use two in each lamp holder to get an acceptable level.

This does mean buying adaptors that allow two lamps to fit into each lampholder and this task is made difficult since these adaptors, once so common, are no longer sold in the UK (although nobody seems to know why this should be). They are readily available in the USA and Canada, which is where I bought mine – although they are, of course, ES fittings and so a bayonet to ES adapator is also required, along with ES-cap lamps.

They are pricey at present, but I should recover the cost in less than a year on electricy savings and their expected life – several times longer than CFLs – should ensure that replacement will not be needed for some years.

I remember your comments about lamp adaptors in an earlier Conversation, Richard. I would not be surprised if we see these adapters reappear in the UK. It could be some time before we see affordable LED lamps that provide equivalent light output to an old fashioned 100 watt bulb and many of us are keen on bright lighting.

I am surprised that you don’t find CFLs reliable. Using them on dimmers, in enclosed fittings or small lampshades, or in outdoor lighting are good ways of killing them prematurely, but the well known brands used with reasonable ventilation generally last a long time for the people I know.

LEDs supplied in replacement bulbs seem to be in limited powers from the major manufacturers. Philips do a 17W to replace a 75W incandescent for example, with the bulk 11W and below (60W and below incandescent equivalent) and 4W round and candle versions. So the light output is generally restricted. A characteristic of LEDs is that they are temperature sensitive – as you make them more powerful by putting in more current, they get hotter and the light output efficiency falls significantly. So buying a high power LED lamp from a non-mainstream source may not give the results expected. And if the controlling electronics are integral, they will likely have a shortened life if too hot.

These are the factors I am concerned about, Malcolm. Now that you have reminded me about the phosphors in white LEDs, I wonder if they will deteriorate with time, as with fluorescent lamps of all types. That does not seem to be a problem with the low power LED lamps produced in recent years, but I do wonder what will happen when more power is pushed in to achieve the light output of say a humble 100 watt incandescent bulb.

I didn’t mean to suggest the CFLs aren’t reliable – I have had good service from mine although I have had maybe three fail in the past 7 years (which is when I went over to all CFLs in my bungalow). But LEDs are supposed to have a service life of over 50,000 hours – probably five time as long as a CFL.

So the £12 – £14 cost of an LED does begin to make more sense, even in replacement costs. And when you consider that the power consumption is only of the order of 8 watts the cost savings really add up.

So far as light output is concerned, an 8 watt LED – presently the highest rated bulb I could find – has an output equivalant to a 60 watt tungsten incandescent – so the two in each of my fittings give a light output equivalent to rather more than a single 100 watt incandescent.

It’s not difficult to see the overall cost benefit of low energy lighting and if this had been publicised better rather than forcing people to switch, the transition could have been a lot less traumatic.

I know people who have hoarded incandescent light bulbs before they disappeared from the shops, yet are now using CFLs by choice. It’s a strange world.

Wavechange, I think your fears are correct – high temperature reduces the phophore light conversion efficiency, so high power LED devices are probably better with a cluster of lower power LEDs than thrashing ones to high powers. A 100W bulb equivalent seems around 20-25W LED, which, because they are such small devices individually, requires very effective heat sinks and distributed LEDs to maintain efficiency.

Malcolm – if you know of any decent and up-to-date information about these practical considerations I would be very grateful for references. As with fluorescent lighting, it would be good to separate the control electronics from the source of heat, but most householders are still looking for a direct replacement for a bulb.

Wavechange, you could start with the major lighting manufacturers websites – say (without advertising I hope!) Osram, Philips, Future Electronics where you should find product and technical data. You might also find this of interest: http://ledlight.osram-os.com/knowledge/standards-regulations/ (or search for Energy Star LED).

A warning came with my LEDs that they shouldn’t be used in fully-enclosed luminaires. They don’t get all that hot but the electronics are quite warm to the touch even in my open pendant lampholders and I can imagine that, without airflow, they could overheat.

For the moment I am using CFLs in my bathroom globe luminaires and they seem to be OK for the moment. Of course, it is by nature of their use that they are not on for lengthy periods – probably 30 minutes at a stretch would be the longest.

Brian Sandle says:
1 April 2013

As a tennant leaving a property I need to replace an outdoor bayonet fitting incandescent bulb in a totally glass-enclosed fitting. Is there a policy about that?

If you have an incandescent lamp then I’d just replace it. It’s their sale that is banned. Otherwise you could fit a halogen or CFL lamp – just make sure they physically fit (CFLs can be longer than incandescent).

Brian Sandle says:
1 April 2013

Thanks, so I’ve put in a 75w incandescent and the surround glass gets too hot to hold. Didn’t have 60 or 40.

Dave says:
22 April 2013

I would like to know how a retailer/manufacturer can claim that an LED light bulb will last for 15 – 20 years and then provide a 1 year guarantee with them? If they are sure that the bulb will last that long shouldn’t they reassure the purchaser that if it does fail (but it won’t of course!) they will replace it?

I agree, Dave. It is absurd. We know that individual low power LEDs have an extremely long life, but what happens if you cram them together, put more power through them, and let them and the control electronics get hot? I would not be surprised if white LEDs (which contain a phosphor, like CFLs) decrease in brightness if they do survive for a few years.

We need to push for at least a ten year guarantee on these lamps.

I am waiting until prices fall, reliability improves and problems with radio interference are overcome before buying LED lamps.

Dave says:
23 April 2013

wavechange: I have replaced most of the bulbs (mostly CFLs) in my house now apart from a couple of original 150w which for now there is as yet no alternative. I have sufficient spares to last many years. I am happy with the light output and colour balance of the LED replacements. I have not experienced any RF interference and I have a lot of equipment which could be prone to such. One advantage is the fact that in the kitchen, utility room and bathroom I no longer get heat on my head from the spotlights! I have some dimmable LED spotlights and they behave much as the original halogens they replaced. I note that Philips has increased the guarantee period on some branded LED bulbs up to 5 years now but as you say it would be more appropriate for it to be at least 10 years even if it was just a marketing ploy to increase sales.

Maybe you should look in on the Conversation about radio interference caused by LED lamps and suggest that those with problems should buy better products. It’s fairly clear that there is some real rubbish on the market.

I bought a set of 4 LEDs from SimplyLED and used two of them in each luminaire using an adaptor that allows for the use of two lamps in one lampholder. As I have written elsewhere, I had to buy the adaptors in Canada since these once-common items are no longer sold here for some inexplicable reason. The lamps were of the dimmable type and I used my existing dimmer switch.

After around six months one of the lamps failed without warning and SimplyLED replaced it without demur, making the point that I had to use a special type of dimmer switch with LEDs. I bought one of the correct switches but before I could install it another bulb failed. Shortly after fitting the new dimmer yet another bulb failed. The luminaires are the normal open pendant type and the LEDs do not get all that hot.

SimplyLED have no idea why the bulbs should have failed and suggested it might be a voltage spike – although I am inclined to doubt that as I have had my supply monitored following problems with my solar panels and EDF’s printout showed no voltage out of tolerance over a period of some weeks.

SimplyLED have now replaced all four LEDs and I have replaced the dimmer unit with a normal switch. I have not yet reinstalled the LEDs but will take a note of the installation date and see how they last. Whereas SimplyLED replace faulty bulbs free, it is not convenient to have to wrap up the old bulbs and send them back – neither is the postage cheap.

I have not yet heard from SimplyLED as to the reason for the failure, but if it is due to a voltage spike then I can only say that LEDs are simply not suitable for purpose, since no grid supply is immune to an occasional spike.

Those using boats and recreational vehicles were early adopters of LEDs since incandescent lighting since they are dependent on power stored in batteries. The problem of voltage spikes causing failure of LED lamps has been well known for years. It is common advice to avoid using domestic 12 volt LED lamps and buy ones that have spike protection. There is at least one company selling lamps with spike protection and thermal fuses for this market.

I agree that lamps that cannot withstand spikes are unfit for their purpose. I wonder if voltage spikes have contributed to premature failure of CFLs that some people have experienced.

Perhaps Which? could test lamps to find out if they can survive voltage spikes in future reviews of LED lighting.