/ Home & Energy

Specialist light bulb fittings stole my energy saving choice

While not ‘de-lighted’, I’m certainly not mourning the passing of the incandescent light bulb. I think energy efficiency is a good thing and have had no problems with low-energy bulbs. That’s until I moved house…

And thanks to an unnamed energy company and their CERT (Carbon Emissions Reduction Target) requirements, until recently, I had a decent stash of CFLs. I reckon these would have lasted me another five years before I had to actually go and buy a new bulb.

But alas, my stash is no more. Well it is; it’s just no longer with me. The reason? I moved house into a new build property. And in order to meet ‘Part L’ of the building regulations – where 30% of lighting must be low energy – my house uses non-standard light fittings ‘to ensure only low-energy lamps can be used’. So it’s bye, bye to my bulb stash, hello three-pin light bulbs.

If you’ve not already met the three-pin light bulb, let me introduce you. While it may look like a normal low-energy bulb, it’s far from it.

The BC3 (to give it its correct name) is a non-standard, three-pin CFL light bulb, which meant my small stash of two-pin bayonets wouldn’t fit into my new home’s three-pin light fittings. So they all had to be donated to the future tenant of my old flat.

Where’s my choice of bulb?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against energy efficiency, I think it’s a good thing (but I know not everyone likes energy-saving bulbs).

I’ve been using low-energy bulbs since my Dad packed a few in my bag when I went off to uni. And I have nothing against the BC3 either. Except… I like choice. And in this case my choice has been taken from me. I can’t get these three-pin bulbs in my local shop and they cost more than I would expect to pay for a light bulb.

But more importantly, unless there are three-pin LED equivalents out there, I can’t upgrade to a more efficient bulb. And, to me, that seems to go against not only the rule, but the spirit of the building regulations.

I suppose I could change my light fittings, but the cost of getting in someone who knows what they’re doing without blowing the place up, would probably far exceed any savings I might make. And although the company offers an adapter to fit other bulbs, they’re only for what they call ‘standard four-pin CFLs’, which again isn’t a bayonet or screw fitting!

So, do any of you bright sparks out there have a solution for my light bulb dilemma? Or will I just have to sit in the dark?

Prudence says:
7 July 2012

3-pin (BC3) bulbs have been around for decades and can easily be obtained in Incandescent versions – in fact the irony is that they are easier to buy in Incandescent versions than ordinary BC incandescent bulbs.

BC3’s were usually used in things like shop display light fittings (often in a Reflector lamp (eg R80) or in a Crown Silvered lamp) or in very high wattage fittings (e.g. school classrooms, factories). They are still readily available for such purposes because the [crazy] move to so-called energy saving lamps doesn’t fully apply to places like shops and pubs where there are ‘commercial interests’ (i.e. profit) to be concerned about.

If you want to use incandescent lamps in your new house, chances are that you can easily buy them, albeit at an over-inflated price, from your local shop fitting company or from an electrical wholesaler in your area. That said, 3-pin CFL’s are usually priced at a premium compared to ‘ordinary’ CFL’s, so the purchase price may not be significantly different if you buy Incandescents.

Alternatively, change the fittings. A decent sparky (and I’m one, though no longer working as such) won’t charge you very much to swap the lamp holders over at all and in fact, the wiring regulations don’t prevent anyone **who is competent** and who feels confident in what they are doing, from changing light fittings at all. After all, if you went to your local department store and saw a nice new light fitting that you wanted in your lounge, it is expected that you’ll either get a sparky in and not have to pay as much as the fitting was worth to fit it, or that you will be able to follow the instructions to do it yourself. It’s only if you actually change the fixed wiring or are doing the work in a kitchen, bathroom or other “special location” (such as outside) that you would need to be wary of the wiring regs and make sure you got a certified person in.

Thanks for the warning – Though I’m unlikely to move into a new build. It is easy enough to re-wire a light socket – I also used to be a “sparky”.

Good to know this is an old standard. And judging from the comments only sparky’s like the variety of lamps.

I happen to feel competent to do sparky’s work in my house (even though I believe I am not expected to if in bathrooms or kitchens), but I agree with Jo, moving to low energy should not be an excuse to create a profusion of standards that make sourcing bulbs difficult and as a result expensive. It used to be the case that anyone would be able to change a light bulb but it is becoming a complicated task…

And don’t get me started on the 12V halogen’s and led’s that need special transformers…

I am old enough to remember going with my father to the electricity showroom, handing over a dud lightbulb, and getting a replacement free of charge! Lightbulbs were so cheap they could give them away and they were actually in the business of selling electricity. For most of my life, lighting has been such a straightforward matter with standardised, cheap, efficient, lamps that were readily interchangeable. In recent years it has become a real pain with non-interchangeable caps, bulb shapes that do not conform to fittings, an impenetrable choice [or chioce if you prefer – see the headline] of output per watt, and incredible [and unpredictable] variations in illumination performance. Keeping spare bulbs is now extremely expensive but still necessary because local retailers only stock a limited range.

As a matter of course I only fit “conventional” Bayonet or ES fitments, and pull out any others and replace them with the former. Then I can use widely available and frequently dicounted CFLs or LED bulbs.

As Incandescent bulbs are increasingly limited in availablity, it seems a daft notion to interpret Part L like this – is this general, or some idiosynchracy of your developer and /or local Building Inspector?

Ian F says:
9 July 2012

The builder has no choice but to avoid standard bayonet and ES fittings.

ref http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/buildingregulations/approveddocuments/partl/faqs Q19

I have not met BC3 3-pin CFLs but if I did I would change to good old-fashioned bayonet fittings. It’s good to read that Jo passed on her unwanted lamps, rather than put them in the bin.

Many people were given ‘free’ CFLs by their energy company without any thought about whether the caps would match the fittings. I suggest that these are given to friends or given away via Freecycle, etc.

Shop around and branded CFLs can sometimes be bought at bargain prices. I have at least six Philips lamps that cost 10p each, a couple of years ago. I have not needed them yet because it is several years since I had a CFL fail.

I can see this risks turning into a: “How many Which? Conversationalists does it take to change a light bulb?” joke. Anyway –

1) Contact the builder and say you are not happy. At the very least they might give you a few spare bulbs as a gesture of goodwill – particularly if they know you work for Which?

2) Consider getting some BC3 to 4-pin CFL adaptors (part F1271 or F1272). Or again, ask your builder to supply them. The reason they like the BC3 fitment is it complies with the Part-L Regs, but is cheaper for them to supply and fit than a proper energy-saving light with integrated control gear. CFL 4-pin bulbs are a good, cheap alternative, when bought from a trade outlet (TLC, etc.). And they are more environmentally-friendly than chucking the electronics away every time a light bulb fails, as you do with consumer CFL bulbs. I installed some over my kitchen work areas, in light fittings designed for commercial use (offices, etc.) and very good they are too.

3) LED bulbs (I have several in my home) are certainly not cheap to buy, and they are not that much more efficient that a good CFL installation. Also the colour-rendering can be pretty poor. I have some in my hallway, and my dinner guests can look decidedly ill when leaving. I have to remind myself that it is not my cooking!

4) Just live with the relatively high cost of replacement bulbs. How long do you intend to stay in your latest property? These bulbs should last about 5 years and, over the lifetime of the bulb, you will spend £20-£30 on electricity alone. Consider that that would have been 5 times as much with a tungsten filament bulb, so maybe £10 per replacement is not so bad after all.

When you compare it to the cost of the many other proprietary consumables we have to buy from time to time, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it. Think of the extra expense of lying in bed with the lights on!

It would have made much more sense for the builder to install fixtures that allow the user to replace just the failed lamp, rather than throwing out the electronics too. When CFLs arrived, I assumed that they would be a temporary solution, and it would not be long until most of us would be using lamp fixtures containing the electronics.

By keeping the electronic separate from the heat-generating lamp, improved reliability can be achieved.

I have recently seen some LED lamps that produce much warmer light than anything I had seen before. Unfortunately, they were 12V rather than mains voltage.

Simon says:
8 July 2012

I moved into a new build, and yes was faced with the same problem. In my case just the hallway lights around the house had the 3 pin sockets. It cost me from memory about £30 for an electrician to change them all to Bayonet fittings.

One of the reasons was the price difference in the bulbs versus energy saving bayonets (at least £2 extra for a 3 pin at the time) Secondly the 3 pin bulbs would suddenly stop working, and the electrician explained due to wear and tear the sockets were more likely to create faults with the connections. From memory he said it was because the they depended on 3 pins making connections, and due to manufacturing mistakes they didn’t always touch the connections!

So price and potential headaches was the reason I got rid of all them.

Given the passing of the incandescent light bulb I’m surprised that the use of 3 pin sockets has to be legislated for. My first thoughts are that 3 pin lights are probably more expensive than 2 pin (do any supermarkets stock them) and pose the question as to how many LED based lights (i.e. 230v equivalents) are actually manufactured in a 3 pin form? LED’s seem to be the fastest progressing form of Low energy lighting and could completely surpass CFL fixtures (in terms of energy saving and compactness of form) in very little time. In truth it feels that this legislation is already out of date and pointless with its only residual effects being the unnecessary addition of extra costs to householders and builders. To solve the problem it’s probably simplest to change the fittings to something sensible, but would that come under part P legislation?

We had a similar situation. The BCO insisted we install one of these BC3 fittings DESPITE the house as it was using only low energy bulbs and the spec for the extension requiring LED bulbs.

Needless to say, once the house was signed off, I swapped the fitting for a conventional one.

I can’t really see the point of BC3 fittings, especially as incandescent bulbs are on their way out and eventually won’t be available.
I’d change the fittings. Normal two pin fittings are cheap so no big deal really.

What I am unceasing impressed with though is the availability of low energy CFL bulbs and even LED’s to fit most if not all fittings. Take a look at what’s available on ebay, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
And you can get bulbs which give much better light than the rubbish they sell in supermarkets and DIY stores. I like the ones that give a whiter more crisp light. These have a higher colour temp, up to 6500 rather than the poor light you get from the 2700 orange things in Tesco and B&Q.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like low energy bulbs and tends to stick with incandecents try one of these higher colour temp types. You might be pleasently surprized, and you’ll save a little on your electricity bill too.

Most people prefer a colour temperature of 2700K, and regard 6000K are a very cold light, only suitable for kitchens and the workplace. The same criticism is applied to LED lighting, but lower colour temperature lamps are now becoming available.

If you like the higher colour temperature then you get more light for your money and can buy higher power lamps that are mainly used in commercial premises. As incandescent bulbs fade into history we may become much happier with brighter, whiter lights.

You are probably right than many people generally prefer the lower colour temp but in the case of CFL’s to me the “orange effect” seems too far the other way compared to incandecents. Perhaps it’s just me but I find the higher colour temp CFL’s a closer match to the incandecents they replace in the actual amount of light produced, and they don’t have to be any higher powered (wattage) than other CFL’s so the energy saving is still there.
As technology moves on I’m sure we’ll be able to get low energy lights (CLF, LED and who knows what else) in whatever colour temp prefered and at good prices.
It’s the unneccessarily increasing variety of fittings that is the pain.

Yes, Jo Gibney. Lobby your MP to work for a referendum on continued EU membership. You complain (with reason) about the removal of choice. Put another way, this is simply yet another manifestation of the pervasive and undemocratic nature of the power of Brussels. If your MP were partly responsible for the bullying “we know what is best for you” philosophy, you could vote him out. But he isn’t, so you can only exert pressure by insisting he give you a voice in deciding who governs your life – and your right to choose light-bulbs!

Ian F says:
9 July 2012

Part L is home made stupidity. Wrong to blame Europe, but right to lobby your MP to get UK housing standards approaching those of the mainland. All Part L and similar achieve is to set a standard that builders work down to.

The law requires a “competent person” for electrical work. When I enquired how this would be interpreted I was told that unless you had passed the 17th ed test and were registered you could not be considered competent. I was amused by this as at the time I was designing high energy power distribution systems for industry.

The gas regulations used the same term but being a CORGI member was not the only way to demonstrate competence: common sense could still be applied. Which in my case was I’ll happily service my boiler but I’m not going anywhere near the gas supply. the exception to allow self declaration of competence only applied to your own gas appliances. Ihave no idea if such self declaratoin of competence is still allowed.

I can still change light fittings if they break and can be considered a hazard. Anyone for indoor football/ golf practice?

Ian F says:
9 July 2012

The LED myth 🙁

LEDs are not more efficient than CFLs! They both produce light using the same phosphor technology, thus a breakthrough in phosphor technology would apply equally to both.

LEDs should last longer and are much more flexible but don’t expect to improve efficiency by exchanging CFLs with LEDs

GU10, MR16, SES, ES, BC, E17, E27, B15, GX53, PL? How about some T4s? T5s?

Okay, I know what your getting at, but there is no ‘standard’ fitting, it’s just that the BC has been the most used for quite a while for many rooms.

Or to use our house as an example:
BC – 13
ES – 15
GU10 – 6
MR16 – 4

What I also find as confusing as the others, though, is that this little bit of Part L is odd when taking the legislation ending the general sale of Tungsten Filament bulbs into account: there won’t be any of those bulbs left soon anyway!

Good luck with finding a replacement, but you may need an Electrician or friend to change them to something you like better, like any other fitting. And don’t worry about the LED ones on green grounds; they’re about as hungry as CFLs, just a lot quicker.

Duchess says:
12 July 2012

I live in ‘affordable housing’. Yet my neighbours who live in the ‘private’ section of the development have standard light fittings whereas I have BC3s. If I want to replace my dud bulbs I have to order them online, taking a huge risk that they will arrive damaged, and paying on average 6 times the price of a standard 2-pin bulb. The tendency for people, I imagine, is to buy them only when needed, given the price, and not to keep a spare. Not a huge problem for me (although big enough) but for the elderly single-occupants in ‘affordable housing’ this poses a risk to their safety. I have taken a bulb out of a cupboard to put in the bedroom, and now taken one out of the hallway to replace the one in the living room. In the hallway I have an old plug-in lamp with an incandescent bulb in! Ludicrous.

Not being able to reach to replace bulbs is enough of a nightmare without all these different fittings and bulbs. It is only OK if you can search and find things online. If you are elderly and need better lighting it is really difficult to sort out and source help for this and even then someone else is always going to have to source the bulbs for you. Stockpiling may not work as the bulbs may become obsolete.

When low energy bulbs started first appeared in the 1980s I realised that this was the way forward, even though electricity was much cheaper and the lamps were expensive. With hindsight, it would have been good to have alerted the public to plan for the future.

CFLs last five or ten times as long as old fashioned bulbs so having to climb up to replace a lamp is not necessary very often. That is an important safety benefit, and not just for the elderly.

It is about time that do something about variety of lampholders, which makes life difficult for many people.

Clearly a small business opportunity for the development of a BC3 to 2-pin adapter – compact, of course, to avoid the bulbs protruding too far out of the fittings!

Alternatively, just change the lampholders.

Speedy says:
19 October 2012

Councils are forcing these new fitting and only one spare bulb when they do compulsery rewiring in social and elderly tenants supported housing. Our Council is also removing long flourescent tube lights from bathrooms and kitchens while rewiring and replacing them with circular frosted glass fittings with these slow start energy savers.

I know of at least 10 of the supported tenants that have had to have these replaced with another long flourescent tube because they couldn’t see to work in their kitchens as they mostly have very poor sight. In the bathrooms they could not see water on the floor so there was a slip hazard – these had to be changed for circular sealed clear glass flourescents.

Too many decisions are being taken by men in offices without taking into account the elderly and sight inpaired that are stuck with these hazards waiting to happen.

Anders Hoveland says:
8 November 2012

This is just ridiculous. Governments should have no right to legislate “energy efficiency” in the building codes, especially when it can greatly affect the quality of living.

I absolutely HATE fluorescent light. It strains my eyes and I have mild skin sensitivity problems, probably from the UV these things leak out. When I build my ideal home, I am going to install a combination of LED and regular incandescent in my bathroom and kitchen. If I bought a used home with “energy efficient” 3 pin lighting, the first thing I would do is rip them out.

The government is just FULL of stupidity and insanity. Don’t we live in a cold climate? I’m not sure how much energy those “energy efficient” lights are actually going to save. I only use my lights in the night, when it is even colder than the daytime. I also use a little portable electric heater so I don’t have to turn on the main heater (lowers my heating costs and better for environment too). The old incandescent bulbs are actually 100% efficient – if you want some added heat in addition to the light.

I do much to help the environment, but I refuse to sacrifice the quality of light in my home. That’s where I draw the line. I turn off my lights when I’m not using them. I’m not going to let the media guilt trip me. Far more energy is wasted by fluorescent lights in workplaces and sodium street/parking lamps left on all the time.

We must remember that it is EU legislation that has led to this chaos. We can’t blame our British governments except to the extent that they have signed up to our loss of control of our laws.
I agree with you on flourescent light. the hard shadows make working difficult unless they are orientated satisfactorily in relation toyour work station. It is also the high frequency flicker that affected me when I was younger, but that doesn’t affect me so much now.
The legislation has certainly damaged our quality of life. My poor 99 year old aunt couldn’t see properly with the meagre light from the eco light bult she had been left with. I tried the local shop to find something with a higher power (of any tyope that would fit the socket, but without success and I was sad that I couldn’t help her.
My wife was given a sample high light output eco bulb that she immediately inserted into one of our ceiling fittings in our kitchen and discarded all the covers so we now have bare socket backings in the kitchen. We have not been able to find to buy any more of the high output bulbs.
Indeed, don’t let anyone fool you that there is much (if any) saving in power. It is the winter that we use artificial lighting for long periods. If the light bulbs give off less heat one simply needs to turn up the heating to compensate the loss.
To buy a light bulb now is an activity in itself. It’s never less that half an hour’s shopping as one trys to find bulbs which fit and result in the least disadvantage. And the horrendous cost! Just before (and I mean just before, not historic war time) one could buy a pack of 10 incandescent bulbs for £1 if one was careful to look out for the bargains (as we consistently do). There are no bargains now (except the free bulbs issued to us by the power companies that are pretty useless at providing light).
Replace light fittings, they suggest. What of the cost and wasted energy in their production, transportation, and time in their fitting which could all be put to better development rather than change for change sake (which is what it is).
Do I need to say more? It’s bad legislation carried through without thought by the EU parliament and pushed by the industry who saw a way to make a killing in increased prices, sales and profits at the expense of the man-in-the-street.

M. A. S

The reason that you are no longer affected by flicker is a change in design of compact fluorescent lamps. Modern ones operate at a much higher frequency. The only time you will see flickering is if the lamp is faulty or you use it on a dimmer.

Saying that the lamps do not save electricity is nonsense. Those of us who have compared the power taken by energy saving lamps and ordinary bulbs have seen the difference. I’ve been saving money for 25 years. I suggest you choose the spiral or stick types rather than the bulb-shaped variety because the extra layer of glass in the latter cuts down on light output.

Dave says:
3 November 2013

Agreed the government is plain stupid. How many offices run with their lights on 24 hours 7 days a week ALL year – come rain, shine or otherwise? The one I work in does – complete with an average of 9 strip bulbs per person. Add to this that I have to drive 50 miles a day as I can’t afford a house any closer and home working is possible, even permitted, but is hugely and heavily discouraged.

There are bigger fish to fry but as normal the government is to stupid to do it.

I don’t doubt that running “ordinary” bulbs uses more electricity than “energy saving” lamps. This saving will be of value to, for example, large offices where the lights are kept on through summer and the windows are open to keep the office cool. However, in the domestic environment where lighting is primarily used in winter, and heating is also wanted, the additional energy that the ordinary bulbs use that create heat rather than light is not wasted because it contributes to the heating of the domestic property.
The arguments that the politicians (and their advisors) have been pedalling that the domestic user will save money is flawed by not taking this factor into account. In fact the point is positively ignored while they are trying to justify and push through the objectionable poilcy that is forcing the domestic user into using unsatisfactiory, expensive, alternative lighting systems that have not yet reached proper development.

Try using some old fashioned light bulbs and see what effect they have on room temperature as I have suggested. I’m fairly sure that you will be disappointed.

Think about old people perching on stepladders trying to change light bulbs every 1000 hours or so.

Perhaps the difference between us is that I had made the change to energy saving lamps long before the old bulbs were phased out. I wanted long life bulbs that would save me money.

Dave says:
3 November 2013

a) I can get 2 pin bayonet long life energy saving bulbs, so the hugely over priced 3 pin with almost no availability are a liability that isn’t needed.
b) Few of these supposedly long life energy saving bulbs actually last – especially not the 3 pin ones which are designed to operate on a lower voltage.
c) The extra cost more than compensates for any savings from energy or longevity (especially for the 3 pin ones).
d) Given the 5 minutes it takes the energy saving bulbs to actually illuminate anything they are useless for reading or emergency situations.