/ Home & Energy

Why are you phased by the light bulb phase out?

Smashed energy-saving light bulb

When we wrote about the phase out of incandescent light bulbs recently, the response was overwhelming. So what got people’s backs up? I trawled through hundreds of comments to pick out the main complaints…

Your complaints ranged from cost to being left with less choice. Having tested energy-saving bulbs for the latest issue of Which? magazine, this topic is fresh in my mind, so I thought I’d try and tackle each of these issues one by one.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t address all the issues raised in our previous Conversation. Others included claims that energy-savings bulbs aren’t as bright, can’t be used with dimmer switches and don’t always fit light fittings.

1. Energy-saving bulbs don’t last as long as claimed

This can definitely be true if you have a bulb that’s poor for longevity, or doesn’t like being switched on and off frequently. The regulations only require 50% of a bulb’s sample to achieve the claimed lifetime – cold comfort if your bulb is in the half that didn’t.

Which? energy-saving light bulb tests show big differences between bulbs in terms of how long they last and how they cope with being switched on and off. We test three samples of each bulb and, at worst, all three fail long before our 30,000 on/off switching test is over. The best of the bulbs have all three samples working at the end of the test.

It’s the same with longevity – the top performers’ samples survive 5,000 hours continuously turned on – the equivalent of five years’ use. But poor performers will see some, or even all, samples fail before that.

2. Health side-effects including migraines, UV radiation and mercury

The most common type of energy-saving bulb, CFLs, do contain mercury, but only a small amount. An average CFL has no more than five milligrams – and would fit on the tip of a ballpoint pen. Breakages are easily dealt with if a bulb breaks, as detailed in our advice guide.

UV radiation is only potentially a problem if you sit very close (within a few centimetres) of a CFL-type bulb for prolonged periods. For migraine sufferers, using a different type of energy-saving bulb altogether (i.e. a halogen or an LED) or using a CFL with an outer surface as well as an inner (i.e. not a stick-shaped one), will also help.

3. Loss of heating from traditional incandescent bulbs

Incandescent bulbs did waste 85% of their energy as heat, but this is still a very small amount – the heating effect on any room would be negligible. Even using a higher-powered bulb of 100W would only give you around 85W of heat.

Compare that to a typical fan heater rating of 2kW and factor in that many of the bulbs will be in exactly the wrong place to heat a room – on the ceiling – and incandescents seem to be an inefficient method of heating!

4. No overall saving of energy

Some of you were concerned about the energy used to manufacture energy-saving light bulbs, but a 2009 Defra study found that incandescent bulbs had the highest environmental impact of all types of bulbs. That’s because “energy in use” is the key factor, and incandescents are much less efficient than energy-saving bulbs.

Our recent light bulb tests showed the same trait – that the most efficient bulbs were also the most environmentally friendly over the whole lifecycle of production and disposal, because energy used while the bulb is on is the most important factor.

5. Don’t tell us what to buy, give us a choice

It’s obviously annoying for a lot of people not to have a choice of which bulb to buy. But the phase-out is a “done deal” and although it forces us to buy only certain types of light bulb it does force us towards bulbs that will save us money and use less energy.

6. Energy-saving light bulbs are more expensive

The savings from energy-saving bulbs are nothing like as obvious as the extra cost of buying them in the first place, but they will save you money in the end.

We’re looking at ways to calculate payback times for all the bulbs we show test results for. In the meantime, any energy-saving bulb should more than pay for itself, but the amount will depend on various factors, especially how long it lasts.

Based on the bulb being on for 2.7 hours per day and electricity costing 14.5p per KWh, we calculate a 100W incandescent bulb costs around £14 to run for a year. An equivalent CFL energy-saver (such as the Osram Dulux Superstar 30W) would cost £3 or £4 in the same conditions, depending on how much light it emitted (watts being only a measure of how much power you pay to put in, not how much light you’re getting out).

7. CFLs are hard to dispose of

It’s true that disposing of CFLs isn’t as easy as incandescents – you can’t just chuck them in the bin because of the mercury. But we’re used to recycling much of our waste now, so isn’t it just a mind shift that’s needed to get into the habit of recycling bulbs too?

Recycling CFLs can be done at any Ikea, Homebase, Robert Dyas, 250 larger Sainsbury’s or at council facilities. Or you can find your nearest recycling points by typing in your postcode on Recolight on Recycle Now.

Do my responses make any difference to your view on the light bulb phase out? Do you think the phase out is all bad news or can you see some positives to the change?


David D above asks about the availability of reputable brands. I haven’t bought lately – a few years ago I stocked up from Robert Dyas when they were 10p each! Philips and GE brands and I’m still living off that hoard.
However, looking on line:
Robert Dyas sell Osram
John Lewis (and presumably Waitrose), Amazon, Sainsburys and Wickes all list Philips.
Not 10p each now, I’m sorry to say.


I’d never even heard of Robert Dyas until Which? started to list them, but the nearest Robert Dyas store to me is Solihull, which is about 120 miles away.

Sainsbury’s stores near to me (3 branches I use semi regularly) appear only to have cfl’s up to 13watts.

Wickes are good – own brand seem to be very good indeed (maybe they are made by Phillips?) and both stores up here have a decent range, but nothing over 20watts.

Waitrose (where I do almost all my ‘normal’ shopping have the poorest range (nothing lower than 11w and little or nothing higher than 13 watts but, worst of all, almost all screw fitting not BC. I don’t go into John Lewis in Sheffield because their staff are so abominably rude, but I don’t image what they stock will differ much from Waitrose since it’s all the same company.

I absolutely agree that on-line stores (including the online version of all above) makes it much easier to get lamps (and indeed anything else) but you then have to add the cost of P&P and the risk of damage in delivery, plus the (usually very short) wait for delivery and, we should remember, not everyone is willing or able to do online shopping.

Whilst I personally have no trouble shopping on line and also have a superb local independent specialist electrical shop which stocks and will order on demand anything from BELL, Osram and Sylvania, this comes back to the point that Which? don’t appear to test what is readily available in the high street, unless you are in the affluent south-east.

What would really help would be if Which? tested (and where appropriate ‘slated’) all the stores’ own brand lamps, and brands like Pro-Lite which seem to be available in every corner shop, market stall, co-op, lighting store and so on and so on. Possibly then these manufacturers would up their game, or other storse would stock a better range of the higher quality competing brand?


Most of the CFLs that I have used have been made Philips, probably because I started off with using the Philips ‘jam jars’ (choke ballast switchstart) that Dave and I have discussed at length. They have proved very durable and I also had success with the Osram and GE CFLs that I put in my parents’ house. As an experiment, I bought a couple of cheap spirals and a small reflector CFL from Tesco and they are doing well so far. I bought some 11 watt Philips Genie sticks for 10p each but have not managed to find a use for such small lamps. If Malcolm has found a use for his cheap lamps, he has achieved more than me.

I have a friend who had numerous failures of Megaman reflector CFLs in his large kitchen. When I stayed with him at Christmas, all the lamps had died and been replaced with incandescent reflector bulbs. I suspect that the lack of ventilation provided by the downlighter fixtures contributed to their demise, and there are plenty of negative reviews of these Megaman CFLs online.

Over the years I have seen numerous CFLs that have been killed by use with dimmers and in motion-activated outside lamps, thanks to users failing to follow instructions.

David Parsons says:
1 October 2016

I puchased a 30W CFL (called a energy saving stick) from Morrisons today. It claims to give the same light as a 130W conventional bulb, 1897 Lumen equivalent. Cost: £3.91


Some shops have been discounting CFLs this year, though I did not know that Morrisons had joined in.


Our local B&Q were selling off stocks of GU10 (mains voltage halogen reflector lamps) at the beginning of September. I have a bar of 6 in the kitchen and I don’t want to replace them with iffy LEDs at large cost, especially as they are on a dimmer . So I bought 4 packs of 8 – £3 a pack. Hopefully keep me going until sensibly-priced reliable LEDs are on the shelf.


I have installed dimmers suitable for LED lighting. Standard dimmers are ‘leading edge’, but ‘trailing edge’ dimmers are normally recommended for dimmable CFL and LED lamps. The ones I bought are switchable and don’t interfere with DAB or FM radio.

I do not know if using the wrong type of dimmer on LED lamps can cause premature failure.

The packaging of LED lamps clearly indicates whether they are dimmable or not. I wonder when the manufacturers will realise that it would be helpful to put this information on the lamps themselves.

I have three powerful halogen lights to install in my garage workshop. In winter they will provide some warmth as well as good lighting, so I have bought some linear halogen bulbs very cheaply from B&Q – before they are phased out.