/ Home & Energy

Are your LED light bulbs burning out too soon?

LED light bulb

LED light bulbs have a tendency to make grand claims about their lifespan – it’s common to see manufacturers promise bulbs will last 25,000 or even 50,000 hours. But we’ve found many failing well before this.

One of the attractions of LED light bulbs is that they’re supposed to last a long time. And so if you’re shelling out for these bulbs – typically more expensive than other types of light bulb – you’ll want to be sure that they’ll live up to those claims.

But our tests show that not only do many LED light bulbs stop working before the end of their promised lifespan, some don’t even reach the soon-to-be-implemented EU minimum lifespan of 6,000 hours. We discovered bulbs from both Ikea and TCP that failed to reach the 6,000 hour mark for the majority of samples we tested.

Ikea bulb among failures

In the tests – which were carried out by Which? and our European partner organisations – we took five samples each of 46 different bulbs. The bulbs were switched on for two hours and 45 minutes, then switched off for 15 minutes, in a continuous cycle until they burned out.

Five different bulbs stopped working before the 6,000 hour mark for the majority of samples we tested, though the TCP and Ikea bulbs were the only ones which were sold in the UK. Both have since been discontinued.

New EU regulations which will come in from 1 March 2014 say that 90% of any batch of LED light bulbs should last at least 6,000 hours.

Another five bulbs stopped working before the 10,000 hour mark for the majority of samples we tested, despite claiming lifespans of at least 25,000 hours. None of these bulbs were sold in the UK.

In total, 66 of the 230 samples we tested failed before the 10,000 hour mark, though they all claimed they would last at least 15,000 hours.

Has your bulb burned out early?

Ikea said the bulb had passed its own tests and those in a third-party lab. It’s looking into why the bulb failed our test and has removed it from sale in countries where it was still available.

TCP said it was already aware of the problem with this bulb and withdrew it from sale when they discovered the problem. TCP added that it no longer deals with the supplier of that particular bulb and now make their LED bulbs in-house.

We’re in the process of testing the life span of many more LED bulbs, and we’ll update you if we find others that burn out prematurely. But we also want to hear from you – have you bought bulbs that haven’t lasted as long as they should?

Comments
Member

Reputable (“professional” quality, as chosen for public and commercial lighting) LEDs should last up to 50 000 hours – although they will be replaced well before that as improvements in, e.g. colour, efficiency and light output develop. Domestic LEDs will be of very variable quality from less reputable sources driven largely by cost – some with inherently short lives, due to failure of poor electrical connections for example, being too densly packed and overheating, or run at too high a current to extract more light – again overheating. Probably more of an issue will be the electronics used to control the current – often integral with the LED board and still more susceptible to being run too hot, and to the use of cheap low quality components.
Testing LEDs with a 50 000 hour life is an extrapolative process – even run continuously takes nearly 6 years to reach 50 kh.
I guess a typical user will run domestic lights for around 2000 hours a year – so a really decent LED could last 25 years . A modest 15000 hours will take 8 years. I wonder how many users have yet had sufficient use of LEDs to judge how good lives really are.
It will be interesting to see Which?’s results. As reported in another conversation, there are national bodies interested in the performance of LEDs, particularly whether they comply with EU standards. I hope the information will be shared and other results reported on.
Given the inherently long life of an LED, I am at a loss to understand why the EU minimum will be a meagre 6000 hours for 10% failure. That’s little better than CFLs should achieve.
I wonder how you will make any claim against a retailer for short life LEDs – how can you demonstrate actual lifetime achieved?

Member

It will be practically impossible to seek redress for a prematurely failed LED lamp. I succeeded in getting a replacement from John Lewis for a CFL in their early days because I had a recent proof of purchase for a significant number of lamps but I can’t see any store today accepting responsibility for a lamp that has failed well short of its declared life expectancy. The chances that a customer will have the box it came in and proof of purchase, say, 13 years hence is pretty remote and the industry knows this. Only major consumer testing organisations are going to be able to demonstrate that certain products are not what they’re cracked up to be, but – apart from negative publicity – it’s still unlikely that any enforcement action will be taken. With the high price of LED lamps, it’s getting to the point where consumers should be able to register the purchase as you would for a small appliance, and that product recall and replacement should be carried out by the manufacturer not the retailer. It’s almost certain that any LED that hasn’t suffered damage in transit is going to survive the warranty period and possibly escape from Sale of Goods Act case law. I cannot justify the cost of installing LED lamps – I’ve already wasted enough time and money on CFL’s that have utterly failed to live up to their promises and proved unsuitable for their applications and I have no confidence that things will be any better with LED’s. This latest research confirms it.

Member
Tony says:
24 January 2014

I totally agree. I had/have a CFL from Phillips supposed to last 10 years. Its light output has diminished so much that it is not fit for purpose. Philips dont want to know! The cost of these new lamps means that they are actually uneconomic

Member

About 2 years ago I had a detailed conversation with a Osram “technical” advisor in a local large DIY store in Germany. They were pushing the LEDs onto the market.

On the question of the LED lamp life, he assured me that the 5 year guarantee was genuine, the LEDs would last that long.

Asking how I could prove that a LED lamp failed too early, he stated in the “electronics” used to control the change from 240V to less than the 2V a single LED needs, there was a “usage monitor” which recorded the time the LED lamp was switched on. Upon the LED lamps return to Osram under guarantee, they could check the validity of premature failure claim and would replace the lamp if it was true.

Somewhat doubting the statement as such electronics seemed unlikely on cost grounds, I did not purchase.

Now with more sensible prices, I have just recently purchased a number of LED lamps, various makers.
The light output is generally good and the light equivalence ratings are believable.

The heat generated by the electronics is far too high. The temperature of the LED lamps (after say 20 mins.) are basically to hot to handle comfortably. The required change in voltage causes energy losses resulting in a temperature change. Nowhere have I seen the explanation of how much energy is actually used to produce light and how much for temperature change in a LED lamp.
(Perhaps Which should be publishing such data for various makers!!)
I suspect that as many have indicated here, the temperature is critical to lifespan of the lamp electronics, as a LED itself is very reliable when used within its design parameters.

For me, only time will tell if the LED cost savings are real. Until now I have no failures.
If Osram receives a guarantee claim and responds with a replacement lamp remains to be proven.

Member

Earlier today I suggested that LED lamp manufacturers could build in a device to record how long their lamps had been in use. I do not see this as unreasonable on cost or practical grounds. The consumer is entitled by law to buy goods that are durable and the manufacturer should not be expected to replace/repair goods that have been used excessively, for example LED lamps that have been used continuously for ten years or washing machines that have been used several times a day for years. We have the technology. Let’s use it so that the consumer and the manufacturer are both treated fairly.

Member
Andy Cooke says:
21 January 2014

Don’t talk to me about TCP I say! Their halogen bulbs blow out faster than fire crackers at Mardi Gras! Rubbish!!

Member
John says:
21 January 2014

In the last 5 years I have had very poor performance from my LED bulbs. The first ones I bought were from B&Q and they lasted less than a year. I had difficulties getting a replacement as I didn’t have proof of purchase.

From then on I bought a different make which also gave a 5 year guarantee. I have two of these and over the last two years I have had them replaced twice. This performance level is really poor. Even with a 5-year guarantee replacing them every year with postage costs is a nuiscance.

I am glad to see the EU stepping in to enforce a minimum performance criteria. But 6000hrs seems quite low if they can advertise up to 50000hrs. They must do more.

Member

We have recently moved house and have LED bulbs in some rooms. We are not impressed. Some of them flicker and need to be switched on and off several times to stop the flickering. Because they are recessed flush with the ceiling they produce a shaft of relatively low light vertically downwards. This is daft as the rooms are unevenly lit. Lights need to be below the ceiling so that light is reflected off the ceiling and the walls to give better distribution of light. The LEDs also interfere with FM and DAB radio . We are planning to replace some of the LEDS with CFLs!

Member

I totally agree with you about the unsatisfactory light distribution of recessed ceiling fittings. I cannot understand how they became so popular – many new houses had them installed in kitchens and living rooms as a matter of course. Perhaps the architects/designers thought people wanted that modern commercial look in their homes. As you say they produce a downward cone of light and make the ceiling look dark. Some people have fitted them to their bedroom ceilings because they thought they were stylish and have regretted it ever since; looking up into a downlighter is not very pleasant. Hotels seem to fit them a lot – probably to prevent people taking out the lamps or interfering with them in other ways. The worst place to have them is the bathroom where they cast awful shadows making it difficult to do close work to the face like shaving or make-up. I don’t see LED lights as suitable generally for comfortable lighting to living spaces although they no doubt have their uses in specific task applications where they will probably outlive both the fitting and the user.

Member

I agree with both of you and we are not the only ones who are not keen on downlighters, though they do have their uses. Although individual LED chips are directional they are often assembled to produce a lamp that does not have a directional output.

Member

This became a fad in commercial lighting (hotels, shops etc) a few years ago, until common sense prevailed. Unless you have a smallish space with light floor and walls to reflect light around you end up with unpleasant facial shadows and a dismal appearance. Wider-spreading lights help considerably. I prefer for all rooms at home to have either pendant ceiling lights that give uplight as well as down, and/or a selection of table lamps wherever appropriate to give a good general distribution of light without it being overall too uniform – their are 5 in the living room, with ceiling lights for occasional use, and on bedside tables in the bedrooms. LEDs for special applications are good – under cupbards in the kitchen for example – but CFLs and halogen reflector lamps generally do a better job.

Member
Barrie says:
24 January 2014

When we had our extension built with a new kitchen we researched LED downlighters (this was in 2011) and evaluated a number of bulbs for light spread and radio interference. We found that if you chose a bulb with 120 degree spread (or more) you got a very good spread of light. We are very satisfied with the lighting in our kitchen. Amazingly we later found that the supplier had “improved” the 120 degree bulb we had bought by replacing it with a model with 60 degree spread!

Member

I have 14 GX53 (hockey puck shape) fitted in a new kitchen. 10 as over bench and 4 as display cupboard lights.
After only 6 weeks regular use 4 have failed. Swapping round has got one back working, but only temporarily. Not sure the lamp holders are 100% either as 2 went off together. Tried all the connections and they seem fine so at a loss as to what is really the problem. I will be taking them back to the kitchen fitters for testing and replacement. I have 2 CFL versions of this fitting in outside porch lights. Work OK so far but take a long time to warm up.

Member
Richard Billing says:
22 January 2014

I think that pretty much it’s all down to education (or lack of it) for the public unfortunately.

You talk about “lifetime” but you don’t make it clear whether you’re talking about 1,000s at L50 or L70 or total failure? Generally LEDs don’t “fail” their lumen output just decreases hence the L70 / L50 etc. Where L = Light Output & the number indicates the percentage of the original Lumen output. This SHOULD always be combined with a number (normally tens of thousands) which indicates the lifetime; hence 25,000hrs to L70 would indicate that after 25k hrs the lamp (sorry “bulb”!) will have an output of 30% less than when it was brand new.

If you buy a lamp from a manufacturer that does not or will not supply this information then more fool you!

About the only sensible advice is to stick to the “recognized manufacturer” GE, Osram, Philips or similar (Just an example there are others).

Always worth having a look at The Lighting Industry Association web page: http://www.thelia.org.uk/consumer/publications-consumer/

Member

Loss of output is a factor, but what may be of much greater importance is failure, for whatever reason. This is the problem being experienced by users.

I think you are right to suggest we should stick to the recognised manufacturers. There are unbranded LEDs sold online by unheard of companies. Do we even know that they are safe, or whether or not they are a fire risk? If anyone is concerned about the cost of LED lighting it would be better to wait until the price falls rather than risking buying potentially unreliable or unsafe products.

Member
Richard Billing says:
22 January 2014

Hi Wavechange,

Let’s address a few points here:

1, Failure: Like ANY electrical device LED Lamps can fail at any point in their life; however as an electrical device their failure profile will tend to follow “The Bath Tub Curve” ( http://www.weibull.com/hotwire/issue21/hottopics21.htm ) “Infant Mortality” return the lamps for refund or replacement, “End of Life Failure” let’s be honest, you’ve probably moved house by then? 😉

2, Output Degradation: The light output of ALL LEDs will degrade through their lifespan. The fundamental question here is how quickly the degradation happens to a point where the lamp is no longer usable? Hence my comments (above) on Lifetime – No. hrs x1000s to L70?

3, The Type of Lamp & the Application: Pretty much the two are intertwined, for example a ceiling recessed “downlighter” that currently uses a reflector lamp? Is it mains voltage or “SELV 12V” i.e. does it have a transformer? There are issues with both applications; however there may be a huge issue with the SELV 12V Lamp LED replacement. There is currently NO standard for the electrical supply from a 12V SELV transformer. The output is generally ~12V however the frequency can vary from 50Hz up to 35kHz LEDs will have issues at some point here!
The “Mains Voltage” (GU10) type will have less to contend with electrically (there are standards for the mains supply!) however BOTH lamps when being inverted into a probably closed tin can in the ceiling will probably encounter thermal issues. These thermal issues can sometimes kill some of the small capacitors within the lamp or, & more normally the higher temperatures will have the effect of shortening the service life of the LED replacement lamp – LEDs do not like heat!

4, Safety: ALL lamps sold in the UK SHOULD be safe, you need to look for EN (European Norm) numbers, or BSEN (British Standard European Norm) numbers. More info via link: http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&ved=0CFgQFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.energysavingtrust.org.uk%2Fcontent%2Fdownload%2F75851%2F910948%2Fversion%2F1%2Ffile%2FLED%2BLamp%2BLighting%2BSpecification.pdf&ei=quXfUoOjOoSmhAfS9oHwDA&usg=AFQjCNG4WPv4EkwyaeQpULIQy_dcibR_Ng&sig2=gha7DbKjVoKb18LpRzprnA&bvm=bv.59568121,d.ZG4&cad=rja

Yes generally tending to stick with recognized brand names does appear to be a sensible thing to do & there is no way that I would buy something unbranded from an internet supplier & plug it in to my mains supply! However even some of the recognized suppliers have issues from time to time!

5, Price: Yes the price will continue to fall until it reaches a “level” once that happens you’ll see performance start to increase. It is fair to say that if there are no “early adopters” then the development funding for these lamps will have to come from a different source? – just a thought!

Member

I bought 24off Aurora 6W led lamps at £11each. After two years I’ve had to replace four of these. Not impressed. I thought Aurora was a highly recommended brand.

Member

I have been looking at online reviews of different makes of LED bulbs and Aurora don’t seem very good at all.

Member
TheLeakyHouse says:
23 January 2014

I had eight 4W LED GU10s fitted as part of a new office build in November 2011. The original stock were FEIT electric, so more than £10 per bulb at the time. So far, three have failed. I replaced them with (cheaper) HYS03CW-L1-G, and three of those have also failed. So 6 out of 11 LED bulb failures in 2 years. But I’m not sure the extent to which part of the problem is inadequate venting of the heat that they generate; they obviously need more space around them than conventional GU10s.

Member
David Smith says:
23 January 2014

During a domestic kitchen replacement project I purchased 17 down lighters with Kosnic LED lamps, they have only been fitted a year and 3 have failed already, how can companies advertise their supposedly long life when the evidence speaks otherwise. Surely they appear to not be fit for purpose.

Member
John says:
23 January 2014

I have purchased 30 LED bulbs over the past year as I have been replacing conventional bulbs with LEDs as and when they fail. Out of the 30 , 5 have failed and one has developed a horrible green hue. That’s a 20% failure rate in bulbs that vary between a few months and a year old. Retailer’s have generally been very good about replacements, but it’s hassle and surely the point of LEDs is to save energy AND to save time/money in replacing bulbs. I am now beginning to consider abandoning my attempt to change to LED lighting. Light levels are also a disappointment as claimed equivalence is rarely borne out in practice.

Member
Richard Billing says:
24 January 2014

It would be interesting to know if anyone has had any issues with LED Lamps of the reflector type (i.e. GU10 mains voltage, or GU5.3 SELV 12V) when used in an open fitting rather than an enclosed recessed “Downlighter” type fitting.

It is my understanding that LED Reflector Lamps are designed to keep the actual LED chip as cool as possible. From memory the absolute maximum is ~125°C above which you’re going to be looking at catastrophic failure of the LED chip. Manufacturers will therefore engineer their lamps with all sorts of thermal interfaces & heatsinks to draw the heat out of & away from the LED chip to free air with an ambient temperature of ~25°C. So in theory there shouldn’t be any issues physically or thermally with an open fitting.

From what I’m seeing here most if not all of the issues are from LED lamp retrofits into recessed downlighter fittings that were originally designed for GU10 mains voltage, or GU5.3 SELV 12V halogen lamps. These GU10 / GU5.3 Lamps are designed to work at temperatures of up to ~300°C & therefore the recessed downlighter fittings (Luminaires) are consequently designed not only to be able to cope with these temperatures, but also to be able to dissipate the heat such that any part of the fitting that is in contact with a potentially flammable surface does not exceed 90°C.

Within these Halogen fittings there is a dead air space between the hottest part of the lamp (often referred to as “The Pinch”) & the inside of the Luminaire housing. This dead air space will have the effect of insulating the inside of the Luminaire housing (like the air gap in your double glazing) from the heat source (Lamp) thereby the lamp will retain its heat (radiation is not so efficient) and will conduct the heat through touching parts e.g. the lampholder assembly. All of this works really well for Halogen Lamps.

Now consider replacing the Halogen for an LED? Is that dead air space going to insulate the LED lamp thereby rendering all that thermal engineering that the LED lamp manufacturer has done useless?

Do the LED lamp manufacturers give any guidance on the installation of their lamps?

Member

Looking at a reputable manufacturer’s products – try Philips.co.uk – their literature for 4.5W and 6.5W GU10 LED spots shows them as direct replacements for the TH equivalents in luminaires; pictures show them in both exposed luminaires and in recessed. The inference is they are suitable (and presumably tested) for these applications. How many suppliers will have tested theirs under recessed conditions?
These LED spots have declared lives of up to 20 000 hours (15 years+) – very different from some reports above.
On EMC – a vexatious topic – Philips declare compliance when used with a specified transformer. I think many people think they can just replace a TH bulb with an LED whereas in practice they need to think about using a compatible driver for appropriate performance. Whist buying cheap(er) LEDs of unknown manufacture might look appealing, short term the penalty of short lives and DAB interference can make some poor value. Whilst major manufacturers are not totally without problems you stand a much better chance of getting a product that works well.
I wonder how much of a fad LEDs are though? Many have poor colour, shortish lives, interference problems. Work out how much electricity you might save compared with CFLs and TH lamps. You could save £3.30 a year substituting a 4.5W LED spot for a 30W TH but this needs weighing against the cost of a decent LED spot plus, probably, electronic driver.

Member
Richard Billing says:
24 January 2014

Hi Malcom R,

Confused????

You state: “On EMC – a vexatious topic – Philips declare compliance when used with a specified transformer” yet you only mention “GU10” – These are “Mains Voltage” lamps & as such will not require a transformer?

Member

Richard, this was a separate general comment whilst on the subject of LEDs. Many complaints have been made by correspondents about interference and non-compliance with EMC. I was making the point that the LED plus driver (where required, if you like) need to be of good quality for both good performance and compliance, and suggest the major (well known) manufacturers are probably better value. Philips leaflet quoted “This bulb complies with EMC requirements when used in combination with a high-quality electronic transformer, such as the Philips CERTALINE 60 transformer. Performance may vary based on the transformer used to operate the bulb.” I am not sure many people are informed about the need for quality controllers.
My point about GU10 lamps, as examples, was that you are more likely to have acceptable thermal performance from a major manufacturer who is likely to have designed and tested their products for operation under thermally-demanding conditions.

Member
Derrick says:
24 January 2014

Glad I stocked up with ‘old fashioned’ bulbs before they disappeared!

Member
Will says:
28 April 2015

This makes absolutely no sense given that the discussion is about LEDs and there are plenty of CFL’s with superior energy savings to traditional bulbs and they’ve been out long enough that people know they generally last longer too.

Member
Dick Vardy says:
24 January 2014

I’ve been experimenting with a number of LED GU10 bulbs over the last 2 years. They have been used as replacements in spotlight-type fittings so do not seem to be overheating, in fact they are not too hot to hold even after being on some time. I have had a couple of failures (at different times) – one went out with a bang, the other started to flick on and off. Each had been in use about a year. The supplier replaced each one without question. My research continues!
One thing I have found is that a particular model from Longlife bulbs seems to cause interference to some stations on my digital radio. I’ve contacted the manufacturer and I’m waiting for his response.

One thing that has worked in my favour when getting replacement is buying through Amazon. The site keeps a lengthy history of your purchases so its easy to go back to the original order. I mark the cap of each bulb with the date of purchase using a permanent marker to help me keep track

Member

12 months ago we had a new kitchen installed and it was fitted with 12 x GU10 LED’s 24v x 5w bulbs. Of the first batch supplied, all have blown, which the supplier replaced, but some of those also failed. I now purchase from BrightLightz via the internet and so far, so good.

Member
Dean says:
24 January 2014

Interestingly I also bought 30+ GU10s from Brightlightz around 18m ago – own brand and a few have failed (generally start flickering then die!). However, to date, they have been very good in sending replacements so whilst it is a bit of a pain, I am not out of pocket

Member
Julian says:
24 January 2014

My house was gutted and rewired in 2012, with LED lights in most applications. Brilliant white light and only 1 bulb failure from about 80 so far. Sorry to hear that others have had a bad experience, as we recommend LED to everyone – even if they aren’t going to last 25 years.