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A Nobel Prize for LED light bulbs, but do they get your vote?

LED light bulb

Earlier this week the scientists behind LED light bulbs were awarded the 2014 Nobel prize for physics. Unfortunately, you’ve shared stories of LEDs burning out too soon. Are LED bulbs getting any better?

We lit up your frustrations when we last spoke about LED light bulbs. More than 300 comments were made, most of them about their poor performance and your dissatisfaction with them not living up to their lifespan claims.

I’ve had many problems in the past with LED light bulbs blowing too quickly. Only this morning I noticed another bulb in my kitchen had gone – I’d only replaced it three months ago. Ivan was also blown away by the short lifespan of his bulbs:

‘I bought six LED SES candle light bulbs from Homebase. Two failed within two weeks.’

While Raj had slightly better luck, his bulbs still weren’t up to scratch:

‘I bought 24 off Aurora 6W LED lamps at £11 each. After two years I’ve had to replace four of these. Not
impressed.’

Who turned out the lights?

As LED bulbs continue to improve, there have been ideas as to what else could cause their underwhelming performance. Brian started to wonder whether maybe it was the fittings in his kitchen, rather than a problem with his bulbs:

‘After only six weeks regular use four have failed. Swapping round has got one back working, but only temporarily. Not sure the lamp holders are 100% either as two went off together. Tried all the connections and they seem fine so at a loss as to what is really the problem.’

The light at the end of the tunnel

We do have some good news for you though. Our research shows LED light bulbs are getting better. The failure rate in newer bulbs is much lower than for those produced a year or two before.

We’ve tested 410 LED light bulb samples for 10,000 hours or more, and 75 of those (18%) failed within 10,000 hours, even though they all claim to last much longer. And 69 out of the 185 bulbs (37%) we examined at the 15,000 hour mark had failed by that point. Again, almost all of them claim to last longer than this. So, although there are advances, there’s still room for improvement.

What’s wrong with incandescent bulbs?

Some of our commenters are still longing for the good old days. John Ward pined after the 60s:

‘I’ve never had a better kitchen light than the long fluorescent tube that I had in my first flat in 1968!’

While Derrick said:

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

But it’s not all doom and gloom, Nick C has seen the light:

‘I too have replaced almost all the lamps throughout the house (and outside) with LED with great results. I struggle to understand why people are determined to be so negative and backward-looking about any progress that is made’

Are you still having problems with LED light bulbs? Or have you seen similar improvements as in our new test results?

Comments
Member

One thing I have seen is that B&Q et al appear to be well failing to meet expectations in the matter of LED lighting innovation. I see that they utilize exceptionally old sort lights for their lighting presentations (which isn’t extraordinary with regards to enhancing general society impression of LED lighting) and a significant number of the lights they offer are obsolete. The purpose behind this is that huge stores purchase in enormous amounts and less ready to upgrade their stock to better advances.

In the most recent year there have been monstrous changes in the innovation which incorporate better shading render, heat administration and resistance to environment. The most recent lights can create light which is so like incandescent light that one would think that its extremely hard to recognize a LED from a halogen. These are every one of the elements which customers need to think about.

Member
Compton says:
30 June 2016

LEDs failure can be through retro replacement on old fittings, Gu10, Ses etc where the contacts are worn. Regardless of price you will have a similar failure rate.
The options are to get a suitably skilled/competent person to replace the lamp holder if it’s a Gu10/Mr16 or service the contacts if it’s a Ses type fitting.
LEDs are superior to the old GLS/Halogen with now natural colour temperatures and ever growing reliability.
Buy a branded lamp, and not from China, although the branded ones probably originate from there at least you have an official CE approval and warranty to argue with in the UK.

Member
peter says:
26 December 2016

I have purchased 6 led bulbs 4 months ago, one failed within a fortnight [was replaced by vendor] and have had 3 other fail….green I do not think so, Me thinks manufacturers should go away and look at the problems.
I for one,will not waist my money on any more

Member
Richard Thomas says:
23 January 2017

I too have found that LED lamps often have a much shorter lifespan than the manufacturers claim. However, all my lamps that have failed have been mains voltage direct replacement types – mainly GU10s. LED chips, unlike traditional incandescent lamps, work at a very low DC voltage so they have to have a ‘power supply’ built into them to change the mains 230v AC supply to the low DC power the LED chip needs. In my experience it is these power supplies that generally fail and not the LEDs themselves. I have discovered that by opening up the enclosure of failed lamps and using a bench power supply directly to the LED chip, bypassing the integral power supply electronics, they invariably still work. The problem is therefore with the power supplies that have to be very small and compact to fit within the base of the lamp and with little or no ventilation, the electronics get quite hot and fail early. I appreciate that this is a bit of a quibble because whichever part has failed it is still a ‘dead’ lamp and needs to be replaced!

It may be, however, that low voltage LED lamps (e.g. G4 or MR16) where there is an separate power supply unit, often supplying a number of lamps, have a better lifespan. That would be because the separate power supply box is usually hidden away somewhere (in a ceiling void, for example) and does not need to be a ‘micro miniaturised’ unit so can be more robustly built with better cooling giving greater reliability.

I would add that this is not a professional opinion but is based on a bit of experimentation and a little technical knowledge.

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I have the greatest respect for someone who manages to dismantle GU10 LED lamps to find out why they failed. 🙂 I struggled with some CFLs, which are much larger. We have discussed overheating of electronics in detail in other Conversations, and it is interesting that in the tests you have made it was the electronics rather than the LEDs that failed.

A friend asked me for advice on LEDs, having moved to a house with loads of halogen bulbs. I said that I had installed dimmers sold for LED bulbs but he suggested we try one bulb on the existing dimmer. I took one of my LEDs which had been working for a month or more and installed it in his fixture. It failed within 30 minutes. I don’t know why manufacturers don’t draw attention to the need for suitable dimmers on the packaging.

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I wonder just how many people who buy LEDs would even know what type, or brand, of dimmer is installed in their wall. Those who do know would probably also have the knowledge to check whether it is suitable for LEDs. Philps Lighting, for example, give a comprehensive list of LEDs – manufacturers and models – that are compatible with their self-ballasted LED lamps. A note on the carton, or preferably the leaflet, could advise customers to check a website for suitable dimmers. That is, for those who read cartons or instruction leaflets.

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Perhaps Which? could draw attention to the need to use the right dimmers with LED lighting. My reason for mentioning the dimmer issue again is that I suspect that some LEDs are failing because they are being used on circuits with the old-style dimmers (i.e. leading edge, rather than the trailing edge dimmers suitable for LEDs).

The Philips lamps came with no leaflet, nor did the other brands I have bought in the past year. Replacing low voltage halogen bulbs (say the 12V MR16 type) with LEDs may not be straightforward for various reasons and even if the LED works it could produce radio interference if not used with a compatible dimmer. That’s hardly the manufacturer’s fault, but why not put helpful information on leaflets, as we get with some other products?

I have seen a number of failures of CFL lamps when used on dimmers. At least with LED bulbs that I have seen there is an indication of whether or not they are dimmable, but the packaging of CFLs often did not have this information.

I absolutely agree that many people don’t read information provided, Malcolm, but we can’t just have it on a website when not everyone uses computers.

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As I remember the safety standard for domestic lamps with integrated ballasts they are required to carry the dimmer symbol with a cross if they are not suitable for dimming. The problem is we have so many symbols these days – clothing, food, for exsample. How to remember them? Well, we don’t do we. There should be a leaflet/label with products that spell out the information.

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The next issue of Which? will have a feature on LED lamps. We will see if they have taken note of the Convos on LEDs, particularly with regard to comments made on dimming, interference, damaging temperature and short life. I think Convos are supposed to help Which? with their magazine reports.

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Not only an article but the back cover of the January issue refers to lifetime claims for LEDs. I’m looking forward to it. I have been disappointed by lack of coverage of the issues you mention but live in hope. One thing that I would add is the need to test both FM and DAB interference.

I stand corrected about the ‘non-dimmable’ symbol on CFLs. The new ones do and I had been looking at older ones in the spares box.

Member
trusley_mike says:
13 March 2017

Out of sixteen mains LEDs fitted in a kitchen, three have failed within two years.

We also had eight 12V halogens in the bathroom ceiling powered by individual transformers. One morning the lights tripped the fuse. On reset all the lights except one came on for two minutes then fused again. For some reason I decided to check the one that had failed rather than leave it until later. There was a fire in the ceiling void which I managed to put out with a fire extinguisher before the fire brigade arrived. On investigation the ceiling contained a large wasp’s nest and the transformer had become embedded within it and overheated. The plastic around the transformer had melted and t was the wasps nest that was on fire.

I have had all the transformers removed and the halogens have been replaced with mains LEDs. I know it won’t help a lot – after all, the LEDs contain transformers which generate heat – but maybe less of it.

Lessons: don’t put things that generate heat into ceiling voids. Check for wasps entering the building during the spring, check ceiling voids regularly. The last one is easier said that done when some voids don’t have access hatches.

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Mains LED,s have SMPS ( switched mode power supplies ) Trusley no “transformers ” involved -ie- input inductance separated from an output inductance (transformers ) , it wasn’t the fault of the transformers that caused your fire .Personally I would have kept the 12 V output mains transformers as they are -IMHO – more reliable and safer although they generate more heat than SMPS–manufacturers would rather sell you something cheap with a big profit margin . Transformers that overheat naturally are badly designed engineering wise -coil thickness (SWG ) etc. It used to be the case when the UK made its own transformers they were over-specified for safety as the years went on profit took over and winding’s were reduced /made smaller (wall-warts ) which were hot to touch.

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The advantage of mains lamps is that they can be used in ‘fire-rated’ downlighters that will both contain a fire and preserve the integrity of the ceiling. I don’t know how earlier downlighters with unprotected halogen lamps were ever approved.

In my view, the lighting transformers or SMPS should be in fire-resistant cases, such as metal. Thanks for reporting the problem Mike.

Duncan – Thermal fuses can be used to provide protection in case transformers overheat, but the average householder is not going to know if they are fitted.

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Wavechange, in electric kettles I used to change many thermal fuses , the problem with thermal fuses in transformers are that they are fitted internally in the Primary winding -fuse goes , so does the transformer =bigger cost of replacement. You could say- safety comes first but from what I have seen most of those fuses are fitted in below spec. transformers cheaply made in the Land of Built to a Price , now if they were Japanese transformers -well that’s different world.

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I’m very glad that we have thermal fuses. A friend replaced the halogen bulb in a reading lamp with one that took twice the power and the thermal fuse in the transformer operated when the transformer overheated. He had to buy a new transformer but that’s better than risking having a fire. In my experience thermal fuses provide reliable protection, but I do agree that we have a problem with substandard cheap products.

I did not realise that thermal fuses are used in kettles but it’s good to have secondary protection if the resettable thermal cutout fails.

Member
KKD says:
17 March 2017

The new lights are causing me to have panic attacks, headaches, nausea, and agitation. I’ve noticed frustration . I’m 54 and feel like I’m in a room of lanterns ,the light is so dim I’m having sever eye strain. Why can’t we have the old light bulbs back? What happened to freedom of choice? I’m so discouraged about being forced to use a light that does not give enough light to read or crochet among other things. I have 6 of these light bulbs in my living room and still it’s so dim I can’t see well enough to draw either, my living room is only 15ft. By 9ft. Not very economical using so many bulbs to no avail as far as any brightness goes there is none thanks for letting me post

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You don’t have to apologise for posting a concerned and decent post KKD I perfectly understand where you are coming from as my wife is ultra sensitive to high frequency noise which includes VLF radiation given off by some of our defence assets . I got the doctor in and he was dismissive and said she had tinnitus which she hasn’t because I have had it most of my life . To back up my wife I built a VLF detector , a very sensitive one , thank goodness I kept all my electronic technical books/magazines and YES ! it could detect it, so much for the GP ! Most people because they personally don’t hear it , don’t believe it , so be it but I proved them wrong . My wife was born with ultra sensitive hearing it has its downsides as even a bit of noise and she would complain . This world is now full of RF radiated and above noise and in generations to come we will see the results of this even babies in the womb can hear it. I still like the old bulbs lasted for years and plenty of light .

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What sort of LED lights are they KKD? Spotlights or replacement standard bulbs? If the former, try buying halogen ones off the internet; if replacement bulbs you can get some halogen versions or compact fluorescent.