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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

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?


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.

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.

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

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.