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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
MICHAEL WALLIS says:
21 November 2014

when i upgraded our kitchen i was advised to use GX53 cool daylight to light the worktops, since then (3 years) i have changed the all of them twice and they are now selectively blowing albeit less frequently. The price is coming down but they are still expensive & i note that my supplier is now using a different manufacturer even though they denied that there was a problem with the product.
Saves money on the bill but costs an arm & leg to replace!!

David says:
21 November 2014

I have been using LED bulbs for more then 5 years now and during that time, I have had many premature failures, many of which I have had a closer look at to understand the cause of the problem. In the majority of cases, the bulbs fail due to the electronic circuitry inside the bulb and not because of the LEDs themselves. Often, a component goes open circuit, causing part of the copper tracks on the small printed circuit board to vaporise, and in the process making a loud bang and throwing the switch in the fusebox. This strikes me as a significant risk. The small printed circuit board seems to be exactly the same in many bulbs (but not all) and may be sourced by the manufacturer from the same place. I believe that this is where the problem lies. The components are possibly too stressed for the working conditions leading to failure, or the quality of the components on the board is poor. Most cheap LED bulbs that I have purchased off ebay have been of this type. The average life for this type of bulb seems to be around 6-12 months, but some fail after just a few weeks. Most can also be simply unscrewed to see what is inside, which can also present dangers, as some unscrew and fall apart when removing them from the socket! Some bulbs I have purchased seem to have more sophisticated circuitry, and these definitely last much longer. Usually, these are the slightly more expensive ones. In my view, LED bulbs are much better than CFL type bulbs from an environmental point of view as they don’t contain mercury, which can also be a health risk if a CFL bulb breaks. More recent LED bulbs also seem to have a much nicer light quality than in the past.

The component that goes open circuit or a thin track that burns out on the circuit board may be intended to act as a fuse to protect against fire if there is a short circuit, but there is no way of knowing. There are reports of LED lighting causing fires.

A lot of kitchens in new homes still feature recessed spotlights, although the latest versions might be superior to those installed from around 2000 onwards. I wonder whether the fact that they are recessed is the cause of the premature failures both of Halogen and LED lamps. We have a lighting track with a number of halogen spots and not one of them has failed in two years. The lamps are only on for around 1-2 hours a day in the Winter and for much less than that in the Summer months. If any of them do conk out I am still not sure I would replace them with LED’s. I have a few spare halogen’s ready in case of failures and think it would make more sense to use them up first as the financial savings with such a low use pattern would not make much difference compared with the potential wastage from an early failure.

John, my two sons’ houses have recessed TH spots dotted over the ceiling in many rooms – post 2000 as you say. I cannot understand the philosophy – they are expensive to relace, not energy efficient and directional overhead lighting is not appropriate for most domestic (or even commercial) situations. Much nicer to have uplights and table lamps.

I have a halogen bar – 6 reflector lamps – in the kitchen and like it for its effect and colour, but they must be carefully aimed around the room to look right and to avoid glare. Personally I see no point in me changing to (expensive) LEDs as they are not lit long enough to worry about lamp life. And I doubt the colours would mix well, so it would be all or nothing.

Old GU10s were 50w each and concerned that with bank of 12 using several KW a day. Also as placed in dusty roof void electrician advised could be a fire hazard. So switched to LEDs last spring. Tried 4 different makes. The light produced does vary between models and after deciding on a warm white type bought pack of 10. Of these 6 failed in first 6 months. Emailed supplier, no quibble, sent another pack of 10. Energy usage has gone down, even with reduced hours usage in summer. Remains to be seen how long new batch lasts and if previous shipment was just a poor manufactured batch.

Richard says:
23 November 2014

I have replaced most of my GU10 halogen bulbs with LED equivalents. Why? The original bulbs had blown within a few hundred hours of usage. I have had 1 LED failure after about 12 months of use, a Megaman 7W dimmable. These bulbs are guaranteed for 5 years and are supposed to have an average lifetime of 50,000 hours. I had it replaced without any problem.

Jeff Taylor says:
24 November 2014

On 31/10/2013 I ordered 4 LED GU10 bulbs via Ebay from Guangzhou Beiyi Information Technology Co.,Ltd.

After only about 90 hours of use, one by one they started to flash on and off and soon ALL gave out. On 30/12/2013 I wrote to the supplier at the UK email address and received a reply, obviously from the supplier in China, asking me for specific information on the type. I replied but never heard anything again. By this time it was too late to use the Ebay complaints service.

The bulbs are labelled BEIYI 4.5W.

[This comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods]

B. Westley says:
26 November 2014

I have had nine 3w LED GU10 lamps bought from online retailer CPC – brand name Phoebe, all of which failed after a few months of use. For the first three failures I complained to CFC and received replacements,all of which also failed after a few months use. I have not bothered to complain to CFC again. I have also had 16 CFL GU10 lamps from the same supplier, brand name Lamp Save. Two of these have also failed in less than one year. Given the high cost of these lamps they currently make a poor replacement for halogens despite the difference in running costs.

Our electrician fitted 7 Aurora 6W GU10 LED bulbs when we had our kitchen refitted. 4 of these had gone within a year giving less than 10% of the stated lifespan. Considering the price this is obviously totally uneconomic and in fact a shorter lifespan than the Halogen bulbs I had before. While they were guaranteed for 2 years I didn’t have a receipt to claim a refund. None of the replacements I have since fitted (from different companies) have so far gone, so they’re not all bad but they still have a long way to go to reach their stated life.

My original batch of 14, many of which failed after a few months, were all replaced by the supplier. They were all the same batch number. Before plugging in I remounted all the surface flush holders with spacing washers behind to allow a little cooling. None have failed since after several months. So bad batch or over heating, or both? They feel slightly cooler but difficult to judge.

David G says:
30 November 2014

OSRAM LED GU10 35watt with three year guarantee.

I initially bought 16 from B&Q. They often had offers on led bulbs such as 3 for 2.

When we moved into our new house in Dec 2012 I bought the bulbs to replace existing lighting and also renewed wiring and in some cases fittings as well.

After 10 mins, one bulb blew, another two within one month and another 3 within 6 months. I bought 16 initially. Whilst I changed two of the bulbs at the store, I felt embarrassed and as if I was cheating the store as I felt that the store thought I was changing blown bulbs for new versions.
I’ve now started to change them to Phillips versions, which are actually cheaper at John Lewis, it’s only been a day, but it’s working still.

Dr Jasper Graham-Jones says:
2 December 2014

We have LED lamps to replace our 50 watt halogen. They range from 1.5 to 9 watt and from local shop bought 1.5w to internet bought 9 wats from China. One 4.5 watt from Screwfix has lasted. Generally the lower rated bulbs have lasted. The 1.5 watts are all still going, and cheap. Also the G9 versions have been perfect and cheap £3.60 each inc post. As for the GU10 bulds, The higher rated have either failed quickly in one year or are still working for nearly 3 years. Again bought at around £4 each on the GU10, If I would buy again I will follow a which recommend brand, as the China have variable quality and possible difficult to return to China.

As for the g9, I think that they have lasted because they are cooler and able to displace heat.
I have notice also my energy bills are lower with LED bulds but you need more bulds on to give you similar light. For example my living room has 12 bulbs. Previously 600 watts which has been replaced by 12 x 4.5watts = 54 watts.

Ian G says:
2 December 2014

The basement kitchen and dining room of the house we moved into some 12 months ago was equipped with 22 GU10 recessed downlighters each having a 50w halogen bulb, a total load of over 1kW. Being a basement,the lights are on for over 12 hours a day at this time of year. When one of the halogens failed and took with it an expensive dimmer switch I decided to replace the halogens with 5W LEDs. It has not been a totally happy experience. Yes, the electricity consumption has been reduced dramatically and the light output from the LEDs when new was acceptable. However, none of the LEDs have lasted more than a few weeks, most getting very hot very quickly giving reduced output until they eventually fail. Replacements have also subsequently failed, Fortunately our electrician and wholesaler have so far been willing to replace all of the bulbs.
It does seem that current replacement GU10 LEDs with the electronics in close proximity to the bulbs and recessed downlighters with their limited ventilation are not a good mix. I am reluctant to go back to 50W halogens, but having to replace bulbs every few weeks is not acceptable either. Purpose build LED downlighters with separate electronics may be an (albeit expensive) solution but I am very tempted to abandon the downlighters altogether. May just give the next set of bulbs a chance before making any decisions.

We bought a new house with TP24 2886 bulbs fitted. In the first 19 month, 15 bulbs have broken and I continue to return them as they break and have asked for the whole lot to be replaced now as to me this indicates a problem. tp24 have told me they released a new and improved batch which for me continues to fail and later that they have discontinued the range. Yet to date they refuse to accept that the original bulbs need replacing and only replace them as they fail and state that replacement is limited to the end of the two year warranty.

It’s time to tell them about the Sale of Goods Act. Information can be found on the Which? and Trading Standards websites. You could also report them for still using an 0844 phone number for Customer Service and tell TP24 that they have featured on Which? Conversation. 🙂

Clive Davis says:
14 December 2014

I installed six LED exterior floodlights,made in China, fourteen months ago,to avoid having to replace halogen bulbs.One failed in year one ,one in year two,with another now flickering.Instead of merely replacing the bulb,as is the case with a halogen floodlamp,the replacement LED floodlight has to be rewired from scratch.Great in the middle of winter!
I had eight Halers branded (reputed to be excellent;complete unit with lamp and driver) LED downlighters installed three years ago.One failed in year one.
Quality seems to be a problem.

We had fourteen Aurora fittings with Aurora lamps fitted to an extension in June last year (2013), and of these five have so far failed, one in less than a year, and the others progressively going off one by one. Aurora are replacing these, as they have a two-year guarantee. I am just hoping that the replacements last longer, and am left wondering how many of the remaining nine originals are going to stay the course!

I recently bought a high power 15w LED bulb (a dimmable one connected with only a switch) but it suddenly blew after a few days. I contacted the vendor who, without quibble, sent me a replacement, but after about one week’s use it too has just failed. Now, with this second bulb, what happened was that it had been on for about an hour before I went out to the kitchen and switched on the 85w fluorescent tube. When I switched it off, my friend in the living room informed me that the light had just got dim. So I went back out into the kitchen, switched the fluorescent tube on and then back off, and this caused the LED bulb in the living room to click back to its original brightness. Ten minutes later, my friend went out into the kitchen, and when he turned the fluorescent tube off the LED bulb in the kitchen got brighter still. Then, after about 15 minutes it completely failed. It was rather warm too when I removed it.

It occurred to me that the original LED bulb also failed when I switched the fluorescent tube off in the kitchen. It would seem to me that these LED bulbs are sensitive to spikes in the mains caused by other equipment. I believe that fluorescent tubes employ inductive circuitry, which can be a cause of mains spikes. Incandescent bulbs in the same fitting used by the LED have no problems.

Older fluorescent lighting will have a choke ballast to limit the current through the tube. The ballast can cause voltage spikes, as can motors including those in fridge and freezer compressors.

Often voltage spikes will simply cause failure of electronic circuitry, but the fact that it has happened twice when the fluorescent light has been switched on points to that being the culprit. There is information online about suppression of voltage spikes, but most of this relates to commercial lighting.

You could switch to a fluorescent light fitting with an electronic rather than choke ballast or look for specialist LED lighting supplier that understands voltage spikes/surges/transients and can suggest a lamp that definitely includes spike suppression.

It would be very interesting to learn how you solve the problem, Ian. I suspect voltage spikes may be the cause of many LED failures but have no evidence of this.

The fluorescent tube fitting in the kitchen is a modern unit professionally fitted just over a year ago when the fuse box was upgraded. I should have mentioned that switching it off also sometimes causes the lights fuse to trip.

It really depends if whether it is an inductive (choke ballast) load that will produce what we used to call back EMF (now counter EMF or some such term). Choke ballasts are still used on some modern fluorescent lighting fixtures. It’s easy to recognise the switch-start variety of choke ballast because the lamp will flash on and off at startup (glow starter) or glow at the ends for a short time before starting up (electronic starter).

If you mention your problem with nuisance tripping to an expert they will need to know whether the RCD (earth leakage) or the MCB (over-current) trip is operating.

Correction to my previous post. The penultimate sentence of the first paragraph should read:

Ten minutes later, my friend went out into the kitchen, and when he turned the fluorescent tube off the LED bulb in the living room got brighter still.

Marcus says:
11 January 2015

Have been operating 30 Hispec 3 and 5w GU10 LEDs since Dec 2012. All was OK till this month when two failed completely and a third started switching on and off at 1 second intervals. Given the promises of life expectancy this is not OK. Spoke to my regular supplier to ask if any chance of replacement to be told – we haven’t stocked Hispec for 12 months so tough.

John says:
9 February 2015

I bought 20 Lumilife Mr16 4 Watt 300lm warm white LED bulbs in March and one burnt out in September. Apart from that one, all the others are great and they have significantly reduced my electricity bills. With teenagers who will not switch off the lights, they have been a great buy.

Patrick says:
6 March 2015

I’m fed up with the lot of them: it is the manufacturer’s QC, not my fittings, that seem to be the problem. I have several rooms which use either several halogen candle SBCs or several LEDs in identical fittings, in normal (evening) domestic use. About 50% (!) fail within a few weeks, and 50% last up to a year – nowhere near claiomed life. Meanwhile, there are incandescent bulbs in the candle SBC fittiings which have been there for untold years! CFLs do seem to last, and I use them where startup and appearance doesn’t matter, but candle SBC CFLs are bulky.

Given the energy costs of mkanufacture and distribution of these bulbs, and the minor reduction in energy consumption with halogens, I think these should be banned immediately – allowing manufacturers to focus on improving production of LEDs. Meanwhile, I’m buying up stocks of incandescents!