/ Home & Energy

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Before using LED bulbs with a dimmer, first check the packaging to check that the bulb is compatible. Some LED bulbs are dimmable, but some are not, and it’s possibly the latter ones which are getting blown by dimmers. The dimmable ones tend to be a bit more expensive as they’re a bit special and will most likely have extra parts fitted, hence the extra cost, so do read the label first.

This is an important point that I have mentioned several times in Convos. Older dimmers may need replaced by ones designed for use with LED lighting.

Dimmable LEDs tend to have a slightly lower light output and may not be available for higher output, for example 1500 lumens, which is roughly equivalent to an old fashioned 100 watt lamp. This depends on the manufacturer. As you say, read the label.

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.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

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.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

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.

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

This comment was removed at the request of the user

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.

I have replaced the light fittings in my living room with led , they have been in now for two weeks, yet two of the lamps have already. Considering that the manufacturer claims 30,000 hours life, I would be surprised if they have lasted 30 hours. Totally ridiculous, they claim increased life and reduced costs, these are very expensive and at the rate they fail the cost to me will be unacceptable.

I think the lamps cost £9 for two, at this rate I will be bankrupt by the end of the year, how can these companies make these claims. 30000 hours is 1250 days or nearly 3.5 years, lets get realistic. At this rate the cost of led lighting for me will be £9000 over the same period, I don’t think that equates to a saving.

Steve – sorry to hear your news.

Since moving in here in 2012, no more than a very few of the LED lamps I installed back then have ever failed.

Many of the lamps I installed in 2012 were CFL’s, but as these gradually fail, I am replacing them with LED’s when possible.

I have have suffered multiple failures within two weeks of installation, I guess you’ll need to return those for refunds from your retailer and perhaps also consider changing the make and model of lamps your using, and perhaps also your retailer.

I buy most of my LED lamps at reputable local supermarkets and DIY stores (not least the one where a neighbour works in customer service).

If your lights are only 2 weeks old, you should be able to get them replaced under warranty. Repeat replacement of the lights would seem to be not fit for purpose.

We had one LED fail really quickly, the rest have lasted nearly a year now.

Your lights may state 30,000 hours or mention lifetime. But to get that protection, hidden away in/on the packaging you might find you have to register the lights for which you will need a receipt.

If like us, you didn’t manage to get a receipt out of the installer, you can but plead to the manufacturer.

Aurora products come with a 1 year warranty but need to be registered online at time of purchase to extend to 5 years.

They luckily replaced our light with proof of when the works were completed and a copy of the electrical certificate.

If it is less than 30 days since you purchased the lamps you can reject them and get a refund, Steve. If they are less than six months old the fault is presumed to have existed at the time of purchase and the retailer should replace them or offer a refund, since a repair is not a practical option.

I found a correlation between branded lamps & quality. ie a lamp with no named ‘manufacturer’, or showing the ‘resellers’ name will often prove to be an unreliable lamp. Initially they may be more expensive, but cheaper when the cost and hassle of its replacement(s) is costed in.

The problem with 230 V ac led GU10 lamps in ot the led part but the power supply board which is fitted in the stem of the lamp. The 230V ac is reduced to a lower voltage dc by this power board . Unfortunately the heat generated in this process cooks and destroys the power supply long before the led,s fail.

Overheating is a problem in LED lamps that are direct replacements for incandescent bulbs. I was disappointed that manufacturers did not offer fixtures where the LEDs and their power supply (driver) were separate, as they did for non-domestic applications. The problem was the same with compact fluorescent lamps and having dismantled a few the circuitry can show obvious evidence of overheating.

It’s getting better but now the problem seems to be that if something goes wrong the whole LED fixture has to be replaced. With good old fluorescent lighting the lamp and the ballast could easily be replaced.

So far I have been lucky and not had a single failure of GU10s but they are not often on for hours.

Phil says:
4 December 2020

I have had multiple LED bulb failures in last 18 months since installing 2 new light fittings. At first I though there was a problem with the fittings themselves and took them back to the shop where they put it on test for a day and actually one new bulb failed during the shop test. They gave me a new set of bulbs free but I have now replaced all of them at least once in the 18 months. Its making me angry that these claims about efficiency and long life are not real. I am coming to the conclusion to have to swap over the light fittings for a different style but I guess LEDs are here to stay !

In the last 9 years, I have had many CFLs fail or wear out, but only 1 LED. So I have not seen any problems with quality LEDs.

Hi Phil – I wonder if you are using a dimmer that is not designed for LED lamps or trying to dim non-dimmable ones. Like Derek, I’ve only had one failed LED, and that was one I was given.

There’s two things I hate about modern light bulbs. First of all the wattage ratings of compact fluorescents are misquoted, the actual wattage is nearly twice the marking, so while they are more efficient than the old incandescent bulbs they’re not quite as efficient as they have you think. And it’s the same con with LED bulbs too, for instance on a “23 watt” cfl it quotes the current as183 milliamps. Well if it was 23 watts the current should be just under 100 milliamps, so I carried out my own tests on several cfl’s and I found that the current drawn was as the marking said it would be so therefore the actual wattage is really nearly twice as much. 240 x 0.183 = 43.92 watts. And the other thing is try finding any light bulbs NOT made in china. They near enough all are made in that country which still has a brutal dictator regime who brutally persecute innocent folk just for their beliefs and the chinese have become far too dominant in our consumer market which infuriates me as every time we buy anything new from that country we support their government and they have us in a state of entrapment as far too often it’s a case of buy chinese or do without.