Selecting alternatives to halogen downlights

Submitted by: Margaret McKenzie, Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Halogen downlights are very energy inefficient. While there are several alternatives to downlights, unfortunately it is not always easy to select appropriate alternatives.  In particular, it is important to ensure that alternatives with sufficient light output and the right colour of light are purchased. 

 These concepts are explained in more detail here. This table below outlines the three main alternatives to 50 Watt halogen downlights:

  Low Wattage Halogen CFL lights LED Lights
Description Halogen lights of a lower wattage than the standard light Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) Light emitting diode (LED) lights
Watts 20 to 40 Watts 7 to 20 Watts 3 to 10 Watts
Efficiency Efficient More Efficient Most Efficient
Cost Similar to standard halogens Considerably more expensive but cheaper than LEDs Most expensive option
Dimming Compatible with existing dimmer switches Not all CFLs can be dimmed Not all LEDs can be dimmed and existing dimmer switches would need to be replaced
Light output Similar to standard Halogen CFLs may have a lower light output depending on Wattage selected and additional lights may be required LEDs generally have a lower light output and additional lights may be required
Colour temperature Similar to standard Halogen Various options available Various options available
Beam angle Similar to standard Halogen Cannot produce narrow beam angles Can be difficult to get wide beam angles
Fittings It should be possible to match the existing installation to avoid changing fittings.  Be aware of the number of volts of the original lights and ensure that they match. Fittings may need to replaced Fittings may need to replaced
Life expectancy 2,000 hours 6,000 to 10,000 hours 50,000 hours
Other issues   CFLs contain mercury.  Expired CFLs should be placed in a sealed plastic bag and ideally disposed of at a facility for CFLs collection. There are many poor quality LED downlights on the market so look out for products that meet national or international specifications.

Finally it is important to determine if the original downlight installation included transformers.  This would be the case if 12 Volt halogen downlights were used.   It is ideal to remove the transformers and use 240 Volt lights instead of the 12 Volt lights. However, many people find that getting access to the ceiling to take out the transformers can be difficult in which case the installation would need to continue to use 12 Volt lights.

Margaret McKenzie