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Low-energy lighting is fast becoming the norm as old, inefficient bulbs are phased out. The new technology is developing quickly and there's a wide range of products to choose from. These are the main technologies currently used in UK homes:
Known as tungsten filament or GLS (General Lighting Service) bulbs, traditional light bulbs are extremely inefficient. Only about 5% of the electricity they use is converted into visible light. The tungsten filament bulb was invented about 100 years ago. The filament is heated up until it glows, giving off a yellowish white light. The lamps do not last long because the filament gradually evaporates. If you have any of these light bulbs left in your house, you should change them now and start saving money right away.
These use a very similar technology to GLS lamps, but run at a higher temperature making them slightly more efficient. In homes, they are mainly used in spotlight downlighters. Although they are more efficient than old-fashioned GLS bulbs, they are often used in large numbers and so the total amount of electricity used to light a room is often higher than any other option.
Many rooms with halogen downlighters are brighter than they need to be so you may be able to save money by installing lower output bulbs.
The ideal energy efficiency alternative to a halgoen downlighter is an LED. But if you do want to use halogen lamps, look for ones with Energy Saving Trust Recommended label – they use 30% less electricity than an equivalent standard halogen while giving out exactly the same light, and are the most energy-efficient halogen bulbs on the market.
Compact fluorescents, or CFLs for short, use a completely different technology from halogens or GLS bulbs. A gas inside a glass tube is charged up so that it glows. This causes a coating on the inside of the glass tube to 'fluoresce', giving off the white light that we want. CFLs use about 20% to 25% of the electricity that an equivalent GLS lamp will use.
CFL lights have come a long way from the early strange-looking lamps that cast a stark, unwelcoming light. They are now widely available in all shapes and sizes, and with different colours of light, from the warm yellowish light of traditional lighting to a cooler pure white for optimum visibility.
CFLs are the lamp of choice for most standard light fittings in a house. They can also be found for spotlight fittings, but these are not yet widely available and tend to be expensive.
Modern CFLs do not flicker, and they can reach full light output quite quickly, though they cannot reach full output instantly the way other technologies do. Choose Energy Saving Trust Recommended bulbs to ensure you get good quality products that reach their maximum output quickly and have good colour rendition. Energy Saving Trust Recommended products last up to ten times longer than traditional incandescent lamps and luminaires, so look for the label for a sure way to stop wasting energy and reduce your bills.
LEDs use a different technology again – light-emitting diodes. A diode is a simple solid state electronic device that allows electricity to flow in one direction only. A light-emitting diode, as the name suggests, emits light as the electricity flows through it.
LEDs have been around for many years, but they only emit a small amount of light. It has taken a long time to develop a lamp that can fit enough LEDs together into a small space to be an effective replacement for domestic lighting. LED like-for-like replacements for halogen downlighters are now available from specialist suppliers and some retail chains. They are still expensive, but they are the most efficient option of all, they last far longer than any other technology, and they will pay for themselves several times over before they need replacing.
Look for the Energy Saving Trust Recommended label on LED lamps and fittings to ensure you are buying the most energy efficient products on the market. The lamps and luminaires do cost you more to buy but last an incredible 50,000 hours and use very little energy.
These are fluorescent tubes, just like CFLs but not twisted round to fit into a small space. Like CFLs, modern lamps are more efficient, faster to light up and emit a better quality of light. Strip lights are not often used in homes. If you do have any, a modern slim tube fitted in a good reflector mounting is the most efficient option.
A dark lamp shade can easily absorb more than half the light output of a bulb before it has the chance to light up your room. So you can save energy and money simply by using more transparent shades or fittings that let more of the light spill out directly.
The most efficient fitting will usually be one where you can see the light bulb. You may have to spend more on the bulb to find an attractive low-energy option.
Some fittings, especially spot light fittings, have a reflective inside to direct as much of the light as possible in the required direction. This can increase efficiency if light is required mostly in one place. Halogen spotlights have the reflective surface as part of the bulb, and LEDs give out directional light anyway, so don’t need a reflector.
Some fittings have a glass or other transparent diffuser to hide the bulb without losing much light output. It is worth cleaning these from time to time to make sure light output doesn’t drop off.
Some light fittings are designed only to take CFLs – you couldn’t fit an inefficient GLS into them even if you wanted to. The fitting contains the ballast (electronic circuitry) that most CFLs have in the bulb itself. So when the tube eventually fails you only have to replace the tube, not the whole lot.
Unfortunately, the tube-only CFLs that you need for these fittings are much more expensive than standard CFLs, so you save less money with this type of fitting. And with GLS bulbs being phased out there’s no real benefit in having a CFL-only fitting.