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LED replacements for halogen?
May 14, 2012 4:44 AM   Subscribe

Any experience with LED replacements for recessed halogens?

We have these recessed lights in our ceiling. Like all halogens, they get hot. I'm thinking about an LED replacement, along the lines of this. But there are multiple options out there. I've seen this review of LEDs, but it focuses on incandescent replacement, don't go into recessed or halogen replacements.

Any experiences or pointers that would be useful before I go out and buy a bunch to experiment with?
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Our house had similar recessed lights to those in every room when we bought it. I've replaced some with pendants, but for the most part, we still have recessed lights everywhere. Having four 50W recessed halogens in every room wasn't something we were happy about, both in terms of heat and the expense.

The LED replacements are getting steadily better, but they're still nowhere near as bright as halogen bulbs, and generally not as good as GU10 CFLs either. To give you some idea, I've got eight 2W LED bulbs (similar to your second link, but half the wattage) in a small bathroom, and while it's bright enough for us, it's still somwhat under-lit by conventional standards. In a few other places, I've used LEDs where I wanted the lights to be instantly on at full brightness (in a utility room, in bathrooms). But for general lighting, I've found that mains-voltage CFLs work much better as a direct replacement for recessed halogens. They tend to take a few minutes to reach maximum brightness, but they're noticeably brighter than any LED bulbs I've seen - plus they're usually cheaper. The only thing we had difficulty with is that the CFLs are much longer, and so you need to make sure there's sufficient space above the ceiling for them.
posted by pipeski at 5:04 AM on May 14, 2012

My brother did it at his house. Replaced halogen cans blubs with LED bulbs. He loves it. Not as hot, less electric, and brighter light.
posted by Flood at 5:36 AM on May 14, 2012

If you compare the lumens put out by the bulbs, the LED in your link puts out 300 lumens; the comparable halogen puts out 1250 lumens. given all the variable in how light is perceived, this is probably not as big of a difference as it sounds like, but it is still significant. I have a few LEDs and they are noticeably dimmer, so when I have considered getting more I look at where they will be and how crucial brightness is to me in that location. They are getting better and cheaper, but for me they are not quite there yet for most applications.
posted by TedW at 5:56 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had mixed results. Some LEDs are bright and pleasant, others never really illuminate. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell until you shell out the big bucks. I just let some rooms stay underlit, and figure the bulbs will improve by the time they need replacing. Avoid the IKEA bulbs. They are much cheaper, but hardly light up at all.
posted by Malla at 5:57 AM on May 14, 2012

The biggest issue I've had with LED replacements of any sort is color rendition. Almost universally, LEDs I've experienced tended to be quite blue, which I find very unpleasant.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:23 AM on May 14, 2012

But for general lighting, I've found that mains-voltage CFLs work much better as a direct replacement for recessed halogens.

Issue to be aware of. Many CFL are rated "base down only" -- that is, because of heat, they expect the globe to be above the electronics pack in the base. If you installed these in recessed cans where the globe is below the base, the combination of the can insulating the area and the heat from the globe rising caused the electronics to fail fairly quickly.

As long as you make sure the CFL is rated for this use, it isn't an issue, but you should make sure before you make that swap -- CFLs aren't cheap and don't save you money unless you get a decent fraction of the rated lifetime with them.

Some LEDs are bright and pleasant, others never really illuminate

Again, read the specs. In particular, you want the total lumens emitted by the lamp. Normally, LEDs are rated in lux, since they're directional, and lumens assumes something close to omnidirectional, but an array of LEDs should, as a whole, be illuminating like a convention incandescent.

The "Watt Equivalent" can be dicey -- I've seen "1000W equivalent" lamps rated at 1300 lumens -- which is true of 240V lamps, but 120V lamps will be putting out closer to 1700 lumens. Halogen lamps are stellar at putting out a lot of light in very little space, which makes replacing them with anything else hard, because there often isn't room for the physically larger lamp required to generate the same amount of light.

But if the lamp says "1300 lumens", and your replacing a 75W incandescent rated at 1300 lumens, you'll have (assuming nobody is lying) the same amount of light being emitted.

Of course, the light will be different. Halogens and incandescent lamps are continous spectrum lamps -- nearly black body emitters. Fluorescents and LED are not -- they emit a few wavelengths of light that, when mixed, appear to be white, but the color rendition from them won't be as accurate. The spec here to look for is "CRI" -- Color Rendition Index. Incandescents, Halogens, and the Sun have a CRI of 100. CRI in the low 90s start to cause problems with color evaluation, and lower than that worsens the issue. The ultimate bad is lamps like low pressure sodium lights, which primarily emit one frequency of yellow light, and thus have a CRI of 0.
posted by eriko at 6:33 AM on May 14, 2012

I'm in the middle of this exact thing right now. I live in a studio apartment that has six recessed halogen lights. Currently they are 50W MR16 bulbs. In the summertime, they generate a noticeable amount of heat, so I wanted to change them out this year. I've tried two options so far:

HitLights® Dimmable Warm White MR16 6W LED Spotlight Bulb

Philips 414960 Dimmable AmbientLED 10-Watt MR16 Indoor Flood Light 12-Volt Light Bulb

I take a lot of photographs, and I think that has made me really aware of light quality issues. CFLs make it nearly impossible to get proper white balance, so I was skeptical of these LED bulbs right off the bat.

The HitLights bulb was absolutely horrible. As previously mentioned, LEDs tend to be bluer, and their solution was to stick a yellow filter over a portion of the bulb to try to warm it up. The light ends up being a sickly green. Gross.

The Philips bulb was better, but still nowhere near the quality of light coming from the halogens. I'm trying to decide if I want to shell out $125 more to get the five more bulbs I need for my apartment.

I'm also pondering foregoing the recessed lighting altogether and picking up a few of the new Philips' L Price winning bulb and sticking them in lamps around my apartment. Supposedly they have excellent light quality.
posted by AaRdVarK at 6:35 AM on May 14, 2012

I replaced 7 or 8 50W halogens with these 5W LED bulbs. As others have mentioned, they're not quite as bright as the halogens (although some cheap halogens are not that bright either) and these particular ones have a colder, bluer light than the halogens. Nevertheless, I'm pretty happy with the LEDs. The same range also has a warm white, but I have not tried it.
The main concern I would have is if the area in question is not particularly well-lit to begin with. In that case I would think twice about the LEDs. Otherwise, I wouldn't worry too much. As an aside, you might want to look around the different suppliers for your experiments. I found a couple who sold "taster packs" with a few different wattages and colours of LEDs. These could be returned for a credit towards packs of whichever bulb you decided to go with.
posted by Jakey at 6:35 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't get misled by the "35-Watt equivalent" label, always compare lumens to lumens. One thing that LEDs have in their favor is that for a given lumen output, they're often designed to make more of that light arrive at a useful destination, so slightly fewer lumens can accomplish the same task. BUT, that's maybe a 10-20% effect.

Presumably since you're replacing MR-16 lamps, you know what cone angle you want (narrow spot, spot, flood, wide flood vary from 10-degree to >60deg cones). Maybe you're also trying to match the ~3200K color temperature of the halogens. Don't forget those numbers.

Most white LED sources are a blue LED that's covered with a yellow phospor. Different phospors give different color temperatures, (the range from yellow/orange to bluer shades of "white", all of which look fairly natural, depending on whether you're thinking of the sky, the sun, or a fire/candle) but different brands are better or worse at filling in the gap between the blue and the yellow, and may be tinted off the "natural" color temperature (CCT) range in the pink or green direction. So, different brands look different. If you want to replace a bunch of ceiling cans at hte same time, you should find a store with a decent variety and a good return policy, and just buy one of each. Compare, at morning/afternoon/night, for reading/working/talking and see if you've got a consistent least-favorite and a consistent favorite.
posted by aimedwander at 6:55 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just did this [replace a set of halogen bulbs with a 'warm' white set of 5W LEDs].

They were amazing at first - slightly brighter than the 35W halogens that were there before, and much more yellow than blue.

After about a month, the toll of the heat that could not escape the fixture was too much, and they all died within a week of each other. They come with big heatsinks on the bulb for a reason, and that heat needs to go somewhere.
posted by Acari at 8:17 AM on May 14, 2012

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