Replacing Halogen Lamps With LED Spotlights

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Energy saving LED home lighting is without doubt the future of domestic lighting. Though some critics still bleat on about cost and comparison with conventional domestic lighting solutions, they miss the point as completely as comparing an abacus with an electronic calculator.

A typical 50w GU10 halogen lamp costs about £3 GBP in the UK and lasts (let’s be generous) 2,000 hours. You can however easily purchase LED equivalents – I source all mine from Amazon mainly because the quality is generally high, the price low and their returns policy is simply outstanding.

These LEDs can perform the same job as their incandescent counterparts and, cost wise, will at present set you back as much as 4 times more that but will last 25 times longer; so on true like-for-like purchase costs you actually save (3*25 – 12) £63 per lamp.

But that’s not even close to the real savings from switching to LED; assuming modest domestic usage of 5 hours per day, the cost of electricity saved from just one LED bulb compared to the equivalent brightness halogen lamp works out at £19.83 per year and £543.21 over the full lifespan of that one light bulb.

It may not seem like much but if you’re like most folk your lighting usage is almost certainly somewhat in excess of one bulb for five hours per day.

If you crank the maths you start to see typical savings for an average household that start at £400-£500 per year (or £11,000 – £15,000 over the typical lifespan of an LED) and go up from there. Who wants to leave that kind of money on the table?

The critics are right on one point though – LED lighting is not the same. Low energy domestic LED lighting should be installed, used and thought about differently because the new generation of home LED lights makes possible a whole new world of innovative, adjustable and cost-efficient designs never before dreamed of.

LED lamps are widely available in most forms these days, including normal bulb shaped LED light bulbs, but perhaps the most straightforward ways to begin your move to energy saving LED home lighting is by replacing your halogen lamps. Retrofit LED spotlights are fully compatible with the various types of existing halogen fittings (GU10, MR16, ES) and provide a similar form of light i.e. very bright and directional.

Replacement options commonly include GU10 LED bulbs for mains voltage, MR16 LED for 12v lighting and the new GU24 base introduced for low power consumption light bulbs (this was originally intended to delineate CFL bulbs before LED technology started parking its tanks on the low energy lighting lawn). So next up, a brief history of how we got to where we are now…

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  • Mick Boyle

    Thank you for the information in English that I could understand! I have probably a stupid question. Can I safely use the existing transformers that are being used on my 12v x 20w halogen dowlighters (one per light) if I replace them with 12v x 4.2w LED lighting (same two pin connection into the light fittings)?

    Thank you, Regards Mick.

    • Mick

      That’s not a stupid question – a lot of people either wonder the exact same thing or find out the hard way that it doesn’t have a simple answer.

      The good old incandescent lamp is a simple resistive load – the resistor being the filament that glows. An LED being a diode is also resistive but with non-linear resistance which means that variations in voltage across the LED produce exponential larger variations in current and current is what LEDs are most sensitive to. Heat also affects the current in a diode which is another story and why most LED bulbs sport heat sinks.

      Your existing transformers will likely either appear to work for a while or fritz your LEDs in short order unless by some stroke of luck they are already designed to deliver either a constant voltage or constant current. Most regular transformers specify a range of output voltage which is not good news here.

      I long ago abandoned 12v lights because the only safe route is to replace the transformers with suitable LED drivers. I just replace the whole arrangement with GU10 tails wired direct to the 230v mains. But if you have a need to use 12v then in your shoes I would invest in an LED driver (you can share it between multiple lamps if proximity isn’t an issue).


  • Ebbe Pedersen

    I am replacing 12v low voltage halogen lamps with 5 watt LED. I have a row of 3 lamps/spotlights connection to the same switch. After having removed the transformers from the two first ones and replaced the low voltage lemps with the LEDs, they work ok with the third low voltage still connected to its transformer. Once I have removed the third transformer and installed the LED, none of the three LED’s work. I have tried two sets of three spotlights with the same result.

    The previous low voltage lamps are MR16 bi-pin. The new replacements are mains LED dimmable GU10 twist. The switch is a dimmer switch. What am I missing?

    Also, I note that one can get MR16 LEDs which may be simpler to use as replacements. Whats the benefit of LED MR16 ?

    • The dimmer switch is almost certainly your problem. Most dimmers are designed to operate within minimum and maximum loads and generally won’t work at all when the load is as low as 15 watts. That’s why it continues to work with one halogen still in the circuit – it increases the load sufficiently for the dimmer to operate.

      I have replaced all mine with low-load versions specifically designed for LEDs (most electronic dimmers are also not compatible with LED either). Also, unless your LED lamps are explicitly stated as dimmable then a dimmer switch will do them no good at all.

      So, in summary replace your dimmer switch with a low-load LED compatible one if your LED lamps are also dimmable, otherwise replace it with a simple on-off switch. Check out this link for more info:

      Personally I’ve never seen the point in switching to MR16 LEDs because you still have to replace the transformers (as with dimmer switch, you need special low-load versions and they’re not that cheap). I find it both cheaper and easier to disconnect everything from the transformer onwards and connect in GU10 tails – the ones I use are shown here:

  • Ann

    So pleased that I ticked on this ‘search’ first – I no longer have to look elsewhere for clear and concise (if wordy but there is a lot of ground to cover) information on LED and halogen lightbulbs – true running costs, pluses/minuses, why one over another, honest bulb lifetimes etc.etc.
    Thank you very much indeed – saved me an awful lot of time in research. Ann

  • Mike

    Thanks for a great article. It really helped me decide on what lighting to get for our kitchen. It’s a lot of hard work to write in that detail.

    Thanks again