You might want to consider these aspects first. But if you are unsure which LEDs are suitable for you, SimplyLED's experienced customer service team are available to offer you advice and guidance.
All LED bulbs require a 'driver' (a special type of transformer) to work properly. Mains voltage LEDs (such as GU10 and B22 bulbs) have the driver built in to the bulb. MR16 and other 12V bulbs use an external driver. If you are replacing existing incandescent 12V bulbs you will need to replace the transformer with a special LED driver.
Wattage and power
You can't compare the wattage of LED and other types of bulbs directly - that's because LEDs use a lot less electricity. You need to compare the approximate 'equivalent incandescent wattage' quoted on the bulb's packaging.
You may also find the light output of bulbs quoted in Lumens, although this can be misleading as manufacturers don't always measure this in a consistent way. If you have an existing 50 W GU10 halogen bulb, you can also choose to replace it with a cheaper, less bright bulb.
Size and base fitting
LED bulbs are designed to be direct replacements for existing bulbs. You need to make sure that not only is the base fitting the same, but the physical dimensions are the same. A good example of this is the MR11 LED.
Although similar to the MR16 LED, the MR11 is a smaller size bulb. Don't rely on a photograph or illustration - this caught many people out when they changed from incandescent bulbs to CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights).
As long as you match the base fitting code (a GU10 LED will fit the same base as a GU10 Halogen or CFL), you only need to check the new bulb's dimensions against the old.
In this context, we're not really thinking about red, green or blue, but rather the shade of white light produced. White bulbs are labelled according to their colour temperature (see our article on the Kelvin scale).
The industry standard term 'warm white' refers to bulbs with a colour temperature of 3000 K. This colour temperature is the nearest equivalent to normal incandescent and halogen bulbs.
Bulbs with a colour temperature of 6000 K are described as 'cool white' - they appear brighter and produce a bluish light which is ideal for feature and accented lighting. As the name suggests, 'cool white' bulbs can seem cold, clinical, or even harsh when used as the main domestic illumination, but are very common in commercial and public places.
Other terms you may come across include 'pure white' or 'daylight' - be sure to check the colour temperature of these bulbs.
The beam angle describes how wide or narrow the beam of light is coming from the bulb. A narrow 38° angle (for example the GU10 High Power 3 x 1 W LED bulb) produces a narrow focused beam, suitable for highlighting an object or small area, and you'll be able to see a clear circle of light.
One member of the GU10 LED range has a 120° beam angle. This bulb may not appears as bright as a narrow beam bulb because the light spreads over a much larger area - the circle of light may not be visible, or have very hazy edges. The wide beam light is suitable for more general illumination such as areas in a kitchen.
The long life of LED bulbs is one reason they save you so much money (the other is the small amount of electricity they use). Most manufacturers say you can expect about 50,000 hours’ life from an LED.
Other manufacturers are more conservative quoting 30,000 hours, while some recent claims of 100,000 hours are difficult to verify. Compared to the typical 2,000 hour life of a halogen bulb, your LED bulbs should last 25 times as long - that's over 17 years at 8 hours a day! In case you were wondering, LED bulbs usually come with a 1 year warranty.
Have you got dimmer switches? The lack of dimmable bulbs is often quoted as a problem with CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights), leaving many people without a low energy option. Enter the dimmable LED!
During 2010, LED manufacturers recognised the need for low energy dimmable bulbs, and now dimmable LED versions are available for many types of bulb. If the type you need isn't available yet, it soon will be as manufacturers add to the range of dimmable LEDs. Dimmable LED bulbs are a little more expensive, but they will still give you huge savings compared to incandescent bulbs.
Yes, LED bulbs are more expensive to buy compared to incandescent, halogen and energy-saving CFLs. New technologies produced in small numbers are always more expensive to start with - remember how much flat-screen TVs used to cost?
But even with the current purchase price of LED bulbs, you'll probably be making savings within the first year. And when you consider your LED bulbs could last 15 of more years, the savings will continue to mount up.
In commercial or public premises where lots of lights are on for extended periods, a change to the cooler-running LED bulbs will reduce the need for air conditioning to keep the temperature down, with a subsequent reduction in electrical energy use.
Prices have already reduced to the point where LED bulbs are now an affordable and viable alternative.
Some retailers may have kept their prices artificially high while LED bulbs are scarce and a novelty. Now LEDs are becoming a mainstream product, competition will ensured this practice doesn't continue.
The Internet and a willingness to buy online has ensured there are often better deals on retailers' websites than in traditional DIY and lighting stores. A further development has been the appearance of specialist companies and websites which often offer better deals when buying in quantity.
You should look out for websites which appear to be cheaper because they don't quote prices including VAT, and have hidden delivery charges.
At the time of writing (Spring 2011), an LED bulb to replace a 50W halogen should be £15 (including VAT and delivery) or less individually, and closer to £10 each if 20 or so are purchased.
With so much emphasis on the cost savings of LED bulbs, it's easy to overlook the environmental advantages. As LED bulbs use a lot less electricity, less fuel is needed to generate the electricity, with a corresponding reduction in harmful emissions from power stations.
LEDs do not include hazardous chemicals. This is a further environmental benefit. One major disadvantage of CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights) is the mercury vapour and other chemicals which are inside the tube.
Not only is manufacture hazardous, but disposal needs to be highly specialised. And if the CFL tube gets broken, the mercury and other chemicals escape into the atmosphere. Which ever way you look at it, LED bulbs are the green option.
What do you think? Is there anything else you'd like to know about before buying LED bulbs?