There’s a big upside to removing halogen downlights.
THE federal government has banned the sale of most incandescent light globes, but one kind is still available: halogen downlights. Unfortunately, they’re still marching two-by-two throughout the nation’s homes.
“As light sources, halogens make really good heaters,” says Lance Turner, from sustainable technology magazine, ReNew. “Like all incandescent globes, they’re really inefficient. Less than ten per cent of the power they use turns into light. The rest is turned into heat.”
That excess heat poses a significant fire risk when debris or insulation strays too close. It’s one of the problems that caused the demise of the federal government’s insulation rebate.
But while shonky installation jobs have rightly been condemned, the real problem lies with the halogens themselves. Not only do they run hot and gobble too much electricity, but the necessary gaps in insulation also fatten our heating and cooling bills. “They can cost hundreds of dollars a year to run and they don’t even light rooms very well,” Mr Turner says.
When Cameron Munro and his wife Karin moved into their house in Malvern, the ceiling was spotted with 23 halogen downlights; their insulation “looked like a Swiss cheese”.
In the process of retrofitting the home, they removed nearly all of them. In the lounge room they replaced five halogens with a single compact fluoro bulb, slashing the electricity demand from 250 to 15 watts. “We only kept downlights where they were appropriate – for task lighting over the kitchen sink and in the reading area,” Mr Munro says.
In those spots, they switched the halogen bulbs with LEDs. They placed protective covers over the fittings in the ceiling and filled up the insulation cheese holes.
“With the covers we can run the insulation much closer and effectively eliminate the fire risk,” he says. Downlight protectors, such as the Tenmat or Isolite, are available at hardware stores for less than $20.
According to Mr Turner, the best light fittings are those for which you don’t need to punch a big hole in the ceiling. He argues there are many better options, from classic pendant or oyster fittings, to new products such as disc-style puck lights or strips of LED lighting that can be hidden along pelmets.
If you want downlights, there are a few ways to replace halogen bulbs. Low-energy ‘infra-red’ halogens are cheap and easy, but don’t make much difference. “The low-energy halogen replacement for a 50 watt bulb is still 35 watts,” Mr Turner says.
You can also directly exchange them with LED downlight bulbs, but Mr Turner argues that without appropriate fittings, they bulbs are unlikely to last their full lifespan. To replace fittings you’ll need an electrician, but it’s a quick job.
“Generally the ones available in Australia are more expensive because they’re not sold in large quantities,” he says, noting that it’s important to assess the quality and standards compliance of overseas products. For a local supplier of complete fittings, he suggests Brightgreen.
Although the cost of fittings and LEDs varies widely, the expense is worthwhile. “If you upgrade to an energy efficient fitting the payback period is never longer than about five years.”