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Find the best energy-efficient bulbs for your home.

LED bulbs are a green form of lighting, but do they last the distance? We've tested them and look at how much you could save by changing from old-style incandescents.

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LED bulb buying guide

A few years ago, LEDs were confined to the display panel of your clock radio. Now they’re a viable option for almost every lighting task.

Our guide illuminates how to find the right LED for you. We’ve surveyed the market to let you know what’s available, what bulb’s right for a particular job and which LEDs give the best value for money.

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Warm-up time

Switch on an LED bulb and it’ll be at full brightness almost instantly – about the same time as a standard incandescent. CFLs can take up to 2 minutes to warm up to full brightness.

Which light where?

Good interior lighting can create various moods, highlight your interior décor, and provide pleasant light - without burning up the power bill.

The days of a light bulb starkly hanging on a cord in the centre of a room are long gone. Nowadays you have a vast choice of lighting products, increasingly using various energy-efficient lighting technologies. But which products work best - in what parts of the house?

The lighting requirements of the rooms in our houses vary - depending on what the room is used for. Different light levels are required in various parts of the house – and even within some rooms. The colour of the light is also important – it can change the mood of a room and can make a difference to dining, reading and other activities.

Choosing the right lighting products can also save money on your power bills.


You need intense light to read or to do close-up tasks, but if you lit your whole lounge to that level the glare would be uncomfortable.

An easier approach would be relatively soft background lighting using ‘warm white’ LEDs or to create a relaxing mood. You can also use dimmable LEDs to provide the flexibility to set the mood for any occasion – but make sure you have an LED-compatible dimmer.

Hallway and stairs

You need moderate light levels, but lights in these locations are likely to be left on for many hours, especially in winter, so it’s important to use energy-efficient bulbs. The long lifespan of LEDs makes them a great option for hard-to-reach places such as high-ceilinged hallways or above staircases.

If you’re retrofitting LEDs into spotlights or downlights, it’s better to replace the entire fitting with a dedicated LED downlight fitting, instead of just changing the bulb. Just replacing the bulb with an LED will often overheat the LED and shorten its life.


For a kitchen you need background lighting (brighter than in the lounge) because a higher level of shadow-free light is required – so you can see in the cupboards. Extra task lighting will make sure bench tops, stoves and walk-in pantries are well lit.

Take care when installing energy efficient lights directly above a sinks or stovetops. LEDs and CFLs have small circuit boards in their base which can short if exposed to large amounts of steam. Ensure that the fitting adequately encloses the base of the bulb, or use new generation halogen bulbs.


A relaxing bath with soft lighting is one of life’s pleasures. But not being able to see to shave or put on make-up is not. You need moderate background lighting, and brighter, directional lighting for mirrors. The light should shine on your face - not on the mirror.

To achieve this blend of a functional yet relaxing space consider using separate switching for different lights or adding a dimmer to the main lighting. There are now efficient bulb replacement options for most bathroom lights and an ever increasing range of stylish fittings designed for both efficiency and good looks.

Light fittings above a shower and tub should be steam-proof. If you’re installing LED fittings make sure they are rated for damp locations.


Outdoor lighting can range from a simple porch light to spot lights for lighting up deck or entertainment areas, or to create dramatic effects for illuminating driveways, paths and garden areas. For lights likely to burn for a long time, use energy-efficient options in suitable outdoor fittings.

There are now LED floodlights available which match the brightness of their halogen equivalents. Keep an eye out for PAR38 LEDs when replacing your outdoor security lights.

Choosing the right energy-efficient bulb

Now that our testing of energy-efficient bulbs has proved their light output and longevity, there's good reason to fit out the whole house.

Good LEDs and CFLs are just as bright, or brighter, than the incandescent bulbs they replace.
Good LEDs and CFLs are just as bright, or brighter, than the incandescent bulbs they replace.

Research has shown that the average home has 30 light fittings but only 6 are fitted with energy-efficient bulbs.

Lighting costs the average household $220 per year – about 12 percent of its electricity bill. Because lighting demand is higher during winter evenings, improving lighting efficiency reduces the demand on our electricity distribution infrastructure – and lowers your electricity bill.

Our testing has shown that good LEDs and CFLs are just as bright, or brighter, than the incandescent bulbs they replace. We also showed that name-brand bulbs last very well when switched on and off frequently.

What types of bulbs are available?

Most energy-efficient lights fall into 3 categories: CFLs, halogens and LEDs.

  • LEDs (light emitting diodes) are the most efficient and durable of the lot, but also the most expensive. However, prices have fallen considerably since we first tested them in 2013. They use up to 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, while producing the same amount of light. Most LEDs should last at least 15,000 hours – that’s more than 13 years if used every day for three hours.
  • CFLs are scaled-down versions of the fluorescent tube lights common in offices and commercial buildings. They use a small tube filled with glowing gas. CFLs are generally cheaper than LEDs and have a lifetime of at least 6000 hours, about six times longer than incandescents but significantly shorter than LEDs. They take a few seconds to reach full brightness and tend to fade over time. Frequent switching can shorten its lifespan.
  • New-generation halogens save about 30 percent of the energy costs of standard incandescents and last about twice as long. New-generation halogens are compatible with dimmers.

Bulbs for places

Places where the lights are switched often
Our switching test showed that LEDs could stand being switched on and off repeatedly over more than 12,000 cycles. That means LEDs are suitable for walk-in wardrobes, toilets, bathrooms and kitchens – places where the lights are often switched on and off.

Lights with dimmers
If an LED’s packaging says it is ‘dimmable’ then it’s compatible with standard incandescent dimmers. Dimmable CFLs are also available.

If your house has recessed downlights with incandescent or halogen bulbs, it is better to replace the entire fitting with a dedicated LED downlight fitting, instead of just changing the bulb. Just replacing the bulb with an LED is likely to overheat the LED and shorten its life. In addition, most older downlight fittings require generous clearances to ceiling insulation and can allow draughts through the hole in the ceiling lining. Modern dedicated LED downlight fittings combine energy efficient lighting with better airtightness and insulation can be abutted to or even laid over them. You will need an electrician to install them for you.

For non-recessed fittings, retrofitting LED bulbs is cheaper and easier than installing dedicated LED fittings, but remember to check you get the same base type and a similar shape, brightness, colour temperature and beam angle.

Exposed bulbs
Don’t like the look of a spiral CFL? New LED bulbs look almost identical to old incandescents.

Decorative bulbs
Energy-efficient bulbs also come in special shapes (such as candles) and smaller sizes (for use in chandeliers and other decorative fittings).

Reading lights
LEDs and CFLs with a ‘warm-white’ colour temperature provide a much nicer light to read by than halogens or bulbs which produce a cooler light.

Where to buy energy-efficient bulbs

LEDs and CFLs are available at most supermarkets, hardware stores, and specialised lighting and electrical shops. Hardware chains will have a wider range of the more specialised styles but for that even harder-to-get bulb try specialist lighting shops.

Our advice

  • Take advantage of the increasing range of energy-saving bulbs on the market and fit out as much of your home as possible. They save money and reduce peak loads on the electricity system.
  • LEDs are now the best choice for most general lighting applications in your home. They last far longer than other types of bulb, and LEDs are now available which match the brightness of 100W incandescent bulbs.

CFL bulb shapes

There’s now a big range of shapes and sizes to suit most domestic uses.

  • Spirals: These give you the most light for the least money. They’re becoming the "universal" CFL. Only use one of the more specialised types if a spiral won't do.
  • U-tubes: The light from u-tube CFLs sprays out sideways – this can suit some fittings, especially if the bulb lies on its side in the fitting.
  • Covered: An exposed spiral CFL isn’t pretty. That might not matter in a covered fitting or in the laundry or garage – but where it does matter you can use a covered CFL. These have a frosted glass globe over the CFL tubes to give a traditional "light bulb" look.
  • Decorative: Small bulbs, round bulbs, candle-shaped bulbs – they’re all available as CFLs and in a variety of base-fitting types and sizes.
  • Reflectors: If you have reflector lamps in recessed downlight fittings, then changing to CFL versions can save heaps. CFL reflector lamps get much less hot than incandescents. That lower heat reduces the heat loss from the room into the roof space (through the downlight fittings). CFL versions of both R63 and R80 reflector lamps are available.
  • Spotlights: Halogen spotlights are often 50W each. So a ceiling full of them is like running a small heater up there. Replacing them with 9W or 11W CFLs will save money. CFL replacements are available for mains-voltage (GU10) halogens but not for the 12-volt versions.
  • Outdoor security or floodlights: These can chew through the power if they’re left running for a long time. CFL versions use one-fifth the power – but aren’t suitable if the lights are controlled by a sensor switch.

LED facts

What you need to know about LED bulbs.

  • There are LEDs available for almost every lighting task in your home.
  • You can now buy LED replacement bulbs which are as bright as a 100W standard incandescent bulb.
  • LEDs cost much less to run than incandescent bulbs of an equivalent light output – and they cost a little less to run than a CFL.
  • LEDs last longer than other bulbs, so they’re useful for those harder-to-reach light fittings.
  • LEDs run much cooler than incandescent bulbs.
  • Some LEDs can be dimmed.
  • LEDs don’t like heat – they operate best when installed in a fitting that allows air circulation.
  • You can buy LEDs from supermarkets, hardware stores and lighting specialty stores.

Wattage vs lumens

Wattage doesn’t tell you how bright a light is - it only tells you how much energy the light bulb is using to create the light. New energy efficient bulbs have lumens on the packaging, which are the measure of the bulb's light output.

R vs PAR

Reflector bulbs come in mysterious sizes. In the R-series (which has names like R80 and R63) the number is the diameter of the bulb in millimetres.

In the PAR series (such as PAR38), the number is the diameter of the bulb in eighths of an inch. So a PAR 38 is 38x1/8ths of an inch – 121mm (or 4¾”). Both types are available in LED, CFL and halogen versions.

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CFLs and mercury

How safe are broken CFLs?

The introduction of CFLs has seen some emotive claims made about the perceived hazard from the mercury released from a broken bulb. We've looked at an extensive independent study into the health risks, and conclude that the tiny amount of mercury in a broken CFL is unlikely to be a health hazard.

What's the risk?

All CFLs contain very small amounts of mercury (less than 5mg), which is only released if the bulb is broken. The amount of mercury released depends on how used the CFL is – the amount reduces as the bulb ages.

Mercury is particularly toxic to children, pregnant women (and the baby they’re carrying), and people with kidney disease. When mercury vapour enters our bodies, it has a half-life of about 2 months. That is, it takes around 2 months for the mercury level to halve, another 2 months to halve again … and so on.

But how much mercury is toxic? The total amount that enters our bodies is dependent on the combination of the mercury concentration level and the exposure time.

Safe concentration levels have been established by several overseas studies. It varies with the exposure time and for continuous lifetime exposure the concentration level is much lower than for short durations.

The Ministry study

We were planning to do our own testing of the health hazards from broken CFLs – but when we heard in late 2008 of a study being conducted by the Ministry of Health we decided our test would be a waste of resources.

The scenarios

The Ministry’s study looked at 2 broken-CFL scenarios. In the first, mess from the broken bulb wasn’t cleaned up and the room wasn’t ventilated. In the second, the mess was cleared up and the room was ventilated by opening the window.

Mercury vapour concentration levels were measured 15, 30 and 60 minutes after the breakage at the breathing levels for a child (300mm above the floor) and an adult (1500mm).

The study concluded that:

  • “The averaged one hour concentrations were not likely to be a health risk - even if the broken bulb was not cleaned up immediately”; and
  • “adequate ventilation and clean up results in lower mercury concentrations”.

For both scenarios “human health risk is unlikely”.

The report can be downloaded from the Ministry of Health website.

Who did this study?

The study was performed by US-based Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), under contract to the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited (ESR) and the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

TERA’s business is to “protect public health by developing and communicating risk assessment values, improving risk methods through research, and educating the public on risk assessment issues.”

… “this assessment was conducted by an independent, non-profit organisation, using state-of-the-science chemical risk assessment methods to protect public health”.

TERA used data from several different laboratory experiments where CFLs were broken in a controlled environment and the mercury-vapour concentrations measured over time.

Our advice

  • Consumer endorses CFLs as a way of reducing household energy bills and the CO₂ emissions from electricity generation.
  • Be careful when handling CFLs – try not to break them. Don't use excessive force and try to hold the CFL bulb by the base and not the tubes when fitting it.
  • Don't use them in places where they are likely to get broken.
  • If a breakage occurs, children and pregnant women should stay away from the room. Ventilate the room and use the recommended clean-up procedures.

CFL clean-up

To clean up safely after a CFL is broken, follow these steps.

  • Mercury vaporises readily at room temperature, so ventilate the room (by opening all the windows) for 15 minutes before you start the clean-up. Turn off all heating/air conditioning systems, heat pumps and dehumidifiers.
  • Don’t use a vacuum or a broom - this could vaporise the mercury and spread it through the room (as well as contaminating the vacuum cleaner or broom).
  • Put on a pair of rubber of latex gloves before cleaning up. This will help protect you against any cuts from the broken bulb.
  • Sweep up the big pieces of broken glass with a piece of stiff paper or cardboard. Then wrap these pieces in newspaper and place in a plastic bag. Use the sticky side of duct or some other wide tape to clean up the smaller pieces. Wrap these in newspaper too and place in the bag.
  • Wipe down the area with a damp paper towel. Place the used paper towels (and your gloves) in the plastic bag.
  • Store the sealed bag outside until the next rubbish collection.
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Make sure they last

The white plastic base of a CFL contains electronic components. Their lifespan is reduced by heat. Although CFLs generate much less heat than incandescent bulbs, their life can be shortened if they're installed in a fitting that doesn't allow air to circulate.

Savings calculator

Find out how much you could save by switching to energy-saving bulbs.


  • Figures for savings are indicative only. Assumptions below.
  • The most savings can be made by switching to energy saving bulbs in areas where the lights are on for the longest, such as living rooms, hallways and stairs.


  • We assume you replace 100 Watt ordinary bulbs with 20 Watt energy efficient bulbs.
  • We haven't factored in the costs of the bulbs because although energy saver bulbs are more expensive than ordinary bulbs they last much longer, so overall bulb cost is approximately the same.
  • We assume electricity costs 25 cents per kWh.
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More on home, heating & renovation

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