The scene above, which I photographed in my kitchen this week, is the beginning of a revolution in the way I light my house. My entire kitchen is now illuminated with LEDs, using less than 30 watts to light the entire, 5m x 5m space.
Two turning points set me in this direction. The first was a leaky roof, which blew out the transformers on one of the low-voltage halogen fixtures mounted to the ceiling. This gave me a good opportunity to start from scratch with a 220v, GU10 fixture, since LEDs, unlike halogens lamps, are better suited to ordinary, mains voltage. (Remember: Low voltage does not equal low wattage.) At Lighting Warehouse, I found a three-bulb ceiling light with a design perfectly suited to LED globes, since the radiating fins that cool the bulb are exposed to the air, as you can see above. I paid R360 each for two of these fixtures.
The second turning point was the downward slide in LED prices. I thought I had found a good deal in May, when some Makro stores were offering both Philips and Osram LED downlighter globes to replace 35 watt halogens for R295. Then I found the Osram LED at Lighting Warehouse for R250. Now that same bulb at Lighting Warehouse has dropped to just R200!
If R200 doesn’t sound to you like a bargain price for a light bulb, let me take you through the math. The Osram Parathom PAR16 35 bulbs you see pictured above use 5 watts to produce the light of an ordinary 35 watt halogen. (Actually, my Watts Up meter says they use just 4.8 watts.) If the light is on 5 hours a day at R1 a kilowatt hour—we’ll all be paying more than that by next year—it will save R55 every year on electricity alone. But the savings are greater than that because LEDs last just about forever. Philips puts a 3 year warranty on its LEDs and Osram offers a 5 year warranty. But the bulbs are rated to last many years longer. Over the course of two years, you would expect to replace a R40 halogen once, and the cost of two halogen bulbs plus the excess electricity they use is R190, about equal to the price of the LED. After two years, the LED actually pays dividends.
I chose the kitchen in part because it’s the most-used room in the house. But at R200 for LEDs, I will also consider replacing halogens in rooms that are used less constantly. The R200 Osram LED is not meant for dimmer switches, so for now I will avoid rooms with dimmers. The Philips Master LED bulb at Makro is dimmable, but I have not seen it for less than R295. By my calculations, even if the lights are on just 3 hours a day, the R200 LEDs will pay for themselves in three and a half years. (These simple calculations do not take into account the time value of money, the interest you could have earned if you had saved your R200 instead of investing it in green technology. As I’ve said before, you wouldn’t charge Mother Earth interest, would you?)
The quality of the LED lighting in my kitchen should give no one pause. LEDs have a reputation for projecting a very narrow beam. That is somewhat true for these Osram bulbs, but since they were replacing halogen bulbs that already had beams of 36 or 38 degrees, these 35 degree lights do not have a noticeably greater spotlight effect. I do think that eight bulbs would illuminate the corners of the kitchen a little better than six, but I felt that way about the halogens as well. My Osram LEDs are listed as “warm white,” and their colour is good, just slightly cooler than a halogen, but still warm. Most LEDs have a Colour Rendering Index of about 80 out of 100, which is considered very good, but not perfect. I would not choose them for an artist’s studio, but I don’t think anyone would notice the difference even as they walk between my halogen-lit entrance hall and into the light of the kitchen LEDs.
I have not yet seen LED replacements for 50 watt halogens in the stores; they will be here soon. One day we will have affordable, ultra-efficient LED bulbs to suit every fixture. But my kitchen is proof that there is no reason to wait for that day to get a head-start on a greener future.