LED Downlights. How do they compare to Halogens.

Downlights have been popular for quite a while now and rather than diminishing in popularity like other trends that have run their course they continue to go from strength to strength. This is partly because of energy savings options like LED downlights being made more readily available and economical.

What is a downlight?

Exactly as its name suggests, a downlight throws light, yes, you guessed it, down. Meaning that any light recessed into a ceiling that throws light in a narrow beam downwards can be called a downlight. When switched on it looks like the light is shining directly out of the ceiling. A downlight is made up of the housing, the bulb, and if necessary, a transformer. The transformer converts the power voltage into one the downlight can use ensuring it is safe. 

Types of Downlights

All downlights are round and come in different trim colours, that’s the part you can see. This allows you to coordinate the downlight with your home decor. However there are different types you can choose from. The differences are primarily in the type of light bulb you use. Up until recently the most popular type of bulb was the halogen bulb but more recently compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) and LED bulbs are becoming more popular because they are more energy efficient. 

Comparison of Halogen Verse LED downlights 

Let’s take a closer look at both options and see which is the best lighting option for your illumination needs. 

Energy Usage

Without having solar installed at your home your electricity bill is often one of the largest after your mortgage.  I know ours certainly is. About one-third of your power bill is usually made up of lighting your household.  Depending on the type of appliances a house uses, the type of lights used, how often they are switched on and off and how long they are on for, the lighting component can be as high as 80-90%. 

The cost of running a bulb is calculated by how many watts it takes to run it continuously for an hour. LED bulbs may be used anywhere from 7-20 watts per hour. Whereas Halogen Bulbs use anywhere from 35 up to a whopping 500 watts an hour to emit the same amount of light. To give you a better idea, Halogen bulbs can use up 9 times as much electricity as an equivalent LED globe or downlight. This means if you were to change all of your downlights or bulbs over to LED you could have significant energy savings every year. 


Halogen bulbs have a lifespan of approximately between 1000-2000 hours which is quite short compared to an LED which can have a lifespan of up to 50,000 hours. In fact, most LED manufacturers warranty their lights up to 3 years and will come and replace them in that time if they are faulty. The initial cost of LED globes is approximately 4-5 times that of Halogen. However, even taking this into consideration LED lighting is a more cost-effective choice long term. 


One of the main places in the house that downlights are used is the kitchen.  They are a great solution for task lighting over workspaces. Halogen bulbs create light by producing heat and the kitchen is the last place you want more heat. The heat emitted from the halogen bulbs can also be dangerous. Numerous household fires have been linked to halogen bulbs. On the other hand LED bulbs stay quite cool  LED’s are tiny bulbs that fit easily into an electrical circuit but unlike ordinary incandescent bulbs, they don’t have a filament that will burn out which is why they don’t get very hot. They are illuminated by the movement of electrons in semiconductor material. 

Not all LED downlights are dimmable whereas halogen bulbs have no issues with dimming. However LED downlights are far more effective at consolidating light in one direction, perfect for task lighting or reading. Both light sources provide a good lighting quality but LED lighting is significantly brighter. 

It seems to me that LED lighting is a clear winner in the long term both for cost and quality. 

Converting Halogen downlights to LED downlights 

Converting from halogen downlights to energy saving LED downlights can be done for as little as $15 per light. In Australia, there are generally 2 standard halogen downlight globes used. To find out which one your home uses is easy. Ensure you turn the power off before removing the existing downlight globe from its fixture by pulling it out and disconnecting it. You can then take the globe into a lighting shop to purchase the new LED globe. Keep in mind if you are handling anything to do with 240V you will need an electrician, so if the transformer is hardwired to the power supply you won’t be able to do it yourself. If you are unsure or if this sounds too daunting give an electrician a call to help you out. 

If your transformers are old it can cause the light to flicker. However, companies like Philips and Osram have built special technology in their downlights so that they can be used on older transformers. Again if you are unsure give a sparkie a call.  

Want to know more about lighting and lighting design? Have a read here. 

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