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Getting the right light is vital when shopping for LEDs

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We've teamed up with retailers this month to help you save on lighting

With a great assortment of ENERGY STAR® LED lamps now on the market, it's tempting to go all in with a conversion to LEDs in your home. But while LEDs are now available for every application in the home, it pays to do your homework when looking for replacements for less efficient bulbs.

Occasionally it's a good idea to go with a non-LED lamp. And sometimes, it's just wise to switch to an LED fixture.

With BC Hydro instant rebates on select ENERGY STAR LEDs in April – from $3 off for single- and 2-packs, to $10 off for packs of 6-plus bulbs – you want to make sure you're selecting the lighting option that meets your needs. While LEDs offer big savings over time, they're pricier at the beginning, and the last thing you want is a $15 bulb that doesn't quite do the job.

The good news is that there's some helpful advice out there, including the tips and resources served up in this story, and the chance to chat one-on-one with BC Hydro reps in retailers around B.C. in the coming weeks.

  • For a look at the specifics of which bulbs you can save on this month, and where you'll find them, see Powersmart.ca
  • For a list of times and locations where you can get your questions answered in-person, in-store, see this list
  • For the basics on shopping for lighting, see our popular How to choose the right bulbs story that covers everything from lumens, to colour temperature, to which shape of bulb fits which fixture
  • For lighting control basics, including advice on whether to install them yourself, see our tips story from a BC Hydro community rep.

Now for some key considerations when shopping for LEDs, from one of our lighting experts.

Start by choosing the right bulb shape

In past years, we've offered good savings on the most popular A19 shaped bulb, the one with the familiar bulb shape. But those A19s have really come down in price, so this spring, we've worked with our retail partners to save you money on more expensive ENERGY STAR LED lamps, along with LED fixtures, dimmers, timers and motion sensors.

Your first step is to have a look at the bulb shape you need. Here's a quick guide that includes – in bold type – the type of lamps we're offering savings on this month:

  • Table and floor lamps, ceiling mount, sconces: general purpose A19
  • Recessed pot or spot lights: BR30, BR40, PAR30, PAR38, R20
  • Track lights: MR16, GU24, PAR20
  • Chandeliers and suspended pendants: candelabra
  • Bathroom vanity bars: Globe, vanity
  • Outdoor flood, security lights: PAR38

Once you've figured out the shape of bulb you want, it's time to look at the colour temperature (degrees Kelvin) and brightness (lumens) that might be best for the fixture and room you're looking at. For more info on those choices, see our How to choose the right bulbs story.

And don't forget: always look for ENERGY STAR LEDs, which provide the best energy efficiency and quality. Some of the budget alternatives out there, particularly online, deliver lesser-quality LEDs that either don't perform as well or last only a fraction of the potential 20-year life expectancy of better LEDs.

Does that LED offer the right beam width?

BC Hydro lighting engineer Cristian Suvagau loves ENERGY STAR LEDs, and recently switched out most of the incandescent and CFL lamps in his 40-year-old home. But some LEDs work better in some areas than others.

If you're looking for recessed ceiling lighting for a hallway, for example, be careful to try to find an LED that offers a broad enough beam to provide overall lighting, rather than a more focused beam.

"I needed that wider light in a corridor, so I had to find LED reflector lamps that didn't create a stepping-stone effect on the floor," says Suvagau.

There can be a similar challenge with track lighting, depending on how much of a role that track lighting has in illuminating a specific task in a given area. One option for track lighting in a kitchen, for example, is to mix wider beam (for overall coverage) with narrower beam lamps, such as those over a kitchen island for tasks such as food preparation.

"It's easier to find incandescent lamps for track lighting because the market has demanded varying beam widths for years," he says. "It can be hard to find specialty LEDs with narrow beams."

Two reasons you'll love an LED chandelier

Near the top of Suvagau's list for ideal LED applications is the chandelier.

"LEDs are sparkly, and chandeliers are a sparkling device," says Suvagau. "The LEDs are actually much more interesting – it's not that soft light like a night light, it has a sparkle, whiter in colour and more like diamonds."

The look is one advantage. The longevity – ENERGY STAR LEDs last up to 25 years based on average household use – is another.

"Chandeliers often hang in the well of a stairwell, where it's hard to replace the lamps," he says. "With LEDs, you don't have to replace them nearly as often."

In Suvagau's mind, that's a safety upgrade as well. Not only are hanging fixtures often hard to get at, not everyone has a sturdy stepladder around. Too many of us stand on a chair, and that's not a good idea.

If you want LED pot lights, consider upgrading the fixtures to LED

Suvagau is also big on upgrading to LED fixtures, especially when you can take advantage of savings on LED fixtures. He would start by converting the "cans" used in incandescent pot lights with an LED conversion kit.

"If you have a recessed application, don't just change the bulb – change the fixture completely," he says. "It's going to be a similar cost, last longer and look much better. The can stays there, but you replace the lumiere (fixture) with an LED fixture."

LEDs are dimmable, but work much better with LED dimmers

The good news as you look for savings on dimmers at our partner retailers this month is that all our BC Hydro offers are for LED-compatible dimmers. You can go with an LED on a regular dimmer, but don't expect the same dimmability.

Some LEDs on a traditional dimmer will even flicker or hum. You can try that before deciding to switch to an LED-compatible dimmer, and you'll also notice that as you turn down the power, the LED will cut out much earlier than a traditional bulb.

"The power will go down with a non-LED dimmer, but you won't see the total difference," says Suvagau. "At 50% power, you'll still be getting 60% or 70% of the light, which isn't bad. But if you're expecting to turn it down to a super low light, it's not going to happen. It's going to turn off before it gets there, probably at about 20% power."

In an older house? LEDs could save you costs of rewiring

One of the reasons Suvagau went so big on LEDs in his home is that the circuits were "maxed out", and the reduced energy use of the LEDs – at least 75% less than incandescents – reduced that load significantly.

"Saving energy isn't the only point," he says. "Many houses people are living in are older, and the circuits can get maxed out. We like to plug in lots of devices, and there's not much you can do to relieve that.

"But once you have an LED that can reduce the load by up to 90%, then you're removing precious load. The safety is increased, because when a system is maxed out and you plug something in at the wrong time, the breaker trips."

Fixtures in an old home are worth replacing, too, in some cases because they're just not very attractive.

"If people have what they think is ugly lighting, it's probably a good time to invest in something that's nicer, more modern, and which will save them money on their energy costs," he says.