Lighting technology is changing all the time although sometimes, when googling, references to outdated products such as incandescent light bulbs will be made. No one uses these any more. Or fluorescents – not many new lights are designed to take fluorescent tubes.
Everything has now moved towards the LED light source which can be used in a variety of ways.
LEDs have brought us all sorts of ways of bringing in energy efficient accent lighting. For example, miniature LEDs placed near a wall can graze up the surface and, if punchy enough, cast soft reflected light onto the ceiling. They look lovely when placed near a stone wall or a surface with texture and can act as marker lights, with each fitting only using around one watt of electricity.
They can look great in niches and shelving. Again, hardly expending any electricity, they create interest and add to the design ‘shape’ of the room.
Linear LED profiles are also very popular nowadays and add a contemporary flavour. These can be used in recessed profiles either washing light down walls, or placed in coving to wash light upwards. This effect of indirect light is very soft, working on the principle of reflected light, although bear in mind that the amount of reflection you get will depend on the colour of the wall or ceiling surface.
Coffered ceilings are very popular in large interiors and can bring light into the centre of the room as well as being an attractive design feature. Although the linear LED used in this method of lighting is technically energy efficient, if the run is long, the number of watts can add up. Take a coffered area of 3 metres by 4 metres for example; this is a total of 14 metres of linear lighting. A high output product could take up to 20 watts per metre so this would be the equivalent of 280 watts to run. Not bad in old-fashioned terms but more than using LED downlights.
LEDs are brilliant for overall lighting but there’s a huge range out there. Wattage can be anything from around 4 – 12 watts depending on punch and the quality of the fitting.
Of course, it’s always worth factoring in the cost of the fitting – and that doesn’t mean buying cheap. Often, by cutting corners when you buy the fitting you could end up having to replace it within a couple of years – and then you’ll incur the cost of replacement and the electrician.
Tips for Buying Downlights
Downlights can be glary but if you select a fitting where the light source is set back, you’ll get a softer effect.
Remember that LEDs don’t like getting hot. That’s why the good quality ones will have a fan effect at the back of the fitting to distribute the heat. This means that they don’t like being squashed into tight spaces and certainly don’t like insulation packed around them. So, ensure you follow the fitting instructions and remember that, if you have living accommodation above, you’ll probably need to have fire rated fittings and some of these will be more bulky than standard ones.
Finally, I would normally recommend 2700°K for most areas although the cooler 3000°K can work in kitchens and bathrooms.
The cooler the light temperature, the more light output you’ll get but the difference is miniscule and the experience can be harsh under a 4000°K no matter how energy efficient it appears to be.
Claire Pendarves is a lighting designer with over 20 years’ experience
Luxplan offers an online lighting design service ranging from one hour zoom consultancy – ‘Ask me Anything’ to full lighting design and specification. I design and spec; you buy independently
How do I choose downlights for my self-build project?
“What type of downlights should I use in my new-build?” This a question which raises its head in the early stages of a building project. “Should I go for dedicated LED downlights or use fittings that will take retro-fit LED lamps?”
“What type of downlights should I use in my new-build” is a question which raises its head in the early stages of a building project. “Should I go for dedicated LED downlights or use fittings that will take retro-fit LED lamps?”
Here are some tips that I can offer from my experience as a lighting designer
Recently some clients had fallen in love with an LED downlight by a renowned design company and wanted to incorporate these in their lighting scheme. The fittings were beautiful with the light source set back (always recommended), a gold domed interior and a minimal trim giving all the benefits of trimless without the complication of needing to be plastered in. In addition the fitting had a wide variety of specialities that could be incorporated such as beam angle, colour temperature, CRI, light source and dimming protocol.
The fitting was a beauty but there was only one problem – price. These designer downlights don’t come cheap and although of prime quality, incorporating these in a full house design can drive up the budget exponentially so they are not usually the average self-builder’s first choice.
Dedicated LED Downlights
Whilst you may not want to blow the budget on the top designer downlights my ethos is that if you are going to incorporate dedicated LED downlights then you need to go for the best for these reasons.
Colour Temperature and CRI
These are not the same thing – Colour Temperature relates to the warmth of the light emitted and CRI (Colour Rendering Index) means how colours will look under the light. The higher the CRI the better the colours will look (more akin to natural sunlight) and lower the colour temperature the warmer the light. Generally the better quality downlights will allow for 2700°K and 90 CRI but you would be hard pushed to get this from a standard cheaper version.
There is nothing worse than dazzling glare from downlights so the light source should be set back, either within a dome or with a baffle such as these below. A dark baffle or dome will absorb more glare and a gold or copper toned dome will warm the light further.
The guarantee issued by the manufacturer is only as solid as the manufacturer issuing it and manufacturers can merge, reform or go into administration. Technology can fail and LEDs are no exception so try and ensure that you purchase dedicated LEDs from quality suppliers and don’t pay too much attention to the 10 year guarantee. Even when all is well with the manufacturer/supplier over the years your LEDs will change slightly in terms of colour and output and replacing one failed LED with a brand new replacement will often ‘jar’ in the existing overall scheme.
In residential situations this is usually more of an issue where ceilings are high as a more punchy amount of light will be required to travel the distance. Retro-fit lamps can’t get quite such high output as a dedicated LED fitting although in most domestic situations I don’t find this is an issue.
So, whilst good quality dedicated downlights may tick all the boxes in terms of function and design, the price and longevity issues make it worth considering the alternatives.
The quality of retro-fit LED lamps has vaulted in the past few years with excellent colour temperatures and CRI and even the facility to warm the temperature as they are dimmed – perfect for dining rooms.
Just caste your mind back to when lighting was easy. The ‘bulb’ died and you popped another in within a matter of minutes. Things have now come full circle but with a difference – the ‘bulbs’ are LED GU10s or MR16 lamps and the need to change them is rare though much easier than calling in an electrician to replace a dedicated LED fitting.
Always ensure the lamps you select are compatible with the dimmers used
Mains or Low Voltage Fittings
There are still many low voltage downlights available, particularly from Europe, although my feeling is why have a transformer when you can avoid one more link in the chain that could go wrong. When the budget is restricted my tendency is to specify good quality Mains downlights that take LED GU10s, most of which cost about £100 less than the designer light I mentioned at the beginning. Worth thinking about.
Avoid ‘runways’ of lights – concentrate on where the light is actually going to fall
Don’t have all downlights on the same circuit – this will help manipulate the ambience
Ensure that fire hoods are used where necessary if fittings are not Fire Rated
Avoid using downlights in vaulted ceilings – insulation will be compromised
Future proof your project – go for the best LEDs or choose standard fittings with LED GU10.