How to convert halogen down lights to energy efficient LED lights

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Please watch our video

Watch James Stapledon, director of Lighting Matters in Victoria explain how to convert your halogen down lights to energy efficient LED lights.

Some steps involved

The first step in changing over your halogens to LEDs, is understanding how your existing lighting system works.

Do I Have 12 Volt MR16, or 240 Volt GU10 light fittings?

Most halogen installations in Australia have either 12 volt MR16 lamps with a transformer tucked away in the ceiling, or 240 volt GU10 type lamps. 

240 Volt GU10 Lamp Compatibility

A 10 watt LED GU10 will produce similar amounts of usable light as a 50 watt halogen globe, providing you with an energy saving of up to 80%. It's a simple globe changeover if you have the GU10 lamp base.

12 Volt MR16 Lamp Compatibility

If your existing lamps are MR16 type, then further considerations are necessary to achieve the halogen-to-LED conversion. MR16 halogen installations generally include transformers which convert 240V AC mains power to 12V AC.

Important Certain LED downlights and LED Strip lighting are specified as 12V DC input, and are not suitable for use with any existing halogen transformer. You will require a 12V DC LED driver to correctly power these products.

Fortunately, 12V MR16 LED downlight globes in the medium to high price range are supplied with electronics which convert the AC input to DC. These lights are labelled 12V AC/DC and will operate with certain halogen transformers such as iron core (magnetic ballast), and a small selection of electronic transformers.

12V MR16 LED Lamp Compatibility with Halogen Transformers

Iron Core transformers (big and heavy) rarely have issues which prevent them from powering LED lamps correctly, and are used with leading edge dimmers.

12V MR16 LED Lamp Compatibility with Electronic Transformers

Electronic transformers (light with plastic casing) on the other hand, typically have a minimum lamp load rating for the transformer to operate.

Electronic transformers are often marked with the minimum load required, such as 20-60VA or 10-60VA. (VA means volt-amps, and volts x amps = watts, so in other words 20-60 watts).

This can cause problems for customers wanting to retrofit MR16 LED lamps because of the low power consumption of LEDs. There are no retrofit LED MR16s (which we have encountered) which use more than 12 watts of power to operate, so meeting the minimum load is impossible with just a single LED lamp and often caused the transformer to constantly restart in load find mode which causes unwanted flickering.

Quality LED downlight manufacturers, such as Philips, Brightgreen and Indice Ecotech, have advanced technology which mimics the higher load of a halogen so the electronic transformer is tricked into enabling the LED downlight to operate correctly. This "virtual load" technology varies between LED lamp manufacturers and is often patented.

20 watt Halogen meets the minimum load requirement.
No flickering or restarting occurs.

12V LED downlight without "intelligent" circuitry
Will not work properly, or at all.

Philips LED MR16 lamps with "intelligent" circuitry
Will work using any electronic transformer.

Similarly, the Brightgreen DR700 has a virtual load power control system which draws current from the transformer during the entire sinusoidal cycle of the 50/60Hz voltage supply. This allows the electronic transformer to sense that the minimum load requirement is met, so it supplies the correct voltage to the globe.
We believe it's wiser to use a reputable manufacturer's LED light which includes smarter electronics, rather than risk premature failure.
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