What are Downlights?
Downlights are one of the most common lighting fixtures you will see in any modern home. They're extremely popular because they provide warm general lighting that's unobtrusive compared to a traditional light fixture. However, there are lots of considerations when shopping for the perfect one. Should you choose LED or halogen bulbs? What's the ideal wattage and spacing?
Below we've compiled an easy guide to help answer your questions. Whether you're thinking about installing LED downlights or already have them, here's how to pick the right one for you.
Led Downlights vs Halogen - Wattage
For wattage, you want your downlights to be energy saving yet still produce a high beam. For this reason, we encourage you to use LED downlights. The average 10W LED downlight can produce a beam twice as bright as halogen that use up to 55W. The best option in terms of energy saving can range from as low as 4.5 watts to 14 watts in LED.
As a general guide, when choosing LED downlights for a room that tends to get hot e.g. a kitchen or laundry, cool white is ideal. However, if you want warmth and intimacy in your space e.g. a living room or bedroom, warmer downlights are a better option than their cool white counterpart.
We recommend a natural white 4000K as a good all-rounder. It's cool, clean and feels warm but doesn't overpower your eyes - it's like you have natural skylight coming through the ceiling. Below is a photo so you can see the difference in colour temperature.
What are Lumens?
It used to be you could look at the watts on a light bulbs packaging and determine the brightness of the light. This is still the case for halogen and fluorescent lights, but for LED lights the wattage is generally always low because of the energy saving technology. As a result, we now use lumens (lm) to understand the brightness of the LED lights. Lumens measure the total amount of visible LED light from a bulb. The higher the lumens the brighter the LED light.
Energy Efficiency - Lumens Per Watts
When choosing downlights the LED option is a balance between efficiency (watts) and brightness (lumens). For example, if you usually use a 60-watt incandescent bulb, you now probably want to choose a LED downlight that uses 8 to 12 watts and has a lumen rating of 800 for the same amount of illumination.
However, if you're confused about lumens don't worry! Below is a chart that gives you a guide to the brightness of lumens per watts as compared with incandescent bulbs.
Downlight Beam Angle
The beam angle is the amount of light that spreads from the light and can be measured in degrees. Most have a beam angle of 45° because they are recessed. By contrast, a regular light bulb would have a 360° beam angle.
Because they are recessed, we recommend selecting downlights with a wider beam (of 60°) if you want soft diffuse lighting e.g. in the living room. If you are looking at downlights for the kitchen, however, a narrower beam (of 25°) angle is preferable because it will give you a concentrated light, perfect for when you need to illuminate surfaces and focus on smaller details within the room.
Whatever the room size it always looks better with pools of light instead of glaring light in your eyes, it will create much more ambience in your space.
Generally, if you're unsure about which beam angle to choose, anything from 60 to 120 degrees works fine in the majority of cases. Below is a photo to help you visual beam angle.
Downlight Spacing for Beam Angles
Before installing, make sure you think of beam angle when considering how far apart to space them.
If you are using a wider beam you can generally space the downlights 1.2 to 1.5 metres. If you are using a concentrated beam light, try spacing them 1 metre away from each other.
When you install the recessed downlights in your room, calculate the total needed then space them exactly the same apart throughout the room.
Colour Rendering Index (CRI)
CRI means the light source's ability to reveal the colour of objects faithfully in comparison with natural sunlight. The index is measured from 0-100, with a perfect 100 indicating that colours under light appear the same as they would under natural sunlight. Generally, a CRI of 80 - 90 will be within the range of accurate colour rendering.
If prefer to have your lights rendering beautiful, vibrant tones across the full-colour spectrum we recommend a high CRI (90+) in combination with a colour temperature that's middle of the range (4000K).
This, of course, depends on the type you invest in. Halogen downlights last for 2,000 hours on average. Many find that they replace the majority of their halogen globes within a 12-18 month period.
For LED downlights, the lifespan is 50,000 hours, which is around 27 years if it's switched on 5 hours a day. As you can see these are far more cost-effective in the long run.
We still get asked a lot in store how do you change a LED downlight? this depends on if it is built in or not. Most these days are built in with a fixed light and driver separate with a plug like the picture below, when the light is built in you can only replace the whole fixture including the downlight driver. The driver is engineered to run with this light only, you can't just buy another driver to run the light you must replace the whole downlight kit.
If your downlight has a globe like the picture below then you can change the LED downlight globe by pulling the centre ring out by twisting the centre ring, the globe now can be taken out from the back and replaced.
Insulation Contact (IC) Rating
The IC rating is used to determine whether a recessed downlight is suitable to come into contact with your building insulation.
Lights with an IC rating can come into direct contact with building insulation and ceiling timbers without being a fire hazard.
When choosing IC rated lights make sure the warranty is for a minimum of 3 years. Never buy halogen downlights that don't have an IC rating and place them near insulation or timber.
Final Tips for Choosing Your Downlights
It's a long list but choosing and installing downlights is a big decision. Here are some of our final tips to consider.
1. Lightly coloured walls appear brighter and better lit than darker, light-absorbing surfaces. Keep that in mind when considering light spacing, brightness, and beam angle.
2. Use light level dimmers with your downlights to further save on electricity. However, note not all dimmers and dimmable LEDs are compatible. Look to reputable LED suppliers to provide compatibility charts listing dimmer brands and types.
3. If you do choose to install dimmers, use a push button dimmer. Flush to the wall, they look slick and act as an on/off switch as well.
4. Buy from trusted Australian wholesale brands only with true warranty and quality. There are quite a lot of cheap imports online, however, cheap online downlights do not necessarily comply with Australian standards and this could cost you dearly later on if something was to go wrong with them.
5. Look for an Australian-standard plugs base so you can plug in and flick, without needing an electrician.
6. When buying LED downlights you should look to buy 90mm size, as these are the most common sold, this means you will get them cheaper because they are made in bigger quantities and also when you change the fixtures they will be easier to replace that size.
7. When you are looking where to buy, you should only look to buy from quality wholesalers. The market is flooded with different grades so only buy from the big companies who provide true warranty and also comply with Australian standards.
8. When changing halogen to LED look to buy warm white to match the same colour temperature.
9. Once you have purchased your lights you then need them installed, make sure you use a good electrician with a good reputation, it will cost from $50 to $70 to install each.
10. When you are removing LED downlights, pull it down slowly from the roof so you do not break the gyprock and also watch your fingers from getting hit by the springs.
A lot of people ask what is the difference between a spotlight and a downlight. A spotlight will highlight a certain object like a piece of art, the beam angle will be very direct and narrow, a downlight will have a wider beam angle, the wider the angle the less you require.