Spotlights are the preferred way to light modern flats, but most people are still using halogen bulbs rather than more efficient LEDs.
Where those with more straightforward lighting can simply switch bulbs, those with popular dimmable, low-voltage (12V) circuits will usually need to change their switches and transformers if they want to introduce LED lighting.
If you live in the flat yourself, the argument to swap is compelling. Though they’re more expensive, LEDs last much longer, and will drastically reduce your electricity bills.
On the other hand, if you’re renting the flat out, the up-front costs might seem prohibitive. The usual arrangement is for the tenants to cover bulb replacement and running costs, which removes the main financial motivations for landlords. But there are other reasons you might want to consider switching over.
It’s often not the bulb that fails in a halogen spotlight. Apart from the bulbs, (£2-3), each dimmable halogen spot will also have a transformer (£3-4), and many will contain a cheap plastic connector block (also known as a paired screw terminal or ‘choc block’) linking the two together.
Part of the reason halogens are so expensive to run is that they give off a lot of heat, and often this is enough to melt the connector blocks or knacker the transformers (particularly if your tenants are using 50w bulbs). Loose connections can also do this.
As landlord, you’ll need to pay an electrician to fix these. The parts are cheap, but it’s a fiddly job and labour costs are high. In a year, up to 25% of your lights might need professional attention, and in a decent-sized 3-bed flat with 50 spotlights you could be spending upwards of £300 a year if you’re unlucky.
Being kind to your tenants
A Which? study in 2014 found that running six 50w halogen spotlights for two hours a day cost £36 a year, compared to £4 a year using LEDs. The LED bulbs were more than double the price of the halogens (£5 compared to £2), but in their test, Which? found that they were making a return on the investment after just 7 months.
Of course this isn’t going to save you any money as a landlord, but it’s worth considering, especially if you’re environmentally minded.
Watch an electrician fixing dead halogen spotlights, and half the time they’ll be pulling charred connector blocks out of the ceiling. It’s enough to keep you awake at night.
In areas where you do have to contribute to bulbs and electricity, like hallways and stairwells, the cost can mount up. A regular contractor in central London might charge £3-5 to fit a new halogen bulb and £35 to switch a transformer. In a converted Victorian house with 18 lights in the stairwell, this can amount to the better part of £200 in maintenance and electricity per year, so you could ask your managing agent to get some quotes.
The cost of switching
For dimmable low-voltage (12V) circuits, you may well need new transformers and dimmer switches. Bulbs and transformers for LED lighting are around double the price of halogens. But the labour of switching a fitting is similar to simply replacing the transformer in a halogen light. Over the course of five or six years you might pay the same amount just to keep the sub-standard lighting operational.
Every flat will be different (there are other factors involved such as the quality of the original components and workmanship, and the amount of space in the ceilings), but it’s worth getting a quote off an electrician, looking at your current maintenance costs, and working out how many years it might take you to break even. It could be less than you think.