There are many different types of lighting available on the market but with a little research you can ensure that the lighting in your home meets your requirements, is energy efficient and looks good. The following is some basic information on lighting so whether you’re doing a retrofit with existing fittings, renovating or building a new home you can find suitable lighting solutions.  You can also download our lighting factsheet.

There are various forms of lighting available, including:

Below is a table listing some of the words commonly used when talking about lighting.

Watts The wattage of a lamp indicates the rate of energy consumption - the higher the wattage the higher the running cost.
Voltage Most lights run on either 240 volt or 12 volts. Just because it is low voltage doesn’t it is a low energy lamp; halogen downlights are typically 12 volt and use more than 50 watts per hour compared to Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) which generally use 20 watts per hour or less. Low voltage lamps also need a transformer, which increases electricity consumption, to convert the mains power from 240 volt electricity to 12 volt electricity.
Lifetime Lamp lifetime refers to the average number of hours an particular lamp will last. This varies between different lamps and is as low as 1000 hours for a typical incandescent lamp and as high as 50,000 for some LEDs.
Downlight The term downlight refers to lights that are usually in recessed fittings that shine downwards. The most common version are small halogen lights (known as dicrhoric), usually running on 12 volt.
Colour Lamp colour is measured in Kelvins - around ranges from 2700 Kelvin (warm white) to 5000 Kelvin (cool white). Think about the kind of light you prefer when selecting lamps. A “Warm white” CFL is generally about 3000K while a “cool white” or “daylight” CFL is closer to 5000K.
GU10 / MR16 GU10 and MR16 are 2 types of lights fittings usually used for small lights (can be either halogen, CRL or LED). They are not interchangeable – in other words, you can put a light with a MR16 pins into a GU10 fitting. Lights with GU 10 fittings run off 240volt supply (ie not transformer in the ceiling). GU10 fittings has 2 small pins that look like the of a nail. Lights with MR16 fittings run off 12 volt (needs a transformer). MR16 fittings also haves 2 small pins, these one look like the sharp end of a nail.

 Types of lighting

Incandescent Incandescent lamp

Incandescent lamps have historically been the most commonly used type of lighting in households and are generally either ‘bayonet’ or ‘edison screw’ fittings. Although they are cheap to purchase initially their lifetime is the shortest of available lamps at only 1,000 hours. Incandescent lamps are also very inefficient converting less than 5% of the electricity they use into light – the remaining 95% is converted to heat. Incandescent lamps are gradually being phased out in Australia and there are many other different types of lamps available to replace them.

Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL)

Compact Fluorescent Lamps of CFLs have gradually become more common and affordable and are now available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They can usually directly replace incandescent bulbs with ‘bayonet’ or ‘edison screw’ fittings and come in two main colours – cool and warm white. Compact Fluorescent Lamps can have a lifetime of up to 15,000 hours and use around 80% less electricity than incandescent and halogen lamps. When changing from incandescent to CFL, you apply a 5:1 ratio – i.e. a 20 watt CFL is generally suifficent to replace a 100 watt incandescent.

CFL downlightsCFL are also available as ‘downlights’ and to replace halogen downlights (these are know as mini-CFLs). However in most cases, you will need to replace the entire light fitting as the lamps may not be the right size for your existing fittings and quite often halogen downlights only use 12 volt electricity (ie MR16 fitting) ; CFL downlights use 240 volt electricity (ie GU10 fitting).

Some CFLs are also available for fittings where a dimmer switch is in use – look for lamps which specify they are able to be used with dimmer switches.

What about the mercury in CFLs?

Compact Fluorescent Lamps contain small amounts of mercury, as do regular fluorescent tubes. The amount of mercury in the average CFL is very small – 3-5 milligrams – and the risk of mercury exposure to an average person from a broken CFL are very low. You should still take care when cleaning up if you break a CFL:

  • Open nearby windows and doors to ventilate the room
  • Use a brush to carefully sweep up the pieces and then use a paper towel, preferably moist, to wipe up any remaining glass fragments and phosphor powders.
  • Use disposable rubber gloves.
  • DO NOT use a vacuum cleaner because this can spread the contents of the bulb and contaminate the cleaner.
  • Place all of the pieces of the light bulb and clean-up materials into a sealed plastic bag for disposal in your waste bin or in accordance with the advice of your local waste disposal authority.

To find out more about safe disposal of CFLs and recycling opportunities, click here

Other fluorescent tubes T8 and T5 fluorescent tubes

Fluorescent tubes are often used in office buildings to provide internal light but can also be used for residential lighting for external applications or rooms such as the kitchen, laundry and bathroom. Fluorescent lamps are still some of the most efficient lighting solutions available. Fluorescent tubes vary in shape (straight or circular), length and diameter. Most of the fluorescent tubes currently in use are T8, this means the diameter of the tube is 8/8” in diameter (1 inch). Newer T5 tubes, which are more efficient than T8 tubes, are also available and have a diameter of 5/8” (five eighths of an inch) although they are generally shorter in length then T8 lamps. Retrofit kits are available so you can replace T8 lamps with T5 lamps without having to replace the old fitting. These kits will mean that you can use the more efficient T5 tubes, which are around 20-30 % more efficient.

Older T12 tubes with a diameter of 1 1/2” (one and a half inches) can sometimes be seen in particularly old fittings.

Light Emitting Diode (LED)LED downlight

Light Emitting Diodes or LEDs are compound semiconductor devices that convert electricity to light. The most recent development in modern lighting, they use different technology to incandescent and fluorescent lamps and are generally considered to be the future of lighting.

LED are one generally more expensive to buy compared to CFL, halogen or incandescants, but use far less energy than other lamps available, last longer (up to 45,000 hours), work with most dimmer switches and produce little heat compared with standard bulbs.

As production increases, prices are expected to come down significantly. LED’s come in all shapes and sizes and fittings.

Halogen lampsHalogen downlights

Halogen lamps, in particular downlights, have become increasingly popular over the years. Low voltage halogen downlights are the most common found in households however low voltage doesn’t mean low energy consumption. The transformer, which converts 240 volt mains electricity to 12 volt electricity for the lamp, also uses energy so a 50 watt halogen lamp can use up to 60 watts once the electricity usage of the transformer is taken into account (an CFL downlight consuming around 10 watts would provide almost as much light).

Although they are more efficient than incandescent lamps and have a longer life time (generally 2,000 to 3,000 hours) they are really only suited to task lighting where they highlight a particular area such as a kitchen bench of feature wall. Because of this, halogens need to be used in large quantities to be able to provide enough light for general room lighting. This in turn means that energy consumption increases significantly compared to a room lit with a fluorescent, LED or incandescent lighting.

Downlights can also be a fire hazard if not installed properly as they generate a lot of heat and have been the cause of house fires in Australia. There must be a gap between the fitting and the insulation in the ceiling which means your insulation doesn’t work as effectively as it should.


If you house has low voltage halogen downlights (with MR16 fitting), your options to reduce energy consumption are:

  • Replace the lights themselves with a LED light (with MR16 fittings) – we suggest you purchase one globe to test its suitability, because LED’s may not give off an adequate amount of light;
  • Replace the whole fitting# (you’ll need an electrician to take out the transformer) with a GU10 fitting and either CFL or LED lights; or
  • Replace the current lights with a more efficient style of downlight (normal 50 watt halogen downlights can be replaced with 35 watt IRC* halogens).

See this article which featured on the ABC Four Corners website.

*IRC or infrared coated halogen downlights use less electricity to provide the same amount of illumination as a higher wattage halogen.