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Low Voltage Halogen vs Mains Voltage Halogen - The Debate


We are often asked to advise on which type of recessed downlighters are better - Low Voltage (12 volt), or Mains Voltage (220-240 volt). The simple answer is that they are both great ways to light a room, however, there are some important differences to consider when deciding which to choose and some circumstances that demand you make the right choice. With the rapid advance of LED lighting this debate is now perhaps obsolete however if you still need to make this decision please read on.

Key Differences
Apart from the voltage, there are some important differences between the two types of light which may help you decide on which is the best for you. You may have noticed from the website that in the majority of cases we can offer our downlighters in both Mains Voltage (240v GU10 Halogen)*, and Low Voltage (12v Dichroic Halogen) versions. When installed the fittings look identical as the same castings are used for both. It is the type & quality of light given out that is the most noticeable difference. Low Voltage Dichroic Halogen will make the colours in fabric stand out more, and give better definition to paintings, pictures and artifacts. Mains Voltage Halogen gives a good overall spread of a quality functional light for general purpose lighting.

* Important Note: Mains lamps are most commonly supplied with a GU10 cap. Quite rare nowadays is the Dichroic version of the same lamp which has a GZ10 cap. The main difference is that the GZ10 projects the majority of its heat backwards, just like an LV lamp. Most of our Mains fittings will accept both GU10 and GZ10 lamps, however we recommend, and will only supply the GU10 type. Most in our industry expect that the GZ10 lamp will soon be phased out (remember the VHS & Betamax situation? Well it's the same with GU10 and GZ10).

Special Circumstances to Consider

There are some applications where you should not use Mains Voltage downlighters.

Do not use them in a bathroom or wet area (except in the case of a dedicated waterproof version such as our Mains Voltage GU10 shower-light). To go to Bathroom Lighting Regulations go down the page or click this link.

Likewise, there are some applications where you should not use Low Voltage downlighters. The heat from an LV lamp is mainly projected backwards, so in areas where the transformer would not have adequate 'breathing' space, i.e. where roofing insulation or 'Rock Wool' would cover the unit, the lamp and fitting would overheat. Transformers will overheat and may fail if laid under, or on top of ceiling insulation. The heat from a MV lamp is projected forward, thus making it most suitable for installation where insulation is present. If the insulation is in an accessible loft space, you could consider using Low Voltage lighting if you remove 3-4" of the insulation all the way around the fitting and place the transformer on a beam, or piece of Plywood placed no less than 12" from the fitting.
To go to Fire Risks associated with Recessed Lighting go down the page or click this link.

Some Simple Facts:
Replacement Mains Voltage Halogen lamps can cost nearly twice that of their Low Voltage brothers, yet can have half the expected lamp life! Mains last 2000 to 2500 hours, Low Voltage 3000 to 5000 hours.

Both consume approximately the same amount of electricity, however the 50w Low Voltage Halogen lamp gives out approximately 20% more light than the 50w Mains lamp.

Mains lamps are available in 35 and 50watt versions, Low Voltage in 20, 35 and 50watt.

Mains lamps are available in 25 and 40 degree beam spreads, Low Voltage in 12, 24, 38 and 60 degree.

A transformer, like all electronic products, can occasionally fail (our IBL transformers carry a full 10 year no quibble guarantee). Mains lamps do not require a transformer, this reduces initial purchase costs a little and cuts one item out of the

Both Low Voltage and Mains downlighters are dimmable, however, with Mains you need to allow an extra 25% capacity in your dimmer unit. A 400w dimmer can run only 6 x 50w Mains lamps. Although you also need to leave some extra capacity in your
dimmer with Low Voltage, 10% would normally suffice. Note: Always check your dimmer unit is capable of running Low Voltage transformers.

Low Voltage requires room to breath (air flow) above the ceiling, so may not be suitable if space is limited, access is difficult or roofing insulation is present. Remember - the heat from an Low Volatge lamp is mainly projected backward, Mains mainly forward.

So, Which is best? Points to consider.
Initial purchase cost - Mains is cheaper.
Replacement lamp cost - Low Voltage is about half the cost, yet has approximately twice the lamp life.
Mains does not require a transformer, so there is less to install and less that can go wrong in the future.
Low Voltage gives approximately 20% more light output.
Mains lamps can be a little less awkward to change.

Our Advice?
Ultimately, you must decide based on the given facts. However, if pushed, we always give the same reply. If possible use Mains Voltage downlighters only when it is not possible to use Low Voltage. Either way, please always employ a qualified electrician to do the work. If you are still in any doubt about which way to go then call or email us for help or advice.

Mains Compact Fluorescent!
Compact Fluorescent GU10 fittings. A relatively new concept in Mains Voltage downlighters. They look exactly the same as Low Voltage or Mains downlighters but have been specially manufactured to take the new Low Energy Compact Fluorescent lamps. These are available at 7watt, 9watts, 11watts and newly added an 11watt dimmerable lamp. Soon also available in 13watt. Although cheaper to but than LEDs spend the extra as the LED source will have much greater longevity.

Radium Low Voltage IRC (Infra Red Coat) lamps are also new on the market and run 30% more efficiently than a standard low voltage lamp. A 20watt IRC lamp can replace a 50watt mains lamp and give virtually the same light output - this is an energy saving of 60%!

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