Consumer Watch: Buyers left in the dark

By Susan Edmunds

LED bulbs are great power-savers but there are no rules and it's up to buyers to sort out the duds

Lighting Council chief executive Richard Ponting says there's a big variation in LED quality. Photo / Thinkstock
Lighting Council chief executive Richard Ponting says there's a big variation in LED quality. Photo / Thinkstock

Consumers shelling out as much as $30 for an LED lightbulb are being caught out by a lack of regulation.

The bulbs appeal to people who want to cut their power bills. Instead of using 100W of power, LED bulbs use 7W to produce the same amount of light and can last 12 years.

But Lighting Council chief executive Richard Ponting said they varied a lot in quality. The industry was growing faster than standards and procedures could be developed.

There were lots of questions over performance and how well customers were being informed about the longevity and performance of LED bulbs. Brightness would decrease over time. "There are no performance standards as yet that are mandatory. Some fringe manufacturers are buying LEDs from second, third, fourth or even fifth-tier suppliers, encasing them in something that looks like a household lamp and then putting a cap on ... then telling everyone they're the best thing since sliced bread."

He said it was only a moral obligation that encouraged manufacturers to offer information on LED output. "There's a certain amount of poetic licence applied to those figures. Sometimes what you see isn't always what you get."

The long lifespan of an LED bulb made it hard for manufacturers to test performance, he said. Many manufacturers supplying the bulbs were inexperienced in the lighting industry.

"There are many manufacturers around the world providing all sorts of weird and wonderful products."

Low-quality manufacturers were very hard to pin down and he urged customers to avoid "cheap and nasty" options. The only way to get rid of dodgy bulbs was by consumer power, he said. Customers should always choose a well-known brand.

Homeowner Paul Wilson put LED lights in his house three years ago, after a lot of research. "You need to know what type of lighting you want to achieve, how bright you want and the effect." He said he had saved a lot in power.

On the other hand, Simon, who did not want his surname used, said his experience had been bad. "I wouldn't touch them again with a six-foot barge pole. Spent an absolute fortune getting them for our house to replace the standard bulbs, thinking we would save money. How wrong we were." He said they frequently needed to be replaced.

Chris Wheatley, of Business Lighting Solutions, said there were also safety concerns. "Somewhere in there there's a series of components that handle heat, fire risk and electrical require-ments to convert from high to low voltage. Very precise tests must be done to ensure that heat does not build up inside ... there's masses of crap coming in but we have more safety checks on food than on electricity. It's a scary position."

He said the Government was not doing enough to regulate the industry. A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokesman said all imported electrical equipment had to be fundamentally safe. It was the responsibility of the importer or supplier to ensure it was.

- Herald on Sunday

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