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FAQ Recessed Lighting - Low vs Line Voltage Halogen

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What are the benefits of line voltage lighting?

Line voltage is the raw voltage that you will find in standard outlets and junction boxes - 120 volts in the US and Canada.

The benefits of line voltage lighting is that it has low installation costs, because line voltage fixtures are less expensive than their low voltage fixtures.   You will get the same great look as low voltage at a reduced initial cost.  Furthermore, you will be able to use regular low cost dimmers instead of the more expensive low voltage dimmers.

Is Line Voltage Really Less Expensive?

Line voltage fixtures are less expensive to purchase initially but they are more expensive to maintain in the long run.

If you plan to use these fixtures often and at high power, the lower cost of the installation will be offset by the higher operating costs.  See the table below.

                            Low versus Line Voltage Cost

Fixture Initial Cost                       $39.00                                $20.00

5 year supply of Bulbs                 $10.85 *                             $20.53 **

Electricity @ $0.10/KWhr***         $31.93                               $45.63

                                                  -----------                             ----------

                                 Total        $81.78                             $86.16

* Based on MR16 bulbs, bulb life 5000hrs @ $5.95ea       **  Based on GU10 bulbs, bulb life 2000hrs @ $4.50ea

*** Based on 35W MR16 vs 50W GU10 for similar lighting results.

The table above uses a typical trim with housing and is operating 5 hours a day for 5 years at maximum power.  Over a period of five years, the initial cost advantage of the line voltage fixtures is offset by the higher operating cost.  The cost impact is greater if operating for more than 5 hours a day or if electricity costs increase.

What are the benefits of low voltage lighting?

Low voltage fixtures are more expensive initially but they have lower life cycle costs.  They also produce a nicer light, with warmer, brighter and more vibrant colors.  There are many different varieties of MR-16 bulbs to choose from. The bulbs are longer lasting, they typically have a 5000 hour life or better.  You will get better energy savings with this technology. 
To summarize, the lifetime operating costs for low voltage lighting is lower due to the energy savings and less frequent bulb replacements.  However, they do have a higher inital cost.

Is Low Voltage really more expensive?

While Low voltage lighting is more expensive initially, over the life time operation of the fixtures, they will save you money.
If you plan to use these fixtures often and at high power, the higher cost of the installation will be offset by the lower operating costs.  See the "Low vs Line Voltage Costs" table above.

How do I know what kind of voltage I need?

When installing halogen recessed lighting, there is a choice between low voltage or line voltage. The choice of voltage technology is based on a trade-off between installation and lifetime costs.

Low voltage recessed lighting is more expensive at the start due to the requirement to include housing transformers and the higher cost of low voltage dimmers.  However low voltage recessed lighting offers a better lighting quality, color temperature, lower power consumption and longer lasting bulbs.  This will lead to a lower lifetime maintenance cost.

Low Voltage Benefits
• high quality fixtures
• long term enjoyment with lower operating costs

Line Voltage Benefits
• economic, great looking solution at an affordable price
• an excellent choice when a quick renovation for resale value is needed
• can be used for a room that is not used very often or where the lighting will be dimmed
• energy savings and bulb life is not an issue if the lighting is low or not used very much

What are the benefits of LOW versus LINE voltage?

See the table below for a comparison of low vs line voltage:

Factor                  Low Voltage                                                                         Line Voltage

Cost                      • fixture more expensive due to built-in transformers                • no transformers required
                             • requires more expensive low voltage dimmers                       • regular dimmers can be used

Bulb Selection       • MR16 12 volt bulb, large selection of bulbs available               • GU10 120 volt bulb, less selection available
                             • better energy savings 
                             • longer lifetime
                             • better color temperature, more vibrant colors  

Bulb Lifetime          • MR16 are typically rated at 5000 hours or better                   • GU10 are typically rated at 2000 hours

Energy Savings       • A 35W MR16 bulb produces as much light as a                   • consumes more power for the same output 
                                50W GU10 bulb.  This represents a 30% energy savings.  

Color Temperature  • MR16 produces a better color temperature, this results          • GU10 technology is improving but is not 
                                50W GU10 bulb.  This represents a 30% energy saving.           as advanced as the MR16 technology 

Lifetime Costs         • Lower lifetime cost due to lower energy consumption            • Higher lifetime costs due to higher energy
                                 and less frequent bulb replacement                                        consumption and more frequent bulb replacement

Will I need transformers all over my house with Low Voltage Lighting?

No, you will not have to install transformers all over your home.  Low voltage fixtures include the transformers are part of the fixture's electrical construction.  They are installed exactly the same way as line voltage fixtures.  The only difference is that the low voltage fixtures require special dimmers designed to operate with low voltage transformers. 

 

 
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