- It is not just about having the nice pendant light or chandelier at the dining table which you scooped up during the online sale
- Lights fixtures nowadays do not allow you to simply replace the bulbs when the light goes out
- To replace an LED fixture, you may need to come into contact with wiring, unlike its predecessors
- Contemporary Interior Design and the availability of multiple switches (e.g 2 way switches) and lighting points in a modern apartment has given us the opportunity to achieve not just a more sophisticated, but also a practical layered lighting system that features the use of various types of lighting fixtures
- It is easy to opt for cheaper alternatives, but one has to balance the initial investment and future replacement cost-which may involve external labour cost (i.e an electrician/handyman), not to mention the time and efforts to source for the right replacement
In an earlier blog, we shared the various ways to get your lightings in Singapore.
A good part of us home owners who has the luxury of time, would usually try to hunt down which shop (whether online, JB or overseas) sells the most affordable (a.k.a cheapest) ones, but as the saying goes on the streets in China:
(you will never find the cheapest, for there is always another cheaper)
But we all know being cheap isn't always good. We cannot and will not claim that all our products are the cheapest in town, so instead, we will share with you what you should be buying to lower your overall maintenance cost in the long run.
In this article, we will introduce to you some basic types of light fittings you may find in a typical apartment in Singapore.
Knowing the different kinds of fixtures allows you to achieve a layered kind of lighting scheme like those in hotels and resorts, as opposed to the traditional 1-light-1-room design.
Here at Threecubes, we always believe in the idea of sharing,hence we maintain a physical shop to encourage the exchange of ideas and experience.
We also believe that customers should be given the chance to understand the products they intend to purchase.
DO YOU KNOW #1? There are no light bulbs to change in most modern light fixtures. Meaning you can't just simply walk into a DIY shop and bring home a bulb to replace the faulty one anymore.
Many are aware that LED technology is the most energy efficient lighting solution and has the longest lifespan compared to earlier technologies, but very few paused to consider what happens when they do fail, and what are the cost associated in replacing or repairing them. Most would simply go for the "cheapest" or most convenient option.
Not all LEDs products are manufactured the same. Likewise, not all fittings are created the same. Instead of solely looking at branding and price, there are a few factors you ought to consider when choosing the type of lightings for your home. And thanks for the internet, you now can shop like a boss and achieve those "designer" look at a reasonable price.
Types of Ceiling
Before we go into the type of light fittings, you need to know what type of ceiling you have at home, this will determine the type of light fixture you would need.
Concrete: Most BTO flats come standard with concrete ceiling, with fixed lighting points. Installation surface mounted ceiling light fixtures (including track lightings) should suffice. Installing ceiling fans with optional LED light kits may also be considered as nowadays most light kits are powered between 18 - 22 watts, sufficient for a bedroom or even a small living room. We will come back to ceiling fans towards the end of this blog.
False Ceiling: Most condominiums feature false ceilings at the entrance, kitchen and bathroom areas. False Ceilings provide more options for lightings as wirings for additional light points can be easily laid above the ceiling board. Lighting points may also be relocated with much less efforts and cost.
DO YOU KNOW #2? The call out rate for an electrician to come by your place to replace a ceiling light is between $50 - $70?(including 1 time transport, excludes light)
Basic Types of Lightings
Modern lighting can be classified into 3 types, namely Ambient (General), Task and Accent. When applied together, they achieve a layered lighting scheme. It is common now to have multiple switches to control different sets of lights depending on the type of task you are engaged in.
We cannot stress this enough. Wattage(W) ≠ Brightness. Well at least not in the strictest sense. Wattage is merely the unit measure to measure power used to turn the lamp on. Most electrician/contractors would use this term "wattage" loosely as it is a electrical jargon. Non LED lamps can rate as high as 60W, today, LED are rated less than 10W to achieve the same brightness.
A 5W LED bulb today is able to match the brightness of a 7W LED bulb 2 years ago.
Lumens is the correct measurement of brightness. So depending on the size and ceiling height (amongst other factors), you should be cautious of the lamps you intend to purchase, so as to sufficiently light up the intended area.
Level of brightness is subjective, some people prefer soft and low level lighting at home, while others brighter- a sound consideration not only for the elder folks at home but also for the type of tasks you intend for certain areas.
Of course, you may also consider having dimming feature, a topic most shops will try to avoid, as not all LED lamps are made dimmable. Ever if they do, not all will work well with the commonly available dimmer switches. Some may go as far as telling you that LED cannot be dimmed.
We offer 2 types of dimming currently, linear and step dimming for different range of products.
We are not talking about physically how hot the LED lamps/bulbs are. We are referring to the colour of the light output, commonly referred to as Warm White, Cool White or Daylight. Some people also refer to them as tones. They are measured in KELVINS (K).
Different manufacturers produce different ranges of temperatures. The lower the KELVINS, the warmer (more yellow/orange) they appear.
For example Brand A produces Warm White at 2700k, while Brand B may offer its Warm White at 3000k. It is also worth noting that although 2 brands may offer the same 3000K, their actual output may still differ as they both use different type of diffusers for ttheir casing.
The choice of colour temperature will affect the mood and settings of the area you intend to illuminate. Warm White tends to create a relaxing mood, while Daylight usually makes us more alert. Think Warm White in a resort or hotel setting, and Day Light in a classroom, office or clinic setting. Some would choose the "middle" range - Cool White, but it has to blend well with your furniture, walls colours, otherwise they may all appear "pale" when you switch on the lights.
If you are thinking to go for those 3 tones ones (switchable by toggling on & off), hold that thought for a moment. Based on our experience and customers feedbacks, a huge portion of these lights (especially recessed downlights) have higher than usual failure rate.
Therefore, it is recommended that you to visit the shop, to have a look and feel of each colour temperature before deciding on the final setting you like for each area.
LED lamps Life Span
Do not be mistaken into thinking the 15,000 hours or 50,000 hours indicated on the packaging are the right indication of a product lifespan. These numbers reflects more of the lifespan the LED (not the entire product) under certain conditions.
At this juncture, we would like to share that although the LED in an LED lamp may last that long, the rest of the lamp,like the driver, may not.
The honest truth is, LED lamps used to be built much more durable before mass market adoption. But of course, back then each LED downlight cost $80 and more. Nowadays, a non branded LED downlight can be as low as $5. So do not expect all your downlights to last 8 to 10 years and beyond. Having to replace a few after the 2nd or 3rd year is quite the norm.
The bottom line is, there is no way to tell from the packaging, seller claims, reviews, etc about the actual lifespan of a product, especially when there are so many unbranded products in the market as currently there are low barriers of entry for manufacturing them. The only fact is that when it fails, you will have to either repair or replace it.
To repair it, you will need to know the source, to replace it, you will need to know how.
It is also worth to note that not all sellers are able repair the products they sell. And not all products are meant to be easily replaced.
DO YOU KNOW #3? When your LED lamp fails, its more likely the driver rather than the LED that has given way?
Types of Lighting Fittings/Fixtures
Now we are ready to talk. In this section, we will introduce you to the different kinds of lights fixtures and their basic uses. When choosing them, the following should form a huge part of your consideration (rather than just price) as it means being able to balance the cost, time and effort to maintain them in the long run.
- Warranty - an item may appear cheap as advertised, but that could mean that it has been stripped of some or all product warranty. Buying online from overseas (with extras as spares) may be tempting due to the price, but when they fail to perform, you will still be burdened with the time and cost of constantly replacing them. Think about it, all the time you have spent on searching, reading reviews, waiting for items to arrive, returning problematic goods, would have cost you money too. TIME=MONEY, no?
- Brand/Source - buying branded may not always guarantee you the best products in terms of price versus features, but it goes a long way when it comes to supporting them. If you do not have the brand, at least know the source, it matters when it comes to safety, repairs, exchange and product support (e.g proper roadmaps for product replacement).
- Authorised Seller - in an era when even a school going kid can start an online store to sell toys and gadgets. Many individuals will scan the internet for most popular items to sell, place them online, reduce the retail price by a little and start placing advertisements to draw people to their online store. We have chanced upon many sellers who sells everything under the sun now starting to offer LED lighting products without proper knowledge or manufacturer support. Always check if the seller is an Authorised Reseller to be assured of product authenticity and support.
- Driver or No Driver - For simplicity sake, let's just say, all LED lamps require a driver to work. They can either be integrated (into the housing) or non integrated. Having a non integrated driver may sound like a good idea as you need only to change the driver if its faulty, instead of the entire lamp. That said, some drivers are simply designed in a way that they are separated from main LED housing by a cable. These drivers are not meant to be detached and replaced either. The major brands usually offer integrated driver designs as they build and test the entire product as a whole.
- Ease of changing/replacement - Even the branded ones may not have the entire range of products that can be easily replaced. Some would be considered proprietary as their fittings will only accommodate their own brand of bulbs, for example. While some are designed in a way where replacing it would require an electrician. Some have separate drivers while some are integrated. But of course what we all want is the option to be able to replace the fitting without engaging a handyman or electrician. Just remember each trip to attend to a light replacement would probably set you back at least $60, and that does not include the cost of the light. The trick here is to be able to mix and match these products to allow the home owner to be able to easily replace the bulb(if any) or in worst case, replace the entire light fitting, with least efforts, without damaging (your ceiling). Also, since there is no such thing as a "industry standard" size for fittings, hence for surface mount fixture you may not be able to reuse the old drill holes to fix a another fixture, while for recessed types fixture you may need more efforts to find replacement from another brand to fit the cut out made earlier. Some shops may offer you "On-Site" replacement as part of their warranty coverage, but at a premium, so do you homework prior to sealing the deal.
- Safety - Fixing a ceiling light used to be simple. With little or no contact with LIVE wires. Modern LED lightings fixtures may require the use of basic tools like a test pen to unscrew connectors,etc. Note some lighting would require the mandatory Safety Mark. It has been noted that some experienced electricians have outright refused to install lights they considered unsafe for use. Not just for the safety of the home owners, but also to protect themselves during installation, and also to prevent any dispute arising from damages during or after installation. In worst case, voidance of home insurance may be on the cards if the insurance company deems that the the result of the event is due to the installation of an unapproved product.
a) Surface Mount Downlights/Spotlight (used primarily on Concrete Ceiling)
(Above- Common LED ceiling light fixtures in black frame)
Fairly popular in Singapore as new HDB BTO flats one standard with concrete ceilings. So called "down" light because they shine downwards directly. They do a decent job in illuminating our spaces in SG. Ideal for concrete ceiling as they mount directly to the hard surface. Typically deployed in a one-room-one-light scenario, they usually come in a few wattages(w) typically (12/18/24/36w).
Can be used just about anywhere indoors including bathrooms. Not to say they can't be used on false ceilings, but you would then rather go for recessed types of downlights to maximise the height and achieve the "flushed" look.
Yes, they no longer make ceiling lights that just uses replaceable bulbs, for both cost and aesthetic reasons.
Maintenance wise, it comes with a separate driver loosely attached to the back of the casing. To remove it, you need to unscrew and remove the metal casing to reach the driver. If the driver is faulty, you may just replace it to get the light working. Otherwise you may need to get a replacement for the light panel itself.
At Threecubes, we offer repairs for the light panel, which typically cost much lesser than a full replacement.
At this point in, we would like to highlight that in order to remove the driver, you would need to come into contact with LIVE wires (AC 220 - 240v). We highly recommend you to engage a certified personnel to undertake this task if you are not comfortable doing so.
THREECUBES RECOMMENDS: Based on current lumens/watt technology, minimum 18w for bedrooms, 12w for bathrooms & utility room. Living Room perhaps a 24w. For all other designs of surface mount ceiling lights, best is to check if the drivers or panels are replaceable/repairable). Also, when finding a replacement for the faulty parts, try to go back to the same seller as pairing with a 3rd party part with similar wattage and rating, may still light up but it may also shorten the lifespan of the entire product, coupled with the risk of electrical failure.
(Below- A less common cylindrical type surface mounted spotlight fixture)
If you have an appetite for more adventurous surface mounted lights fixtures, consider going with "spotlight" type fittings like the above cylindrical ones with adjustable angle. They do come in 2 or 3 bulbs variants as well.
Due to the size of the bulbs, the beam angle (max 60°) and throw of light will not cover as much area compared to the typically downlights (110°) mentioned earlier. But that does not mean that they can't be used to illuminate the area well enough. Think hotel and resort type of soft lightings, where they give enough accent light but not too overwhelming ambient light. You might need more than 1 fixture per room though.
THREECUBES RECOMMENDS: Go with fixtures with removable/replaceable bulbs. That way, when the LED gives way, you need not to remove the entire casing (in the case of integrated LED) for replacement, Also, it gives you more flexibility in choosing different brightness, beam angle or colour temperature in the future without the need to reinstall the fittings(which involves drilling and wire contact). Choose the PAR16/GU10 type LED bulbs, where the driver is integrated into the bulb, as opposed to those similar sized MR16/GU5.3 bulbs that requires a separate driver.
b) Recessed Downlights/Spotlight (For False Ceiling)
(Above- a round LED recessed downlight with separate driver, picture taken randomly off the internet)
Similar to their surface mount counterparts except they can only be used on false ceiling where a cut-out is needed to house the light fixture. So called recessed as they are flushed and do not "pop out" of the ceiling after installation. All condominiums in Singapore feature some spaces with false ceiling.
These light fixtures are being held to the ceiling board by spring clips.
You probably heard horror stories of certain home owner bringing down a chunk of the ceiling board during the removal of these lights for replacement.
- Slim, light weight fittings with soft springs OR
- Fittings with removable frame, where you have access to the LED casing and the driver, leaving the frame intact in the ceiling.(see illustration & video below)
- Try staying away from Tri-tones or multi tones ones for the time being, they tend to have a short lifespan. Another drawback is also if it does not remember your most commonly used tone, which happens to be the last setting.
Similarly to the surface mounted fixtures discussed earlier, you may be considering the use of spotlight type fittings (see illustration below) too:
THREECUBES RECOMMENDS: Go with fixtures with removable/replaceable bulbs. That way, when the LED gives way, you need not to remove the entire casing (in the case of integrated LED) for replacement, or have problems finding similar fittings with the same size for your cut out in the ceiling, yes- they are not standard in size.
Also, it gives you more flexibility in choosing different brightness, beam angle or colour temperature in the future without the need to reinstall the fittings(which involves removing the entire fixture from the ceiling cut out and wire contact).
Choose the PAR16/GU10 type LED bulbs, where the driver is integrated into the bulb, as opposed to those similar sized MR16/GU5.3 bulbs that requires a separate driver, this way, you have lesser point of failures.
Check out our exclusive range of TRIMLESS spotlight fittings with replaceable bulbs.
If you really have to go with fixture with integrated bulbs, at least choose those which have softer spring clips. For bathrooms, you may even consider those with IP ratings (protection against dust & water).
(Above- an integrated spotlight type adjustable LED with IP 23 rating)
DO YOU KNOW #4? Do you know the cost of getting someone to replace your lights may cost more than the cost of the light itself nowadays?
c) Track Lights
A popular question when it comes to track lightings- can they light up my flat sufficiently? The answer is yes! if you deploy them correctly.
Their versatility extends beyond just being able to swivel and tilt the light source for directional control, but also the ability to move and deploy across tracks easily.
We simply love track lightings as they can be used to provide both ambient and accent lighting all at the same time depending on the placement and also the type of bulbs you use.
For example, for Ambient(General) lighting, we recommend at least a 35° beam angle, while for accent lighting (for display) a 24° beam angle.
Track Light system consists of 2 main components, the track/rail that is installed on the ceiling(concrete or false), and the track light fitting(s) that sits into the track.
Fairly popular with most BTO flats owners as they can be installed readily on concrete ceilings. Plus our standard BTO ceiling height of 2.6-2.9m also favours such lighting option. With tracks of varying lengths, their versatility allows the designer spread light more effectively with proper placement of the light fittings to achieve a showroom type effect (usually only achievable only with a false ceiling), instead of the standard 1-room-1-light source kind of design.
Being a plug-n-play system, it also allows the home owner to easily add/remove or alter the existing lighting positions without the need to come into contact with wires.
They used to be powered by 40 - 60w halogen bulbs for each fitting/holder, which wasn't exactly very energy and heat efficient. With the use of LED now, each fittings now can be as low as 4w, and even with a 12w fitting, the heat is almost negligible.
Many are also unaware that there are at least 3 types of tracks/rails available in the market. Needless to say, you need to get the corresponding light fittings and they are not inter-operable. The light fitting that you get at IKEA the other day for example, may not allow you to used with it the tracks you have purchased from a shop elsewhere.
It is also possible to hang a pendant/hanging light on the track, although we only suggest a light-weight one as the track itself is not designed to hold heavy fixtures.
(Below shows the undersides of 2 tracks, side by side, the black one from TAOBAO. Notice it is completely flat and does not have a trench-like cavity that runs the entire length. Since the track connects to wiring from the ceiling at one end, this cavity aids in the placement of the track during installation as it helps to conceal any extended wirings so you do not end up with an off centred placement or require additional works in order to conceal these wirings)
- Go for longer tracks if space permits, e.g you are deciding on a 1m or 1.5m, it offers you more flexibility for future expansion.
- Choose light fixtures that are easy to remove from the tracks, the undesired ones are those old twist and pull type.
- Go for Asian Track (with cavity on the underside,see illustration above) as this allows you easily find replacements locally for fittings using the same track.
- Try to use fittings that have replaceable bulbs, this way you can easily reuse the fittings. If you have those integrated ones, and couldn't find replacement in the future, you may end up with different light fittings on the same track.
- Try those GU10 type fittings, so you do not have a bulky base which houses the driver. (see illustration below)
- There are fittings that houses only its brand of GU10 bulbs due to its proprietary design , e.g, MEGAMAN MOSAIC, so do take note too.
d) Cove/L Boxes/Cabinet Lightings
A popular fixtures these days. Cove lights work well to brighten room from top down, without the direct glare. Question is do you use strip lightings or T5 tube lightings? IDs are split on this, but more are leaning towards the T5s. To us, T5s are preferred for their plug-n-play ease of maintenance, and the fact that if only 1 tube is out, the rest continues to work.
Replacing them is also fairly simple as they are usually just placed in the coves.
They usually come in lengths of 1 feet, 2ft, 3ft or 4ft and are daisy-chained to one another. LED T5 nowadays comes integrated with the drivers.
LED Strips on the other hand, while its length customisable, is thinner (not the driver though), and thus more flexible in tight spaces, usually requires a separate driver to work. Hence if the driver is faulty, the entire strip will go out. Replacing the driver also requires some handling of the wirings. There may also be a "dotted" effect if not installed properly.
It used to be that the older non LED T5s have a "darkzone" or blackout area between the tubes (caused by the interconnecting) when lit up, hence the strips were preferred. Nowadays, newer T5s designs have eradicated this issue.
THREECUBES RECOMMENDS: LED T5 which are designed to minimise the "darkzone" effect. Like the MEGAMAN PINO LITE range of LED T5s. Also, try to avoid those T5 with aluminium like casing. This is to avoid the T5 "flicker' disco effect in the event your electrician did not properly ground the cove/ L Box railing as the aluminium surface will come into contact with them. This will eventually wear down the T5 tubes.
(Below: Translucent end-cap design that eliminates the dark zone between the T5s)
(Below: LED T5 with non aluminium casing)
(Below: T5 with aluminium type casing)
e) Ceiling fans
Ceiling fans are a common sight in many households in our tropical island. Although there are many others who still prefer the high ceiling look in the absence of one.
The good news is that now you have even more choices including the more energy efficient DC Motor fan compared to the traditional AC ones. Besides the additional features that comes with DC Motor fans, it is worthwhile to know that the price gap between the 2 types have narrowed in the last 2 years.
Buying a ceiling need not necessarily be a daunting task as one might think. Most modern ceiling fans offer pretty decent wind delivery in the context of our apartment space.
Apart from the aesthetics of the fan itself, it is important to pay attention to the ceiling height and space when choosing one. It is a good thing that nowadays manufacturers have come up with varying sizes for you to choose from.
Modern fans with optional LED light kit that is able to sufficiently light up a bedroom or even a small living room are widely available.
Be sure to ensure your ceiling fan comes with the mandatory Safety Mark to ensure safety during normal operations.
Not too long ago, there had been a considerable number of Singaporeans who have ventured across the causeway to purchase ceiling fans, which by the way, are mostly non Safety Mark compliant.
But in recent months, many have began to realise that the prices have come down so much in Singapore (as a result of SG retailers responding and reacting to the competition from JB).
For example a branded DC motor ceiling fan in Singapore starts from only $270, comes complete a comprehensive 1 year onsite warranty and 10 years warranty on the motor.
Similarly, branded LED downlights in Singapore now starts from only $8.34, complete with 1 year warranty.
On countless occasions, consumers who have bought their fans in JB had their installation hampered by missing hooks, incorrect brackets and faulty units in which case they had to remove the fan to bring it back to JB for exchange while having to incur additional charges to re-arrange for installation. Some had bad encounters at the customs while others found the fans recommended there unsuitable for use in SG (e.g, ceiling height in MY are higher).
Similarly, many who bought lightings were sold bulbs and lamps that were locally modified, untested, and last less then 6 months. Having to replace them would mean having to return to the same shop in order to continue using the light fixtures.
So, unless you are buying those fancy crystal chandeliers for your home, which typically are priced much higher, the typical cost of lighting up a home in SG from a decent local lighting shop ranges from $500 to $800 now. Which makes many question if it is really worth the hassle and risk (to a certain extent) to make the journey across to shop for lightings and ceiling fans anymore.
THREECUBES RECOMMENDS: Ceiling Fans with Safety Mark. All fans warranty goes back to the manufacturers, including the 1st year onsite warranty. So the trick here is that if you already have the brand and model in mind, simply shop for the most affordable one you may find, either online or in shop (there may be seasonal or promotional discounts by individual retailers, so buying online may not be the cheapest). At Threecubes, if you purchase our lightings, and would like to have a fan to go with it, but have noticed some promotional prices somewhere else, just let us know, we will be happy to match it if our costing permits.
Further reading from Home & Decor Singapore on choosing ceiling fans in Singapore.
f) Chandelier/Pendant/Hanging Lamp
Fondly known commonly in Singapore as "Designer" lamps, these types of lighting are typically installed at the dining or island kitchen area.
There is a variety of designs and makes, ranging from originals that cost from less than S$100 to an eye popping $10,000 and beyond for the appetite of the well heeled. Of course for the mere mortals, thankfully there are always the replicas & reproductions or "copies" as some may simply put it.
As these lamps are usually more prominent owing to its placement and size, it becomes the centre piece of the room.
These lamps tend to be more time consuming for home owners to hunt as they would need to ensure that they fit the overall theme of the room.
- If you are concern about replacement and maintenance, opt for those pendant lamps that hold bulbs (E27,E14,G9,G4) rather than those that comes with integrated LED.
- Examine the finishing, especially those with metallic finishing. Like many branded goods replicas, there are different grades of lamp reproductions too.
to be continued...
Further reading: Choosing the types of Light Bulbs in Singapore
Topics to be covered:
- Wall Lights
- After market magnetic panels
- Floor Lamp & Table Lamp
- Buying Lights and Fans in JB (how to avoid the pitfalls)
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