A bright idea?

UPDATE: See this more recent post for information and photos of how to get a 2-pin bulb to fit in a BC3 fitting.

This may well be the example which involves the most different ‘architecture of control’ issues so far – by a long way. It is a complex case with a number of aspects, intentions and effects to consider. My mind isn’t made up on the rights and wrongs of this: it’s certainly an architecture of control, it’s certainly devious and it’s certainly a case of introducing a razor-blade model (product lock-in) into a field where there was previously none; it will also end up costing many consumers more money, yet it’s founded in an attempt to ‘encourage’/force more environmentally friendly behaviour.

A couple of weeks ago, George Preston let me know about Eaton MEM BC3 light bulbs and fittings. These are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs or ‘energy-saving’ bulbs) which have their own kind of three-pronged bayonet connector (left), as opposed to the standard two-pronged bayonet (right):

BC3 lamp, photo by George Preston
BC3 lamp, photo by George Preston
BC3 fitting - image from MEMLITE brochure
BC3 CFL and standard bayonet CFL compared, and a BC3 fitting. Upper two photos by George Preston; lower photo from BC3 brochure [PDF].

Notice those three prongs are irregularly spaced. A normal bayonet bulb won’t fit in a BC3 fitting, and a BC3 bulb won’t fit in a normal bayonet fitting.

What’s the rationale behind this?

From Approved Document L1 [PDF], an amendment to the UK Building Regulations, which came into force in April 2002 (applying to new-build houses):

1.54 Reasonable provision should be made for dwelling occupiers to obtain the benefits of efficient lighting. A way of showing compliance with the requirement would be to provide at a reasonable number of locations, where lighting can be expected to have most use, fixed lighting (comprising either basic lighting outlets or complete luminaires) that only take lamps having a luminous efficacy greater than 40 lumens per circuit-watt. Circuit-watts means the power consumed in lighting circuits by lamps and their associated control gear and power factor correction equipment. Examples of lamps that achieve this efficacy include fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps (not GLS tungsten lamps with bayonet cap or Edison screw bases).

The idea is, then, that since ‘normal’ bayonet fittings can take normal tungsten incandescent filament bulbs as well as normal CFLs – something which has of course driven the more widespread adoption of CFLs – there is the likelihood/possibility that householders might replace any pre-installed CFLs with filament bulbs, for whatever reason (the usual reasons are the colour of the light, the aesthetic appearance of the bulbs, and the warm-up time). To prevent this possibility, a new type of light fitting and associated CFL cap design were required which were uniquely compatible, so that anyone with this kind of fitting would have to fit bulbs with the new cap design, which would only be available on CFLs.

(Note that the same objective could have been achieved by fitting these rooms solely with fittings for commonly available standard linear fluorescent tubes, i.e. strip lights.)

So, Eaton’s MEM 250 division created the BC3 (bayonet-cap-3?) range, being nominated for an Electrical Product Award for Contribution Towards Energy Saving in the process.

What’s interesting is that as well as complete BC3 CFLs and BC3 fittings, the BC3 range includes BC3 base units (with the ballast and control electronics in them) into which a four-pin CFL tube can be plugged:

BC3 lamp unit, from EthicalProductsDirect.com BC3 base unit, from EthicalProductsDirect.com
Left: A tube unit with four pin connector; Right: A BC3 base unit (including ballast) to allow the tube to be attached. Images from Ethical Products Direct.

This allows the tube to be replaced independently of the electronics – thus saving resources – but does not appear to be the focus of the BC3 system. (Just a thought: if more new houses were pre-fitted with these base units, or simply standard 2-pin bayonet base units, within the light fittings, so that a householder would simply go out and replace the tube rather than the whole lot, similarly to the linear fluorescent tube suggestion above, would it not have made for a more environmentally friendly solution?)

Some interesting claims are being made for the BC3 system. Somehow the idea of forcing the householder to buy one particular brand of CFL has been transmuted into a misguided suggestion that the BC3 system actually makes the houses more energy efficient – e.g., from a housing association magazine [PDF] in Wiltshire:

Residents in some of Westlea’s newer homes will know that we now fit special three-way bayonet lamp fittings as one way to make the property more energy efficient. Although the ‘BC3 eco bulbs’ needed for these lamp fittings are more expensive than ordinary lightbulbs, using them in a ‘standard’ house could save the resident around £100 each year because they use less electricity than ordinary lightbulbs. Some residents have told us they have had difficulty buying the three-pin eco bulbs locally, but we’re pleased to report that the following outlets are able to supply them from £6.35 upwards…

From £6.35 each is a lot of money. Standard ‘Tesco Value’ 2-pin bayonet CFLs started at 88p each (Tesco, Egham, Surrey) the last time I looked – that’s especially cheap, and they were only 11W, but 15W units are commonly available from about £2 – £3. Searching Froogle shows that BC3 bulbs start from around £10. Even Ethical Products Direct, to whom Eaton MEM’s own website directs visitors wanting to buy BC3 bulbs, charges £9.36 for the cheapest complete BC3 unit.

This is a lot of money for something which provides the householder with exactly the same function as a standard CFL a quarter the price. (It’s not as if the BC3 bulbs last much longer, for example, or are more efficient. They just have a non-standard fitting and are only supplied by one manufacturer.) In fact, one might suggest that standard CFLs offer the householder more benefit, since they can be swapped around, fitted all over the place, even fitted to replace incandescent filament bulbs in standard fittings, should someone – shock – actually want to choose a CFL without being forced into doing so.

The housing association quote above demonstrates an important point about the use of BC3s. Many householders’ first encounter with them will be when they notice a CFL going dim or actually failing, or want to increase the light levels in a room, and find that they have to spend much more than they were expecting to spend on a CFL anyway. George’s story demonstrates this well:

We have recently moved into a new flat which is part of a modern development in London. A few lightbulbs needed replacing when we moved in, so I went out and bought some (they’re all energy-efficient ones so I bought the same to replace them with). But oddly, none of them would fit in the fittings. I was under the impression that there were just Bayonet and Screw Cap fittings? These fittings were bayonet, but needed three, irregularly-spaced pins instead of the standard two.

I’m no stranger to energy efficiency, and it wouldn’t be so annoying were it not for the fact that the bulb I had bought as a
replacement was an energy-efficient type anyway, but it seems illogical and a shame that properietary fitting sizes have been introduced into something that has always been so simple – choosing a lightbulb.

(Equally, there is the problem of actually getting hold of BC3 bulbs. I went to the enormous B & Q in Slough on Sunday and couldn’t see any on the shelves. While the 8,000 hour lifetime may mean that there’s not a massive demand for them yet from the public, ordering online and waiting for delivery is not really a great option when a light bulb fails. It often causes inconvenience, and can be dangerous – until Incluminate‘s a production reality (!), the best option is to keep spare bulbs in the cupboard. But if you don’t realise that you need to keep special BC3 bulbs, and that these aren’t available from every corner shop or even every massive DIY store, this is going to be extremely inconvenient. The BC3 brochure does mention a “householder card… which can be left with the homeowner highlighting the ‘energy saving’ aspects of their new home” but how many people will remember to stock up on BC3 bulbs as a result?)

Anyway, I think the main issues are:

  • Razor-blade model: monopoly on fitting type means higher prices can be charged for same function, consumers locked in
  • Non-standard fitting likely to cause significant inconvenience to householders
  • But:

  • System does force householders to use ‘energy saving’ bulbs*
  • The BC3 range is also made in the UK, which aside from actually supporting local jobs, means that the units are not transported from China as, say, Tesco Value CFLs are. That saves on transportation energy, at least, and while – looking briefly – I couldn’t find a patent for the BC3 system, I presume Eaton have it protected somehow, otherwise there would surely be cheaper BC3-compatible bulbs available.

    (Another thought is what other proprietary systems – if any – have manufacturers evolved to meet the regulations in part L1? Are there lower-profile rival systems with their own fitting and cap designs? What would the implications be if a particular type were no longer available a few years down the line?)


    Overall, this is a clever commercial attempt to respond to a governmental decision made with environmental protection in mind, and as such probably ought to be filed along with optimum lifetime products as something where the intention is to benefit society as well as benefit the manufacturer, at the expense of additionally inconveniencing the user. I feel focusing on a system of built-in base units, with readily available standard replacement tubes (either CFLs or linear fluorescent format) would have been more user-friendly as well as reducing the amount of electronics needlessly thrown away, but it would not have permitted a razor-blade model to the same extent.

    It will be interesting to see how the BC3 story develops in the years ahead: will they become commonly available, and how high will public awareness be? There will probably be many more similar products and systems in the next few years using technology to enforce government policy, particularly in an environmental context, and the Eaton MEM BC3 will be an important case study.

    *Of course, there’s a lot that ought to be said about the real merits of a large-scale shift to ‘energy saving’ bulbs, particularly in relation to Australia’s decision to phase out incandescent filament bulbs entirely, the European Lamp Companies’ Federation’s focus on the same, Gordon Brown’s announcement on this, and campaigns such as Ban The Bulb.

    As a designer and engineer, I would suggest that in cold climates, 100W from an incandescent filament bulb means simply that 100 joules per second of heat is going into my room (probably wasting another 200 joules per second at the power station, but that’s another matter). Light bulbs do heat our homes. If we lose 80W from the light bulb, the heating will probably get turned up by 80W instead. Better insulation, so that that heat isn’t lost, may well turn out to be just as good, or better, than mass-replacement of thousands of millions of light bulbs with CFLs requiring significantly more resources to manufacture (and dispose of). Those electronics in the base don’t come from nowhere, and are likely to outlast the fluorescent tube: hence why the idea of replaceable tubes is much more sensible than throwing away and replacing the base unit each time as well. But the bandwagon’s set off and with heavyweight government and heavyweight manufacturers on board, it’s got a lot of momentum…


    1. I predict we’ll see adapters flood the market very soon that will allow standard bayonet bulbs to be plugged into these proprietary sockets. Folks will buy one for every light bulb in the house, with the adapters paying for themselves in one or two light bulb changes.

      This reminds me of when we switched from four prong sockets for phone connections to RJ11 jacks here in the U.S. For ten or twenty years, any house built before 1975 had a little adapter plugged into every phone jack to convert from the old plug type to the new.

      It’s not quite the same. RJ11 isn’t proprietary, just more economical However, a whole generation of houses will exist with adapters plugged into every light socket thanks to this absurd effort.

    2. I think that overall, this is a bad idea. It is good to encourage energy saving lighting, but I think that the particular challenges with the BC3 bulb (availability, price) will result in pushing customers away from CFLs in the end.

      There is already a large negative sentiment towards CFLs, due to the performance of older technology CFLs (cold light, warm up times etc.), but new CFLs (such as the Phillips Genie range) are pretty much indiscernible from incandescents (other than the shape). They have instant turn on, warm white light (the typical “yellow” light of incandescent bulbs), long life time, and low energy usage.

      I feel that the biggest challenges in getting people to switch to CFLs are cost and education. Incorrect perceptions need to be overcome (such as the light quality issue), and there needs to be a reasonable cost/reward prospect for the customer (in South Africa the cost of a CFL is approx 5x the cost of an incandescent).

      Until people start *choosing* CFLs (or other energy efficient lighting) there will always be a tendency to be partial towards incandescent bulbs. I think that one of the best things that could happen would be a tax on incandescent bulbs and that the tax could then be used to subsidise other energy efficient technologies (such as CFLs).

      I reckon that one of the reasons these BC3 bulbs are so expensive is because there is not a great enough demand for them, and the economics of scale are still working against them. Even if there are no protective patents or designs registered there is probably still no incentive for someone to copy them, as there is no market (or at least the market is not worth the effort).

      @Jim: I don’t think there will be sockets flooding the market anytime soon, firstly because of the economics of it (see above), and secondly because a socket would add about 10mm (or more) to the protrusion of the bulb, which will most likely interfere with the fitting (one of the common problems with CFLs as well).

    3. BC3 – another moronic project by eco-nazis.

      Incidentally… has anyone considered the argument that domestic incandescent lights are not significantly fuel inefficient?

      During the winter their heat directly offsets central heating costs.
      During the summer the evenings are lighter and so the bulbs are used far less, and only in the warmest of evenings is their heat unappreciated.

    4. Silverman

      This idea is not bad because it forces users to make an energy-efficient choice. It’s bad because it limits the set of available energy-efficient choices. I had the same thought as Jim: Cheap adapters are the solution. But note that only people who actively hate the light from the CFL will need to install the adapter before the initially-installed bulb fails.

      Crosbie, two things: It’s clear that you’re not in the southern United States, where we pump heat out of the house for more days of the year than we pump heat in. Here, we have to pay to run the incandescent bulbs, then we have to pay 30% more to get the heat back out of the house.

      Second, resistive heating, the type that incandescent bulbs provide, is quite an inefficient way to heat a house. After accounting for Carnot efficiency, conversion losses and transmission losses, probably under 50% of the energy contained in the fuel burned in a power plant makes it to your house. So, if you burned the fuel directly in your house, you’d get around twice as much heating. If you must use electricity to heat your house, you can use a heat pump, which brings around three times as much energy into the house as you spend on running the pump.

      Would anyone notice even a 100% tax on incandescent bulbs? They currently cost around $0.25, so doubling the price wouldn’t be particularly burdensome. You could move that revenue directly to credits for CFL bulbs, which last eight times longer, and reduce their price by $2.

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    6. Silverman, the context of the article is the chilly UK, not the southern US (otherwise I would have geographically qualified my post).

      I presume that the heat from an incandescent bulb has the same efficiency as the heat from an electric panel heater (which I have seen installed as standard in newly built flats in the UK).

      I’m not arguing about how efficiently people heat their homes, but that there may be less of a saving on one’s TOTAL energy bills than at first meets the eye when switching to bulbs that convert more energy to light than heat.

    7. Lights for lighting, heaters for heating. Given that many light bulbs in the chilly UK are stuck at the top of a room, in the middle of the ceiling, the heat created by light bulbs isn’t at the right place anyway.
      The best way to get people to change their habits is to appeal to their wallets, and this product would appear to be working against that idea.

    8. Dan

      Thanks everyone for some very interesting and thoughtful replies. I think it’s clear that there are a number of contentious issues wrapped up in this one example.

      I only threw in the “light bulbs do heat our homes” comment because I’m fed up with hearing (in the UK) that CFLs are some kind of universal panacea for all environmental problems. Following on Crosbie’s points, I do often find that simply having a light on takes some of the chill off the badly insulated, freezing rooms in my dingy little rented flat.

      In a poor quality dwelling in a cold climate, without gas heating and with only mains electricity (which is often only 30% or so efficient in conversion, to address Silverman’s point), there is no difference whether I use light bulbs to heat the room or the electric panel heaters that Crosbie mentions. In fact this from Swedish students Anton Gustafsson and Magnus Gyllenswärd, illustrates the point very well indeed:


      But as Simon and Silverman suggest, it is probably better to separate out heating and lighting functions, certainly in hotter climates where the householder more often wants lighting cooling rather than lighting heating. As such we maybe ought to be using organic LEDs or some kind of light-emitting polymers for lighting, and heat pumps plus superlative insulation plus our own body heat plus solar heating, or improved, passive cooling systems.

      Looking specifically at the BC3 system, I think it will probably be remembered as a footnote in the history of lighting rather than anything which drives a large-scale shift towards CFL adoption. Every house that has the BC3 sockets already uses CFLs. In time, adaptors will probably appear to allow conventional 2-pin bayonets, or Edison screw bulbs to be used, as Jim suggests (probably made exclusively by Eaton MEM, thus opening up an additional revenue stream!), and it will be seen as a petty inconvenience when buying a house, since, as Duncan says, the extra protrusion will make fitting accessories such as lampshades more difficult.

      (It strikes me at this point that simply giving the fittings a power limit of, say, 40W, with a resettable circuit breaker, would have forced householders to use CFLs without having to buy special BC3 CFLs, but this would not have been as lucrative for Eaton…)

      Overall, Duncan and Simon are surely right in that it’s better to give people reasons that obviously benefit them, to persuade them to be more energy efficient, rather than forcing them in an expensive and overly controlling manner. Duncan’s points about the improved quality of CFLs are certainly true, and once more people realise this, a lot of the opposition will disappear, but at present the improved CFLs such as the Genie are significantly more expensive than the ‘normal’ CFLs (in the UK anyway) and so someone trying to be ‘eco-friendly’ is faced with a degraded but more affordable experience, or a more expensive but better one. Perhaps clear financial/tax incentives, as Duncan and Silverman say, would be the best answer.

      I still don’t like the idea of throwing away the PCB in the base of CFLs every few years. Most will end up in the general waste stream, which can’t be good. More use of replaceable, cheap tubes, leaving the ballast electronics in place, would be better here, cheaper for the consumer, use fewer resources in manufacturing, and be better for recycling. But it wouldn’t make as much money.

    9. Dan

      George got in touch and says:

      Thanks for all your detailed research Dan, I will send this on to the residents’ forum who I’m sure will be interested!

      I think Duncan Drennan’s suggestion is interesting- tax
      energy-inefficient bulbs to subsidise CFLs. In Canada, CDRs are taxed
      to offset the industry loss to piracy. Of course in both scenarios
      there’s that problem again – it’s a one-size-fits-all attitude with no
      measure in place for people who *have* to buy the punishable product
      for legitimate reasons.

    10. What are the UK price differences between high quality CFLs (like the Genie), and “normal” CFLs? In SA the price difference is about R3 (currently about 20p/0.3eur). Incandescents are around R3/bulb, while CFLs are R15/”normal” bulb or R18/”quality” bulb. Respectively, that is 20p, 1&pound and 1.25&pound

      To me the price difference is negligible for the quality of the light, but that may not be the case for everyone.

      Wrt the adapter socket – how expensive would it be to just replace the light fitting? Or remove the BC3 socket from the fitting and replace with a normal one?

      Wrt to one-size-(doesn’t)fit-all issue – I think the idea would be to create an incentive to move towards energy efficient lighting. Yes, there probably are some cases where there are not suitable solutions, but I feel that they are probably the minority of cases. Also, with that type of incentive, there would be a demand to fulfil the outstanding inefficient areas. The one problem that I do see with the tax is that it would basically implode at some point – as the sales of incandescents go down, so does the available money to subsidise CFLs. Hopefully by that point the economics of scale would have taken over.

    11. Anest

      We have just moved into a flat with these light fittings and my lightshades (which aren’t that big) are too small as the bulbs are longer than normal. I have raised this with the manufacturer who stated that they receive lots of complaints about this but have no plans to create bulbs which are a standard length. We use energy efficient light bulbs in any case and will be changing the fitting to fit the lampshade. John Lewis are currently selling energy efficient lightbulbs for 49p which means that one could buy at least 12 for the price of one of these lightbulbs and not pay for postage.

    12. Mike

      I have just moved into a newbuild house and wanted to put a Black Light Bulb (energy efficent may I note) into a room where I am painting a scene on a wall in invisible UV paint. I got the Black Light bulb and was having difficulty getting it into the socket, before realising that I in fact have these light fittings, much to my frustration. I have looked about for an adaptor but cannot find one, and await a reply from MEM regarding where I can get one, I can guess what the reply is going to say 🙂

      So either I wait for an adapter or replace the entire light fitting. Unfortunatey MEM do not produce 3 Pin Black Light bulbs so that is not an option!

      Whats most frustrating, out of the three bedrooms in the house the master bedroom has a 2 pin fitting and the two spares have 3 pin!

    13. Mike

      An update on the reply to the email I sent…

      And I quote…

      “Hi Mike

      Unfortunately due to the “Part L Building Regulations” It is not permitted to convert a BC3 J Slot lamp holder .
      The purpose of these regulations is to ensure that domestic dwellings have at least some efficient lighting.
      Typically 3 lighting points in an average sized dwelling.

      Eaton Electric Ltd
      Technical Service Engineer”

    14. Dan

      Thanks Mike, that’s an interesting reply.

      I’m not sure how the regulations apply to altering your own house’s light fittings, but it does seem a ridiculous situation. I suppose the rationale behind putting the 3-pin sockets in the master bedroom is that it’s likely to be used most, so the ‘gains’ from using a CFL are more significant. But the presumption that ‘everyone’ will want an Eaton MEM BC3 CFL (which is not even available in any styles or colours other than standard 3U-shaped white)

      Incidentally, it would probably be fairly easy to swap the actual 3-slotted collar of the BC3 fitting for a standard 2-slot one, since the contacts are in exactly the same position.

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    16. Mike

      An update on my side…

      I swapped some of the fittings, it was very easy. I just swapped some of the Standard ones over to different rooms.

      The down point was, according to the electricians, is that by doing so I voided my warranty on the electirc works….which seems daft since it was only the actualy bulb housing I swapped (i.e no movement of wiring).

      So its easy enough to do if required.

    17. Jon

      Well I too find I’ve got these weird fittings in a house I’m renting. Having used ‘normal’ energy efficient light bulbs for ages I have a box load of spares and needed to replace some that had blown but how odd they don’t fit.
      Impressed I’m not – not only have I wasted money driving around 4 DIY shops only to find that they didn’t have any of these weird bulbs, I now have to waste more money needing to buy specific bulbs.
      I’ll be complaining to the rental company as this is a H&S issue for me.
      2 kids under 5 and 2 stair wells with no light – hmmm to hell with the regulations these fittings will be being changed.

      • I ageee, I have just changed a light fitting in my son’s new house, very simple job.

    18. janet

      I wanted to add that I live in new social housing where they have fitted these light fittings, two of my so called energy saving bulbs have given up in under six months, and I now find I can’t afford to replace them because of the cost. Surely this should be a concern when they are put in low income housing? Apparently not.

    19. Jon d

      My mum’s just moved into a brand new sheltered accom flat with these fittings. In addition to the problems above she gets standard BC CFL’s for free from the council and the electric utility under some euro scheme. BC3 works against these existing schemes

    20. Jon d

      … And the free bulbs are phillips genie which are smaller, have better colour, less delay starting and are more efficient (18w for 100w equiv cf 20w with MEM’s BC3 CFL mfgs stated). BC3 is a proprietory lock in to what cfl’s were 10 years ago imo.

    21. Amy

      I have these intensly annoying bulbs in my flat. I am currently trying to buy a replacement bulb as my boyfriend smashed one. First I had a nightmare trying to find one, then after trawling through lightbulb websites, I have managed to find some, but they cost £13!! I hate the fact that one of the selling points is ‘think of all the money you will save’ – hardly likely when a light bulb costs that much. I also had to throw away all of my spare bulbs from my old flat. I also feel like I live in an office due to the delay and flickering when I turn the light on and the light quality is terrible.

    22. Wolf

      It’s a sad reflection of how short-sighted UK policy makers (and their advisers) are. All this achieves is to alienate people who will choose to avoid energy efficient lighting rather than embrace it as intended.

      This is a classic example of good intentions going badly wrong, with a twisted outcome – though hardly surprising really !!!

      As for the electrician who has said that the warranty will be voided, I think he was expecting to be paid to do the job himself … . That way he can re-install the offending article in another new dwelling and the cycle continues …


    23. Clare

      I was wondering if anyone could tell me where I could get hold of a MEM BC3 bulb other than online? The cheapest I have found online is £8.64 which is probably before delivery! I have moved into a new flat this week and found I don’t have bulbs in 2 rooms and they aren’t easy to find!

      Thank you!

    24. Mr C

      I did not know that MEM appear to have a monopoly with these BC3 lightbulbs. The irony is that they cost 20 times more than CFL bulbs. I will be hoping that a Chinese company will flood the UK market with the BC3 bulbs.

    25. andrew

      the problem with these lights is the brightness! im a student and these lights are just not bright enough to study in!! WARM WHITE is too yellow! they should at least have the courtesy to make them in a brighter colour.

    26. Bernard

      Guess what, like probably many, I found this article/discussion looking to find out where I could get these “famous” BC3 bulbs…
      Having moved into a newly built flat around 16 months ago, one of the first things I did was to take out the BC3 fitting off the living room to install our ceiling fan/light which I fitted with 3 12W Philips CFLs at least 4 years ago now.
      For some reason, a standard bayonet fitting had been installed in one of the bedrooms, so, in went another Philips CFL 20W which I’ve had for more years than I can remember !
      Having been in the flat for now ~16 months, one of the MEM bulb just died this morning, luckily, I had the living room “spare” at hand but bearing in mind the little use this particular bulb has had, the cynic in me wonders if their longevity has not been designed in order to boost the sales revenue !
      Anyway, guess what I’ll get later… a spare cheap low energy bulb, and a standard bayonet fitting, altogether probably cheaper than a MEM bulb on it’s own !

    27. Re: About Eaton MEM BC3 light bulbs and fittings.

      I am in Australia so don’t have the 3 prong problem here …but a word of comfort…
      Its just a question of time….before a simple adapter can be manufactured to nullify this attack on consumer choice & indeed ones wallet..!!
      If any reader cares to invest a few $$ in sending just one socket
      EG: The fitting into which the 3 pronged globe sits
      My company will endeavor to have an adapter manufactured and on the UK market within the next 3 months which will and instantly allow consumers to fit the globe of their choice and will comply with UK electrical standards
      If any kind soul can give me a realistic idea of the amount of 3 pronged fittings already installed around the UK it will be very helpful.
      The fluorescent light market worldwide had a similar problem ….The standard T8 fluorescent tube has an electrical system which restricts light tubes to the T8 category.
      T8 tubes & its system, consume 30% – 50% more power & are much less efficient that the latest T5 tubes now available.
      But the snag…T5 tubes could not be directly fitted to the existing T8 system.
      Use of a widely available adapter has now resolved that problem and worldwide billions of inefficient T8 tubes are now being instantly replaced, as they fail with the superior T5 just by use a a simple adapter.
      When you consider that billions of T8 tubes are currently in use around the world then just have a guess at the value of 30% – 50% savings in use & cost of power and a similar % reduction of Greenhouse gas emission….wow
      Mail address is

      Bright Image P/L Ltd PO Box 2171 GRACEVILLE QLD. 4075 AUSTRALIA

    28. Rich

      Agree this is a crazy situation as I’ve got a cupboard full of conventional energy saving bulbs and a pitch black hall as the Mem bulb died and I’ve not found a store stocking any round Leeds. Ordering bulbs by post seems a odd option and I wouldn’t really want another Mem bulb anyway given its the only brand of energy saving bulb in my house that has packed in…. For now I’ve run some LED fairy lights up the stairs!

    29. Paul

      I am cynical enough to believe there is some corruption behind this.

      The only place I could find replacement bulbs was from a small independent lighting retailer who told me that the BC3 bulbs, in spite of being several times more expensive, typically have a far shorter lifespan than other CFLs.

      I can see the point behind the legislation, even if it does seem a little heavy-handed (aren’t incandescent bulbs being gradually removed from sale over the next few years anyway?), but to allow a single manufacturer to have a monopoly on such a basic household product is insane. How are they enforcing it? What’s to stop other manufacturers producing these three-prong bulbs? I presume the internals aren’t any different. Do they have a patent or something?

      That’s what makes me suspect collusion between the manufacturer and whoever draws up the building regulations. It’s a licence to print money. As another commenter mentioned, a lot of these fittings end up in newly-built social housing, so people who are least able to afford it are being forced to buy an inferior product whose price is being held artificially high through the manufacturer’s monopoly power.

    30. George

      The constructionbusiness.net site amusingly calls these fitting ‘revolutionary’. (http://www.constructionbusinessnet.com/electricalexplorer/news/158.html). How on earth can a slight distortion of an existing design be dubbed a revolution?!

      I’d be really interested to find more about what the independent shopkeeper said, Paul. I wonder if there’s any merit in it? I might email Eaton to ask for some stats.

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    32. David

      We are building a new house that is supposed to have some of the fittings that will only take cfl bulbs. We are going for maximum energy efficiency, and for that the very latest LED bulbs win. I have been trying out cfl, halogen and a 5 watt LED bulb with a GU10 fitting (which is no help in meeting Building Regulations). The LED bulb gives more light than an 11 watt cfl, and is about the same as a 30 watt halogen bulb. (This is a bit less than claimed, but still impressive.) These bulbs are very new, but demonstrate why it’s such a bad idea for the regulations to prescribe things in such a way that they may prevent people from using the best available technology.

    33. Martin

      I’m living in a newly built flat, and recently the light bulb went in one of the rooms. It had been in use for just a few weeks (not continuously of course). Fortunately I didn’t rush out to get a replacement. The ‘tri-hoop’ tube design caught my eye, and so I got up on a chair to closely inspect the specififcation. A label on the light fitting said ‘BC3 J slot’. Puzzled I googled and found this page. Its excellent. There’s even a discussion of the ‘filament bulb as heating’ efficiency argument, which previously I’d ownly heard propounded by my father.

      I agree with previous posters. The legislation is badly thought through. They’ve given a company a loophole so that they can have anti-competitive practice enshrined in regulation under a green smoke screen. A legislative cock-up, I think. I’m also of the opinion that Eaton/MEM are most likely in bed with developers, due to their prevalence in newly built properties (even those finished in 2008 when MEM no longer makes the best CFLs).

      I shall probably replace all my light fittings. Not because its cheap, but on principle. I’m not going to co-operate with something that reduces market choice (within the CFL sector it reduces choice).

      I also agree with the point that these regulations are not forward looking from a technical progress perspective. Idiots in governemnt thought they’d suceeded in locking us in to the green future. Actually they’ve locked us in to MEM. As MEM settles into their cosy monopolistic position their product performance gets overtaken by the more competitive 2 pin market eg Philips Genie mentioned by Duncan, Dan & Jon D above, or new technologies like LED bulbs mentioned by David. 2 pin is competitive precisely because it is standardised.

      So the government have allowed consumers to be locked in to MEM and a particular point in the development process. That was the future then, but is the past now. NOT VERY BRIGHT!

    34. Martin

      OK, perhaps I should adjust my previous post. I still think its bad legislation, but it seems Eaton/MEM do not have a proper monopoly as the 3 pin BC3 is not (quite) unique to them. The competition does seem very slow in making BC3 versions of their products available though.

      The legislation should have considered what would happen in the slow transition to BC3. It didn’t and the result is much consumer inconvenience. To what benefit? The CLF tube shapes are also better than they used to be and CLFs are now cheap enough that when consumers consider their longevity they may well buy them anyway. So I still think the legislation/regulation unhelpful/unnecessary and worse, nannying.

      What it has clearly achieved is to line the pockets of Eaton/MEM. One would have thought the regulation very problematic due to the likely emergence of competing proprietory standards. But the fact that BC3 emerged as such a quick response to the legislation, becoming the only new standard, with MEM the only manufacturer – I actually almost find that suspicious. It certainly isn’t good competition policy.

    35. Herinder

      The best deal I have identified is still about £10 each (inclusive of VAT and postage) which is still 10 times more than the 99p that the standard 2 pin Energy Saving bulbs can be purchased for at supermarkets and discount stores. Good luck to all those stuck in this mess. Nov 2008.

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    37. steve H

      I was asked by my daughter to help when the first of her BC3 lights bit the dust. The solution was easy – I removed the BC3 fitting and merely replaced it with a standard 2 point bayonet fitting in which she could install standard energy saving bulbs.
      Net cost? £1.40 – go to Screwfix if you have problems – the new design is a money making scheme that we have all witnessed before! If people are sensible they won’t put themselves or the environment at risk – the advice on altering the holder to accept the older bulbs is fraught with safety implications. If you are not confident in changing the bulb holders, get a qualified and competent electrician to do it for you.

    38. For MIKE who wants to do blacklight

      you are very lucky there was a previous use of BC3 for mercury discharge lamps that required the use of a separate choke upstream, one of the variants was a Blacklight Blue MBU/W 125 if this found its way to a direct socket like everyone reading this is troubled with then the bulb would take a very high current and eventually melt, and thats a fire risk plus should the outer envelope crack first you would see a very bright blue light but would not see the UV A + B, and would know nothing until you see the skin cancer or eye damage doctor when the inner part a quartz tube cracked there would be a significant release of Mercury and thats a beastly poison, for this reason alone even if it happened only once BC 3 should have never been reused

      for completeness there was also a BC3 fireglow non standard lamp an orange tinted ordinary light bulb who’s power was the maximum that could be used under the plastic “coals” in flame effect electric heaters 1960s to 1990s ? but that would not be dangerous

      and yes EATON are greedy grasping ….

      They bought up MEM an old established electrical manufacturer from Birmingham UK and they always had good relations with architects and specifiers so only had to distribute leaflets saying this is the solution to part I

      and I would question if the lamps are made in UK most probable they buy in regular CFLs in a part finished state and just fit the cap, perfectly justifiable to badge this as made in UK as the greater part 95% of the value is added at assembly.

      Eaton / MEM website has some PDFs you can reach from


      or just go to the main ETON.com website or the 2008 report


      and see all the other things EATON is involved in, then boycott or blacklist the wretched lot of them

      please take the time because they have taken the time to rob each of us every time we have to buy one of these damnable things

    39. ancientone

      My MEM has lasted at most 250 hours. Aside from trying to source one of these wreteched things, I’m feeling decidedly ripped off.

    40. molefish

      Anyone know how to petition to Office of the Deputy Prime Minister? This has really p***ed me off. My sister-in-law just moved into a flat, she low income and in a bad situation, can’t find the bulbs, can’t afford to pay £10 a piece. This is rediculous. I don’t know anyone that still buys filament bulbs anyway, nearly every house I go into has CFLs.

    41. Like one of your other correspondents, I have found that these BC3 bulbs have nothing like the lifespan quoted – I have got through 6 in 2 years with just 2 sockets in a flat hallway – now only bother with a bulb in one – at least saving energy that way. My guess is that they fail at anything between 500-1000 hours.

      Not sure of the facts, but Ethical Products also appears to have gone out of business, meaning typical prices on the web are reaching £15 a bulb.

      Am changing my sockets to 2-pin.

    42. Richard Kernick

      I replaced my MEM light housing with standard ones. £2.00 per fitting therfore £5 cheaper than the bulb. I am now able to use standard BC fitting energy saving bulbs 🙂

    43. Peter G. Shaw

      Can’t comment on the 3-prong CFL’s as I don’t have any, but I have had a few different makes of 2 prong CFL’s. Of these, Memolux have proven to have the shortest life of all: out of 8 4U’s bought for a particular fitting which uses 3 at a time (so 5 spares), I am now down to 2 spares. On the otherhand, I have not yet had to change any of the Philips or Osram CFL’s, one of which has been in place for something like 14 years. (OK not continuously used, but even so..)

      Now I don’t know for sure, but is it possible that Memolux are made by MEM? Reading the above does make me wonder.

      There is another point re CFL’s.My understanding is that they contain Mercury whilst incandescent do not. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable could comment.


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    45. Tom (iow)

      I am a vulnerable person in quite recently built social housing. I have just discovered this whole issue after the BC3 bulb failed in my lounge, and I found that the stock of 8 spare energy saving bulbs I have in my cupboard cannot be used.

      Rather than sit in the dark, I attempted the fix of bending the contact back, but unfortunately I performed it ineptly and was hit by flying glass when the new bulb fell out – though not causing any injury. I of course do not blame this website for this as it was my own fault.

      Now I am in the ridiculous situation of having to swap an existing bulb around my flat as I move between rooms, until I can get a BC3 bulb, while 7 bulbs sit in my cupboard unused.

      As more of these bulbs reach the ends of their lives (only about 1 year in this case), more people will be in this situation. I worry that people more vulnerable than me will be injured, or even possibly electrocuted, choosing to attempt this bodge rather than sit in the dark.

    46. Tom (iow)

      Well I just changed (carefully) all my light fitting to standard bayonets: cost £4.90. No foul ups this time. Screw you Mem.

    47. Tom (iow)

      After changing my fittings, I freecycled my 3 remaining BC3s to a good home. Can I ask that others who change their fittings do the same, or sell them for a nomional price, to keep Mem/Eaton’s sales lower?

    48. Patricia Briers

      The only frustrating problem I have is trying to find the shades to fit these bulbs

    49. Jvalamalini

      Discovering BC3s – and special CFL GU10 fittings for halogen-style ceiling spotlights – In my new-build house is especially annoying as I’d like to replace them with even more energy efficient LEDs.

    50. The lack of supply seems like the biggest issue. No one wants to wait in the dark for 3 days while their bulb is packed and then shipped. Also agree with you about incandescent heating a home; wasn’t there someone in the EU some months back attempting to keep making and selling them as “portable heaters,” rather than light bulbs?

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