Should You Replace Your T8 Fluorescent Lamps with T8 LED Tubes? (updated)

For years, lighting indoor commercial space was a no-brainer. Most folks simply went with linear fluorescent lights (LFLs) — and for good reason. They have quality light output, are one of the most efficient light sources available, and have decent lifespans. This is especially true of the T8 lamps, which use about 40% less energy than the older, now phased-out T12 lamps. That being said, now there is a new player in the commercial lighting arena that promises even better efficiency: the linear LED replacement (T8 LED).

 

Does the T* LED really have what it takes to make it worth swapping out your tried-and-true LFLs? To help you decide, take a look at some of the benefits of T8 LEDs:

 

Mercury Free – Unlike fluorescents, LEDs contain no mercury. This makes them safe for the environment.

 

Dimmable – Many LEDs have full dimming capabilities, whereas fluorescents are expensive to dim and do so poorly.

 

Directional Lighting – LEDs offer directional light (illumination exactly where you need it). On the other hand, fluorescents have multi-directional light, which means some light is lost in the fixture and other unnecessary places.

 

Works Well with Controls – Fluorescent lights tend to burn out faster when integrated with occupancy sensors and other controls. In contrast, LEDs work perfectly with control systems, since their life is not affected by turning them on/off.

 

Better Efficiency – The newest T8 LEDs are around 30% more efficient than T8 LFLs.

 

Quality Light ­- Today’s LEDs produce light in a variety of color temperatures similar to fluorescent, but don’t have any flickering issues that can happen with fluorescent.

 

Lifespan – The average life of a T8 LED is 50,000 hours, versus only 30,000 hours for an average T8 LFL. One thing to keep in mind though is that there are now linear fluorescent T8 lamps that last up to 84,000 hours.

 

Shatterproof (potentially)  – LED T8 tubes were traditionally made using plastic and aluminum meaning they are shatterproof. There are now glass options as well, which mimic the look of T8 fluorescent lamps, but they are not shatterproof. If you have an application where you need shatterproof lamps, the plastic LED T8 tube makes more sense than fluorescent.

 

Further Reading –Replace Shatterproof Fluorescent Tubes With LED T8 Tubes

While some may complain that LEDs have lower rated lumens than fluorescents, judging the two in this category is really like comparing apples and oranges. There simply is no direct comparison. This is because LEDs can get by with less lumens because their directional nature ensures you get a greater concentration of light exactly where you need it. And, as mentioned, fluorescents waste light within the fixture and illuminate unnecessary places. The bottom line is: don’t get too hung up on lumens, if you’re going to do a comparison, consider the delivered lumens of both the lamp and luminaire together.

The only major downside with T8 LEDs is their cost, which can be three to five times greater than the price of LFLs. Even so, with rebates. tax incentives, and energy savings, you might see an ROI faster than you’d expect. It’s important to crunch the numbers for your particular situation to see if the initial expense makes sense for your business. Premier Lighting can help you with a cost/benefit analysis and ensure you consider all factors when deciding between LFL and LED.

If you find that you’re leaning towards retrofitting your linear fluorescents with T8 LEDs, you have several different options…

LED Linear Tube Options

There are three proven types of LED T8s on the market suitable for retrofits and there is a new one that recently entered the market place, but hasn’t been proven yet. Primarily they are differentiated by how they interact with existing fluorescent ballasts. All fluorescent tubes need ballasts to operate, but not all LEDs do. Fluorescent lights require a high voltage burst to get started and then something to regulate the power that comes to the tube — the ballast takes care of all of this. On the other hand, LEDs use a driver which comes in a variety of sizes making several options available.

In an effort to make LED T8s fit into existing linear fluorescent fixtures (for retrofit purposes), manufacturers have come up with a couple different ways of dealing with the unnecessary ballasts. These solutions include bypassing the existing ballast, removing it, or working with it.

To determine what kind of LED T8 might work for your application, consider the pros and cons of each type available today:

Type A: LED tube has an Integrated Driver that Operates on Existing Fluorescent Ballast (aka Direct Fit, Instant Fit)

How it Works

Type A LED tubes have an internal driver that makes it possible for the lights to operate on existing fluorescent ballasts. They plug directly in place of the existing fluorescent lamp.

Pros

Super-easy installation – Just switch out the old fluorescent tubes for LEDs, and you’re done. No other modifications are required.

 

Varying Light levels/energy consumption – Fluorescent ballasts have varying ballast factors and since this type uses the existing fluorescent ballast, the wattage and lumen output will vary by ballast factor. Thus giving you the ability to increase or decrease energy consumption and light levels easily.

 

Cons

Shorter lifespans – The life of Type A LEDs is dependent on the longevity of the ballast. This can result in more maintenance costs as compared to other LEDs, since you may need to replace the ballast before you’ve reached the lifetime of the LED.

 

Not compatible with all linear fluorescent ballasts – Compatibility varies, so check that the make and model of your current fluorescent fixtures are acceptable. Traditionally the Type A LED tube only worked on instant start electronic ballasts, however as technology has advanced, many now operate on program start and dimming ballasts. Some even claim to work on T12 or T8 magnetic ballasts.

Not as efficient – Some power is lost from integration with the ballast. Also, dimming and other types of energy-saving functionalities are limited.

 

 

Type B: LED tube has an Internal Driver and is Wired to Main Voltage Bypassing the Existing Fluorescent Ballast (aka Bypass, Internal Driver)

How it Works

With Type B LED Tubes, the ballasts are removed from the fixture or bypassed, and the sockets are wired directly to the line voltage. Typically only one socket end has the line voltage and the other end is there to hold the lamp in place. Many fluorescent fixtures have shunted sockets so often times you will need to replace the line voltage socket to a non-shunted socket.

Pros

No power loss – Unlike Type A bulbs, these LEDs are more efficient, since no power is wasted in the ballast.

 

Less long term maintenance costs – By eliminating the ballast you have one less part to maintain in the future.

 

Options – Type B has the most options in terms of bulb length (2′ to 6′) and assortment of wattage/lumen packages, specifically for the 4′ options.

Cons

 

Electrical modifications are required – Modifications include, removing the ballasts, replacing the sockets (possibly), and connecting fixture input wires to the sockets. Strict safety measures are necessary as installers could be exposed to main voltage while connecting sockets to power wires.

Limited dimming – Even without the ballast, these lights have few dimming options.

Higher installation costs – The rewiring, removal, and added safety steps result in longer installation times (i.e. more expensive).

 

Type C: LED tube has an External Driver (aka Remote Driver)

How it Works

Unlike Type B tubes that have an internal driver, Type C lights use a remote driver to power the LED. The ballasts are removed, which means electrical modifications are still required. However, the operation is much safer, since the low-voltage driver is hooked to the sockets and not the line voltage. One driver can power multiple LED tubes. This system is similar to how LFLs operate now (ballast and lamps).

Pros

Most efficient – Type C’s are more efficient than any other T8 LED tube.

 

Highly compatible – Virtually any fluorescent fixture can be modified to work with these lights.

 

Increased functionality – They are dimmable and work wonderfully with lighting control systems.

 

Cons

Most Expensive Option - Similar to Type B tubes, these lights require more extensive installation but cost more. However, you can recoup some of this cost through the tubes’ efficiency and by using energy-saving control systems.

 

There is a new option that has just come out that is a combination of Type A and Type B, meaning it works off the existing fluorescent ballast and/or directly off the line voltage. The selling point is that you can easily install it in your existing fixture and then when the ballast burns out you can remove that and wire the lamp direct to the line voltage. The concept makes sense initially, but there are some concerns:

The manufacturers currently offering this type of lamp are not reputable – Many of them are new to the market place and have little or no lighting background. If you are going to convert to LEDs, you want to make sure the manufacturer is proven and will be around long term.

Difficulty complying with UL – All LED Type B tubes should come with a label that you need to put on the fixture explaining that the fixture has been modified and the tube is working off direct line voltage. If you go with the Type A/Type B option and use the ballast until it fails then go directly to line voltage, you won’t have the fixture labeled correctly unless the person doing the work remembers to get a label and place it in the fixture

Higher cost than other options and more potential maintenance headaches – If you are going to go with LED, the goal should be to save energy and have less maintenance costs. It makes more sense to pick the type you want up front and know all the fixtures are the same.

Overall it might make sense at some point, but we wouldn’t recommend this option until it’s proven.

Other Considerations

No matter what type of LED T8 tube you choose, there are some other important things to keep in mind before making a purchase:

Warranty – Some LED T8 tubes only come with a three-year warranty. Don’t waste your time and money on those. Instead, opt for a tube with a five-year, DLC-approved warranty.

Voltage – Pay attention to the voltage listed on the light’s packaging. Some LED tubes are specified for 120 or 277 volts or can only handle a max of 240 volts. Cover your bases by getting a LED T8 system rated for 120-277 volts.

Emergency Fluorescent Lighting Systems – If you have emergency lighting built in to your fluorescent fixtures, the only LED tube option that might work is Type A. For further reading, here is our analysis of LED Replacements for Fluorescent Lighting.

Existing Fixture Condition or Location – If your current light fixtures are in bad shape or in the wrong location, it might make sense to go with an LED Retrofit Kit or LED fixture instead of LED tubes.

Ultimately, the efficiency, long life, and functionalities of T8 LEDs make them worthy of potentially replacing standard T8 fluorescent tubes. Of course, every situation is different, so analyze your setup with an expert before making a purchase. Premier Lighting has the expertise to provide you with the best recommendation for your application. We offer a variety of T8 LED lamps as well as T8 linear fluorescent lamps to choose from and will help you decide which type works best for you.

So contact us today or go ahead and check out the various LED options mentioned above on our LED lighting website.