For years, lighting indoor commercial spaces 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).
Tell us about your fluorescent lighting application and we will suggest an LED alternative!
Does the T8 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.
Shatterproof (potentially) – Most T8 LED tubes are made with a shatterproof coating. With linear fluorescent, you either had to specially order shatterproof fluorescent lamps or use a tube guard which was costly.
The only major downside with T8 LEDs is the upfront cost, but 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 primary types of LED T8s on the market suitable for retrofits and one type that is a combination of two types. 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.
Super-easy installation – Just switch out the old fluorescent tubes for LEDs, and you’re done. No other modifications are required, but you must make sure your ballast is compatible with the LED T8 tubes you are trying to install.
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 by using different ballasts.
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. To confuse matters more there are single-end wired Type B tubes and double-end wired Type B tubes. With single-end wired Type B tubes, 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 with single-ended tubes. There are pre-wired socket kits available that make this work a lot easier. With double-end wired Type B tubes, there is most often no need to change the sockets as shunted sockets are okay to use, which makes install easier. The issue with double-end wired Type B led tubes is safety. By having both ends wired directly to the line voltage, you risk electrical shock/hazard. Because of that most Type B LED tubes are single-end wired.
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 8′) and assortment of wattage/lumen packages, specifically for the 4′ options.
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 – Most manufacturers do not offer a dimmable option but there are some Type B dimmable LED tubes that run on 120V dimmers.
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 an external (remote) driver to power the LED. The ballasts are removed, which means electrical modifications are still required. However, the operation is 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).
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.
Most Expensive Option – Similar to Type B tubes, these lights require more extensive installation and also cost more because you are buying more parts. However, you can recoup some of this cost through the tubes’ efficiency and by using energy-saving control systems.
Chart Comparing the 3 Primary Options
If you are not sure which option is best for you and want some flexibility, you might consider going with a Type D LED Tube (combo of Type A and Type B).
Type D: LED tube can work off an existing compatible ballast and also off direct line voltage (combo of Type A and Type B)
How it Works
With Type D LED tubes you can install them with your current compatible ballast in place (Type A), and when/if the ballast burns out you can bypass that and wire the fixture to direct line voltage (Type B).
Operating Options – You can pay less upfront on install costs and still know that you can always bypass the ballast when/if that becomes an issue.
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 – Because Type D LED tubes have both Type A and Type B operating features, the cost per bulb is generally higher than Type A and Type B tubes.
Potential maintenance headaches – If you opt for a Type D LED tube it is likely in the future that you will have some fixtures wired for Type B and some for Type A, which makes it difficult to keep track of what might be causing future failures (ballast or tube).
Overall the Type D LED tube is a nice option to have, but we feel it makes the most sense to pick one of the 3 primary types of LED tubes.
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 or less warranty. Big Box retailers sell tubes with a 90 day warranty (in fine print). 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 with the existing is Type A. For our analysis of the best emergency options for these fixtures, check out our article on LED Replacements for Fluorescent Emergency 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. You can also tell us about your Fluorescent T8 application by filling out our questionnaire and providing information about what you have and what you are looking to do. We will provide a detailed plan to retrofit your linear fluorescents to LED.