If you're considering replacing your T8 or T12 fluorescent tubes with a new LED version, selecting the most appropriate can get confusing with all the different product types and options available. We have put together a simple guide that will help you make the right choice for your specific needs.
Since more consumers have started to see the benefit LED technology provides, the lighting industry is constantly evolving to ensure the proper safety and light output requirements are met.
Commercial building and facility mangers are constantly looking for ways to replace problematic fluorescent tubes with a more sustainable solution. When T12 ballast technology was phased out, many consumers were in search of a solution that would allow them to re-use their existing fixtures without the costly conversion costs. This led to manufacturers developing LED fluorescent replacement tubes, which gave endusers the ability to replace their linear fluorescent (commonly referred to as T8/T10/T12) with newer LED technology.
The first LED replacement products started to gain traction back in 2007. However, in the beginning the early generation LED fluorescent replacement tubes had their issues. The two main being not enough adequate light output and no safety certifications. Due to the lack of quality in the early replacement solutions, buyers were given a bad impression and were turned off by the LED fluorescent replacement technology.
Fortunately the kinks were worked out, and today LED fluorescent replacement tubes can be considered a true one-for-one replacement. The best part is that price levels have continually dropped over the years, which has translated over to payback periods of under 12 months. This has led to more commercial and residential customers alike to become proactive in upgrading to LED technology. Unfortunately, many are still discouraged and quite frankly confused with the number of options both in products and installation methods available.
How to choose the right LED fluorescent tube replacement?
Before you begin looking for which product would fit your application best, its important to consider which installation method you would like to use. This will strongly depend on what type of existing fixture technology you currently have, which would be either T8 or T12.
Figuring out which one you have installed is fairly easy. We recommend removing the bulb from the fixture and reading the markings on each end. This will tell your if your current fluorescent tube is T8 or T12.
However, if there are no markings on the tube, another easy way to determine what type you have installed is by measuring its diameter.
T12 tubes are 1 1/2-inch in diameter and T8 tubes are 1-inch. Now if you have a tube that is smaller in diameter (5/8-inch) you have a T5, and if thats the case the remainder of this article will not be useful.
After you've determined what type of tubes you have installed, the next key factor is to understand what type of ballast your fixture is using. Typically, T8 uses electronic ballasts, whereas T12 uses magnetic ballasts. We recommend opening the fixture and examing the ballast that is installed, this will give you the concrete answer on what type of ballast you have. If the fixture is older, more than likely its using a magnetic ballast.
Now that we have covered all the ballast and tube type considerations, let's direct our focus to the various replacement options.LED fluorescent replacement tubes can get confusing due to the myriad of product types and options. We at StarsandStripesLighting.com have created this detailed guide to assist in the process and help you make the right choice for your specific projects.
The consumer demand for quality LED replacement products has fueled recent changes in the lighting industry, starting with the introduction of proper safety and light output standards. Much of this research and development is due to building and facility managers looking for a way to properly replace problematic fluorescent tubes with a long-life solution. An additional impetus for development was also the phase out of T12 ballast technology, which led many to look for a solution that would allow for the re-use of existing fixtures without costly conversions to different technologies.LED fluorescent replacement tubes allow for replacing linear fluorescent tubes, (commonly referred to as T8/T10/T12), with LED technology. The first products came to market around 2007; however, early generation LED fluorescent replacement tubes not only lacked adequate light output, safety certifications were often non-existent. The lack of quality found in these early replacement solutions unfortunately gave initial buyers a bad impression of LED fluorescent replacement technology.
Now today, LED fluorescent replacement tubes are truly able to offer a one-for-one replacement, and have recently reached price levels that offer payback periods well under 12 months. As a result, commercial and residential customers alike have become very interested in the technology, but many are often discouraged by the sheer number of options both in products and installation methods.
How Do I Choose the Right LED Fluorescent Tube Replacement Option For Me?
The first and most important step in choosing which product is right for you is to decide on the installation method you would like to use. The installation method will largely vary on what type of existing fixture technology you have, either T8 or T12.
To figure out what you currently have installed, it is best to remove a bulb from the fixture and read the markings on the end. This will reveal a lot about your current fluorescent tube and usually indicate if the bulb is T8 or T12.
What are common type of LED replacement tubes on the market?
Direct Wire or Ballast Bypass LED Fluorescent Replacement Tubes
The most popular and least expensive option that is commonly installed is the direct wire or ballast bypass LED fluorescent replacement tube. This option does not require expensive circuitry inside to function with a ballast, instead this options allows users to bypass the ballast entirely, allowing the tube to run directly off of line voltage.
However, due to the potential safety hazards that can occur by interacting with line voltage (which can get as high as 277V in commercial applications), several safety organizations such as UL have implemented standards to ensure that these tubes can be installed safely. That being said, this type of replacement tubes are installed with the line voltage input on one side.
However, with these standards set in place, it presents a new requirement on what type of sockets these replacement tubes need, which are T12 or "Non-Shunted Rapid Start" type. The good news though, if you have a T12 fixture currently installed, you have all the necessary hardwire that is required. On the other hand, if you have T8 fixtures, the input side sockets need to be changed to T12 sockets of the "Non-Shunted Rapid Start" type, since T8 sockets contain a circular conductor that will not allow them to properly separate the line and neutral sides of the circuit.
You can view an example of the wiring for this type of installation here.
This video from Keystone Technologies, will explain how rewire your fixture to accept LED ballast bypass tube lights.
In the video, you can see the wiring is quite simple and can sometimes be performed in minutes per fixture. However, most commercial properties require a licensed electrician to perform this task.
Even though ballast bypass tubes have the most complex of installation requirements, they have do have their advantages. The cost per tube is lower when compared to other options, which is an important consideration that needs to be taken into account if you're working on a very large project. Also, if you have T12 fixtures, these replacement tubes are very compelling since the necessary socket hardware is already in place.
T8 Electronic Ballast Compatible LED Fluorescent Replacement Tubes
Another option that is frequently used is the electronic ballast compatible LED fluorescent replacement tubes. As their name implies, they are designed to work with electronic ballast installation and therefor will not function with magnetic ballasts, nor will they function without ballasts. This type of LED replacement tubes is growing rapidly as data suggests they account for over 1.2 billion tube lights.
When it comes to installation it doesn't get any easier, simply pull out the old tube and swap the LED tube in its place. With a variety of different electronic ballasts on the market, many manufacturers have compiled a lists of compatible ballasts their tubes will work with.
However, the downside to this option is the up-front cost per tube, combined with the continued worry if the ballast fails the LED tube will not illuminate. So, its important to consider the potential pitfalls against the ease of installation and lack of downtime.
Hybrid (T8 Electronic Ballast Compatible / T8 or T12 Ballast Bypass LED) Fluorescent Replacement Tubes
As time evolved, many manufacturers began to recognize the there was an opportunity to develop LED tube lights that would work with electronic ballasts (T8), or have the ability to bypass the ballast when it failed. This created a brand new category of LED replacement tubes known as the hybrid tube light. Whats great about hybrid tubes is that they work with T8 electronic ballasts and can be wired directly like a ballast bypass tube light should the ballast become non-operational. This type also comes in handy if your facility has both T8 and T12 tubes that require both wiring types, which allows for the same tube light to be used with a quicker implementation time. Hybrid tubes also allow for the tube light to quickly bypass the ballast fails due to their dual operating design. The only downside to hybrid tubes is they have a higher cost and in some cases are less efficient when compared to ballast bypass options.
Universal (T8 Electronic or T12 Magnetic) Ballast Compatible LED Fluorescent Replacement Tubes
This type of replacement tubes is the newest and most costly, with the upside being the easiest to install. These LED tubes work with any type of existing technology, whether it be T8 (electronic ballast) or T12 (magnetic ballast). These are easy to install, simply remove the old fluorescent tube and install the LED tube. These are ideal for a homeowner or smaller facilities where the ultimate goal is total power reduction and no downtime for installation.
The downside of this option is the up-front per tube costs, which is among the highest of all types. Also, since the ballast will remain in place, maintenance will still be an issue. This is especially important in T12 magnetic applications where new ballasts can no longer be procured.
We know LED fluorescent replacement tubes
We hope this article has given you the information you need to choose an appropriate LED fluorescent tube replacement solution. Stars and Stripes Lighting continuously adding options from leading and reliable manufacturers. If you still need help on your LED fluorescent tube replacement project, feel free to reach out to one of our lighting specialists today.