Posted by Doug Root on 21st Nov 2020

Are T8 LED Conversions Worth It?

The likelihood of the situation is that you’re here because your warehouse, commercial property, public space, high bay, or shop uses fluorescent fixtures or fluorescent lighting to keep things lit and running. Whether you’re outfitted with T12 fluorescent or T8 bulbs, you’ve probably heard some of the buzz associated with LED replacements. You may have heard about how easy it can be to replace them, how tough they are, how cheap they are, or how much money they can save you.

Well, in order to really determine if T8 LED conversions are worth it, we need to take a step back and look at how they operate. We also need to take a look at the comparative strengths and weaknesses of both of these types of lights.

Fluorescent Pros and Cons

You can learn more about the comparative advantages and disadvantages of fluorescent lights in our recent blog giving an introduction to fluorescent lighting, but here are some of the key takeaways for people looking to make replacements.

Pros

●Relative energy efficiency - Fluorescent lights are well known for their energy efficiency, specifically over types of lights like incandescent lamps. That being said, they’re rarely competing for the same real estate. Fluorescent lights tend to be slightly more efficient than HID bulbs, too.

●Relatively long life - Fluorescent lights are, and for a long time have been known as, one of the superior solutions in long-lasting indoor lighting, especially for large indoor spaces. Some fluorescent lights last longer than 10,000 hours, where others are even rated up to almost 20,000 hours. A couple of models are rated even longer. This is not only convenient but it saves money, because replacing high bay lighting is expensive and time-consuming, among other things.

●Good color temperature - Well known for their production of soft, cool white light, fluorescent lights are popular in shops, warehouses, malls, public buildings, and other large, indoor open areas.

Cons

●Bad for the environment - Fluorescent lights contain phosphates (that enable them to fluoresce) as well as mercury vapor within their tubes. Both of these compounds, specifically the mercury vapor, are not good for the environment, causing fluorescent lights to require special (and expensive) disposal.

●They can break easily (many LEDs won’t) - Since fluorescent lights are made of glass, they are a lot more fragile than many LEDs, which are made from shatterproof plastic. See below for an example.

●They don’t last as long - Fluorescent lights are very long-lived, and actually are some of the most long-lived lights. There’s one catch. The type of lights that are routinely specified to have a longer lifespan is, you guessed it, LEDs. Not only that, but most comparably LEDs don’t just outlast them. They outlast them by a considerable margin.

●They’re not as reliable (especially when temperatures fluctuate) - Anyone who has ever used fluorescent lights knows that they have the potential to be somewhat unreliable. This is more so a concern in the cold, which can cause fluorescent lights not to light up as quickly, which is a separate issue.

●They don’t start up as fast - Not only do some fluorescent lights take a few moments to reach their full brightness, but turning them on and off actually significantly impacts their lifespan. This is one of the reasons that it’s so common to keep fluorescent lights lit all or most of the time.

●High expense - Let’s face it, fluorescent lights are not really a cost-effective solution to lighting, even when you don’t take energy expenditure into account. Some fluorescent tube light bulbs are just outright expensive. Multiply that by a factor of however many bulbs you need to outfit your building and you’ll know what you’re up against.

LED Pros and Cons

As with the section above, you can learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of LED bulbs in our article on the advantages of LEDs, but here are some of the highlights.

Pros

●Excellent color temperature and range - Some people might be reticent to replace their aging fluorescent bulbs with LEDs simply because they like the light output of their fluorescents. Here’s the good news - some modern LED replacements for fluorescents produce a soft, cool white light that you would never even know was coming from a bonafide fluorescent light.

●Operable in a huge range of conditions - LEDs do not suffer from the same temperature-based inhibitions of many other forms of lighting, fluorescents included. This is partially due to the fact that they contain no gases that need to be heated to a certain temperature before luminescing. You can drop the temperatures way down low, even below zero, and most LEDs will just keep going. They work well in the heat, too.

●They start up immediately - Another thing is that LEDs will start up immediately, regardless of the conditions. It can be extremely hot, extremely cold, or otherwise, but they will start right up almost right away. Compare that to HID and fluorescent lights which can be very moody about temperature shifts and startup time. It just makes them more reliable, which is more desirable, especially if they will be used outdoors.

●Many of them are shatterproof - Not that you should make a huge replacement to your current fluorescent lights, or even your LED fixtures, just based on this, but a lot of LED lights are shatterproof. Granted, you’ll never reach the lights above you anyway, but it’s still a nice selling point. LEDs are just tougher than fluorescents.

●They have excellent energy efficiency - Here’s the biggest selling point of them all. LED lights are the most energy-efficient lighting solution out there. They are not only more efficient than all other forms of commercially available lighting. They are far more efficient than all other forms, and that racks up over time. You could save a lot of money on energy by replacing your fluorescent bulbs with LEDs.

●They keep cooling costs down - You also may be able to trim down your cooling expenses as well. Fluorescent lights don’t generally produce a lot of heat, at least not as much as HID lamps, but they do burn hotter than LEDs. If you're lighting a big indoor space, that can cost you extra money in the summer. LEDs do produce heat, by the way; just not a lot.

●They last a long time - Recall above where we pointed out that fluorescent lights are long-lived? They last about 10,000 hours, some of them up to 20,000. Many LEDs last far longer, which means fewer replacements for you. The T8 LED conversion listed below in this article is rated to 50,000 hours, for example.

●They have no harmful components - Another thing is that you won’t rack up big expenses when you do have to retire LED lights. They have no environmentally harmful components. In fact, almost all of an LED is recyclable, which is a lot more than other forms of lighting can say.

●Basically no UV emissions - While it’s not a huge deal, it can be valuable in some situations and specialty lighting applications. LED lights produce very little ultraviolet radiation, almost none at all.

Cons

●Potential upfront cost, but that’s it - LED lights used to be considered expensive because the semiconductor materials that were used to make them were not cheap. However, the cost of these materials dropped significantly about 20 years ago, and ever since then, LEDs have been becoming more and more affordable.

As you can see, the potential benefits of LED lights far outweigh what fluorescent lights can offer. If you make a comparison between the benefits and drawbacks of each, you will also note that LEDs are overwhelmingly weighted toward the positive. That is to say, T8 fluorescent lights in specific and fluorescent lights, in general, have a fair mix of strengths and weaknesses. LEDs don’t. They may once have been expensive, but today, their costs have decreased dramatically.

It’s equally important to note that LEDs and fluorescent lights share some of the same strengths, which are, chiefly, a long lifespan, and high energy efficiency. Unfortunately for fluorescent lights, LEDs are much better in both of these camps. Yes, both types of lights are energy-efficient and last a long time, but LEDs are much, much more efficient and last way longer. That skews the bias more in favor of LEDs even further.

Making the Replacement: What It Can Mean for You

If you decide to go forward with a T8 LED conversion, you can realize some of the above benefits listed. You and your organization can save energy costs, enjoy the superior luminosity and color temperature, and the fact that they will switch right on. You may even be able to keep cooling costs in the summer.

Best of all, there are some T8 LED conversions that require little more from you than a ballast bypass. This makes them effectively plug and play replacements for your old T8 fluorescent tubes. On our LED product pages for T8 LED tubes, you can see just what models they are intended to replace, and what you need to do to make the replacement.

While you always need to follow the exact specifications of the manufacturer’s instructions, you can make replacements with some of these LED retrofits just by plugging them into the old socket after bypassing the ballast. Here’s what that means.

What is a Ballast Bypass?

Certain types of lights, like LED and fluorescent lights, require additional components in order to regulate the current and voltage to them. This enables the lights to work while preventing damage to the light or premature burnout, among other things. With LED lights, this component is called a driver. Fluorescent lights require a separate component that performs a similar function, called a ballast.

LED lights, however, do not need a ballast, which means that when you use a T8 LED conversion to replace your old T8 lights, you may need to perform a ballast bypass.

Before performing a ballast bypass, ensure that power is entirely shut off - preferably, disconnect the fixture from a power source. Generally, with a ballast bypass, you will need to disconnect the ballast from the socket and wire the power source to the socket; that is, you will be bypassing the ballast.

This is, of course, a very general overview and details have specifically been omitted because the bypass procedure may vary according to the fixture. For more information, consult the manufacturer’s instructions or call our team up for help.

Investigating the Features of a Specific T8 LED Conversion

To illustrate how easy, generally, using a T8 conversion can be to make a replacement, consider the following TopStar T8 LED Conversion.

While this model does require a ballast bypass along with rewiring of the existing fixture, it has a lot of features that make it very valuable, practical, and generally easy to install. Among them are the following:

-This lamp is shatterproof, which makes it much more durable than the fluorescent lights it is designed to replace.

-It is rated to last 50,000 hours and is operable down to temperatures of -20 Fahrenheit.

-It has a built-in driver, so once you bypass the ballast you won’t need to worry about including another element.

-It throws a 325-degree beam for superior directional lighting and light output.

Check the product page above for more information on the specific fluorescent lamps that this LED replacement is designed to supplant, and always be sure to consult manufacturer information before proceeding with any replacements or repairs.

Call Us for More Details!

Replacing T8 and T12 fluorescent bulbs with LED tube lights requires some work and knowledge, but it can be done more easily than you might think. Plus, at the end of it, you could be looking at upgrades that will save your organization a lot of money down the line.

Still, we recognize that there is a lot to know, and we’re more than just a provider to our customers. For 40 years, we’ve been a resource they could trust when they had all different types of lighting-related questions.

If you’re looking at a replacement - just for one light or a full-scale retrofitting operation - give our customer service team a call. Whatever you need to know more about, we’re the people to ask, so call us up at 1-888-988-2852.

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