Published on October 14th, 2015 | by Glenn Meyers
Maintenance Tips: T8 Plug-And-Play LED Linear Bulb Options
If you are considering replacing old fluorescent bulbs with T8 LED linear bulbs, you have no doubt discovered a mind-wobbling and dizzying amount of information on what options provide the best light, require the least maintenance, and cost the least to operate.
A number of manufacturers have introduced these products that require no rewiring in order to bypass the standard magnetic or electronic ballast. For those who are unsure about the purpose of a ballast in a fluorescent lighting system, the ballast regulates the current to the lamps and provides sufficient voltage to start the lamps. Without a ballast to limit its current, a fluorescent lamp connected directly to a high voltage power source would rapidly and uncontrollably increase its current draw.
As The Family Handyman puts it, “When your fluorescent light flickers or makes a loud and annoying hum, a degrading ballast is the cause. The ballast takes in electricity and then regulates current to the bulbs. A typical ballast will generally last about 20 years, but cold environments and bad bulbs can decrease this lifespan significantly. You can get a new ballast at a hardware store or home center and install it in about 10 minutes. However, buying a ballast can be expensive, so consider pricing a brand-new fixture for comparison.”
For those wanting to avoid ballasts altogether by removing the ballast and providing a direct connection to the electrical line, this can be accomplished, however, aside from the increased expense, hiring an electrician is probably required for creating a dependable lighting fixture.
According to Laura Peters at LEDs Magazine, even though the switch-over is simple the cost i noticeably more expensive. As a result, LED linear lamps in this one application, they have struggled to compete with fluorescents across the board due to fluorescent tubes’ relatively high efficacy (90 lm/W), long life (30,000 hr), and low cost.”
Consider this: standard fluorescent tubes cost around $3 each. An LED T8 runs $9.97 at The Home Depot.
Fluorescents Or LEDs
The traditional fluorescent light is anathema to some. A number of people either hate how the lighting looks or complain about getting headaches (myself included). Here is how Peters describes the prevalence of fluorescent lights and how LED linear lamp replacements can be seen:
“Fluorescent T8 luminaires are mainstays in schools, hospitals, grocery stores, warehouses, and office spaces in the United States, but also in many other parts of the world.
“In grocers and big-box stores, linear LED replacements have been making significant inroads in refrigerated display-case lighting. This is an ideal application for linear LED lamps because lifetime of the LEDs is extended in cold environments and the lamps don’t emit heat like fluorescent tubes, providing further savings on cooling costs. Because speed of installation is critical to grocery store owners, case lighting is a key target application for plug-and-play LED linear lamps.”
According to Steel Electrical Contractor, the evolution of lighting has the lighting industry now undergoing a huge technology transition from traditional light sources, such as incandescent, HID, and fluorescent, says Jon Safran, director of Ambient Marketing (Metalux) for Cooper Lighting by Eaton. The transition dominating the marketplace now is toward LED. “As part of that, lighting manufacturers are working with different form factors, including linear LED modules, which continue to be a highly efficient and cost-effective method to deliver optimized LED solutions.”
The US Department of Energy launched its CALIPER (add this lengthy government acronym to your memory bank: Commercially Available LED Product Evaluation and Reporting) testing program in 2006. Among other items, it published information on LEDs, stating:
“With their unique design and performance characteristics—such as directional light emission, compact profile, superior optical control, energy efficiency, breakage resistance, reduced maintenance, and long life—LEDs are well suited to a variety of lighting applications. LED products are most competitive in applications where these performance characteristics outweigh their first-cost disadvantages. Although LED products are finding success in a growing number of applications, a number of factors must be considered when comparing LEDs to conventional lighting.
“In the rapidly changing LED marketplace, “do your homework” remains the watchword. While high-quality LED products are now available for many lighting applications, some manufacturers’ claims concerning their LED devices are not borne out in independent laboratory testing by the Department of Energy.”
The most important information takeaway from this research and testing program is “let the buyer beware,” or as they suggest at the front end: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
To best understand the lighting design technologies you’re facing, this comprehensive video is helpful.
Manufacturers of LED linear T8s
A growing number of companies including Alite, Cree, Espen Technology, Kumho Electric USA, Luxul Technology, Philips Lighting, and Raise Energy Solutions are currently producing Plug-and-Play LED T8s.
Cree recently introduced its LED T8 Series of lamps that deliver 2100 lm output at 21W, 90 CRI, and a 220˚ beam angle.
Regarding the motivation behind developing a plug-and-play linear LED lamp, Cree product portfolio manager Jeff Hungarter said, “Many retrofit customers were seeking a simple solution that would not disrupt their workplace and provided an ROI within three years — while improving light and color quality.”
According to Naomi J. Miller, a designer/senior staff scientist at Pacific Northwest Laboratory (PNNL) — one of 10 DOE labs, knowing the LED tube market and working with the manufacturer is well worth the time for both electrical contractors and customers. She recommends getting a copy of a photometric test, including a report on the bare lamp performance and its operation within a typical lighting fixture.
If you want to know how to make sense of this information, visit this report location.
“Customers should tell the EC how they want to install the LED T8s; four fixtures in a row,” Miller said. “They should also ask for a time estimate and cost for rewiring the fixtures. The EC can then accurately advise how difficult one configuration of lighting might be to wire versus another approach. Remember, if you are using the LED tube
Not all T8s are perfect. To this point, Cree, acting with manufacturer responsibility, recently had a voluntary recall on the Cree LED T8 Replacement Lamp sold at The Home Depot. The problem cited was potential overheating.
You will encounter a wide variety of customer reactions to these products at places such as Amazon.
Magnetic or electronic ballasts?
For instance, W.T. Hoffman writes: “When the PHILIPS LED 4-foot tube light came, I was excited and popped it right into the lamp fixture. AND–it didn’t light. I checked on the box, and discovered that this light wont work, unless your florescent fixture has an electronic ballast. So, I went out and bought an electronic ballast, and I discovered that since my florescent fixture is 40 years old, the new ballast was not going to fit.”
Sounds to me like a lot of work for what is supposed to be a “plug-and-play” replacement.
Converting from T12s to T8s
Jim writes: “As for the LED tube, it emits an even and pleasant light. When covered in a fixture, it is very hard to distingush it from actual fluorescent tubes. They run very efficiently as expected and I’m initially pleased with this purchase.
“For those upgrading from old magnetic t12 tubes, you will need to buy an electronic ballast. Although replacing the ballast makes the process less drop-in than advertised, electronic ballasts are such a good upgrade that you should go for it.”
Length of life
George C. claims he saw nothing in the way of lengthened bulb life: “6 months and the buld(sic) has a dull glow- I thought this lasts years!!! ans their is no way for me to get a refund or replacement. It is too long for Amazon and I have no idea who to talk to at Phillips.”
Conduct your own research
Few reviewers seem to be arguing about the quality of light from a linear LED but positive reactions are not universal. Before ordering, be certain to research the products you want to buy. One more thing you can be certain about: this market will continue its dramatic expansion, fueled by customer interest.
Images via Philips Lighting & Cree