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LEDs or fluorescents: what's the best choice for your business?

Fluorescent tubes

There's no question that upgrading to energy efficient lighting is good for business: you'll cut energy costs month after month, and you'll enjoy better quality light as well.

But what's the best type of lighting for your business? To answer that question, consider these factors before your upgrade:

  • The space and application (such as a restaurant dining room or ceiling of a warehouse).
  • The existing lighting.
  • Whether you own or lease the space.

LED technology has seen rapid advancement in recent years, and its popularity continues to grow. However, that doesn't automatically make it the right choice for your business.

"There is no one kind of lighting that is the best choice for all situations," says senior Power Smart engineer Cristian Suvagau. "Businesses need to consider all the incumbent lighting technologies, not blindly go with LEDs. In some cases, the payback will be too long or the technology might not be quite ready for the application."

Where LEDs work best

In general, a LED lighting system is designed to direct light more specifically to the task area. They also offer the following characteristics:

  • LEDs are fully dimmable. The ability to dim them makes LEDs a popular choice in restaurants, as well as in some retail and hotel applications.
  • LEDs have warmer colour temperatures. LEDs have made big improvements in this area and now some models are aesthetically close to incandescents. Some manufacturers even put a red dye into the LEDs that comes up when the light is dimmed, emulating the redder colour of a dimmed incandescent.
  • LEDs last longer that any other comparable lighting technology. This trait benefits all users, but is of particular value for high bay ceilings and other locations where changing the lights is costly or difficult.

While the technology is still in development for some applications, there are areas where LEDs really shine. Some surefire applications for LEDs:

  • As an energy efficient replacement for incandescent or halogen pot lights (the energy savings for upgrading incandescent to LED is about 70 per cent).
  • Anywhere you want dimmable lighting.
  • As a replacement for incandescent or CFL exit signs.

In high bay applications, LED technology is just coming to the forefront. Replacing metal halide lighting with T5 or T8 fluorescents yields about 20% in energy savings.

"LEDs are an efficient option for low bays already," says Suvagau. "They are only just starting to be developed for high bay applications, but we expect that within a year they will completely change the playing field."

Watch for LED tube lighting technology

There are LEDs on the market that look like fluorescent tubes and fit into fluorescent fixtures, but this is a relatively new development and the system is still costly and can be complicated to install. However, Suvagau says LED tube lighting is a technology to watch.

"A lot of the issues with that system are being addressed right now in the U.S.," he says. "With close to two billion fluorescent lamps in use at any given time in North America, I foresee at least a few million fixtures using LEDs in this way."

Fluorescents work best for businesses with short leases

Banks, gyms, classrooms, and offices often already have fluorescent lighting. In a space that has old-fashioned T12 fluorescent lighting, or older T8 fluorescents, upgrading to newer, more efficient T8 lamps and ballasts will have a much shorter payback period than trying to change to LED lighting. And a short payback period is particularly important for businesses that lease their space.

Upgrading T12 fluorescents to standard T8s may result in energy savings of more than 30 per cent. The savings climb to roughly 50 per cent with more advanced energy-saving T8 ballasts and lamps. If longevitiy is important, replacing older T8s with newer advanced energy-saving ballasts and long life T8 lamps have the added benefit of 50,000 to 60,000 hours of use (about a ten-year lifespan, running 12 hours a day) instead of the standard 20,000 hours.

Incentives on fluorescent and LED lighting are available

Before you upgrade your lighting, check out the BC Hydro Product Incentive Program to find out about incentives offered on qualifying fluorescent lamps and LEDs.

Not sure of the best lighting options for your situation? Take advantage of LiveSmart BC's Business Energy Advisor program. Business Energy Advisors work with you — free of charge — to determine the best upgrades for your business, and to help implement them.