LED retrofit kits for existing fluorescent fixtures improve efficiency

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You don't have to choose between just buying new lamps or replacing your fixtures entirely: new LED retrofit incentives makes it easier to reduce your energy use.

Lean on experts to determine the best commercial LED lighting options and ensure safety

Fluorescent tube lamps are the workhorse of industrial and commercial lighting — they can be found in virtually every company workplace. Their efficiency has also improved, from the old T-12 lamps and magnetic ballasts to the newer, more efficient T-5 lamps with electronic ballasts.

(The ballast is the portion of the fixture that adapts the electrical current to the tube. The older magnetic versions tended to flicker and hum as they aged; newer electronic ballasts use less energy and have fewer performance issues.)

Now there's an even more efficient option for those ubiquitous tube-format overhead lighting fixtures: LEDs. And they're now eligible for Power Smart incentives, giving several options for ways to improve efficiency and save money for the long term.

Good, better, best: options for implementing ceiling LEDs

"In replacing fluorescent technologies with LEDs, you could think of your options on a range from good, to better, to best," says Power Smart lighting engineer Cristian Suvagau.

The simplest option ("good") is to directly replace an existing lamp with an LED replacement lamp. This helps you save energy, but you don't necessarily gain all the benefits LEDs can offer or consider whether your lighting design could be improved to maximize efficiency. (In some cases, lamp-to-lamp tubular LED replacements may be covered by custom incentives; talk to your Key Account Manager.)

The "best" option is to go with all-new luminaires (lighting fixtures) designed for LEDs, and fully replace your existing ceiling fixtures. These LED "troffers" are now eligible for incentives through Power Smart Express. This option offers the best payoff over the long term due to its excellent efficiency. However, the up-front cost of replacing the entire luminaire may be too high in some situations.

The mid-range option is an LED retrofit kit — now also eligible for Power Smart Express incentives. These adapt an existing fluorescent ceiling fixture to use an LED array. They improve efficiency, harness some or all of the benefits of LEDs, and cost less than a full changeover.

"An LED retrofit kit for an existing fluorescent luminaire will help you reduce energy use in the range of about 30 per cent, where a brand-new LED luminaire would likely take you 15-20 per cent further," says Suvagau.

Right-size your lighting design to maximize your efficiency options

Suvagau says that for decades, we have been accustomed to certain models of overhead lighting. (In fact, standard offices were traditionally overlit, using more energy than required to light the work being done.) Shifting to LEDs allows a re-think: the placement of lighting, its intensity, the addition of controls such as occupancy sensors, and whether options such as dimming (bi-level lighting) could further improve efficiency.

"It's wise to look into upgrading controls — such as daylight sensors — when you switch to LEDs," says Suvagau. "That's because dimming is such a great strategy for energy saving, it may make the difference in what level of LED lighting you can afford."

Suvagau recommends working with a lighting designer to consider the various choices of technology and lighting design, and then bringing in samples to see what works best. "The best thing would be to test a couple of options to see what you learn," he says. "If you have tens and hundreds of fixtures, just do a small area, so you can see the difference between the different products."

Retrofit kits come in various configurations and require removal of much of the existing fixture's internal wiring and components. In some cases, a decision on a specific technology may limit options down the road and leave you with only one supplier whose technology can work in your fixtures. These are all considerations to research and test, says Suvagau.

Don't void your insurance: retrofitted lighting must be recertified

An important consideration with LED retrofit kits is having the renewed fixtures recertified to ensure they meet safety requirements. While new LED luminaires will come with a warranty, rebuilding luminaires that were originally manufactured to hold fluorescents will void their warranty. Suvagau says recertification adds a (minimal) cost that should be considered. Not re-certifying is not a wise option.

"If something happens and it's an electrical shock and somebody gets seriously injured or the installation causes a fire, and if it's identified as coming from this retrofitted lighting that has not been certified, then whatever insurance you may have, it's voided. That's big bucks," says Suvagau.

Another caution is to make sure that if tubular LED lamps are installed, all maintenance staff understand they must not try to re-install a fluorescent tube down the road, as the fixture could now be over-voltage for those lamps. "The word 'explosion' is a bit too strong," says Suvagau, "but you could have an incident."

Despite a variety of options and some ongoing shift and innovation in the market, LED ceiling lighting has arrived as a cost-effective option for cutting energy and maintenance costs and ensuring steady, even light. The main advice is to understand the benefits of LEDs — such as dimmability — that were not always available with other technologies, and to consider in your lighting design how controls and luminaires work together to cut your energy usage.

Finally, says Suvagau, there's no replacement for a bit of on-the-ground research: "You have to look, explore, and basically test before you make a big purchase."