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Nov 22 2020

Convert Fluorescent with Ballasts to LED with Drivers

Most lighting and lamps for commercial and municipal buildings over the past 50 years have been fluorescent lighting.  New construction is entirely made of LED, which lasts longer and is more efficient.

However, converting or retrofitting old fluorescent to LED can be easy, if done correctly.  It can also often be helped financially with a utility rebate system, designed to help save energy and offset the costs for doing so.  Unfortunately, we have also seen many examples of these retrofits done incorrectly, making it more expensive to get it fixed and improved.

Fluorescent Ballast

Fluorescent lighting uses a ballast, which is a device that limits the current for the lamp to property start and illuminate.  If you hook a fluorescent light up to the normal voltage of a building, the lamps will not work.  A ballast creates the proper current needed to light the fluorescent light.

Older T12 fluorescent lamps, usually larger in diameter, typically use a magnetic ballast.  If you hold up a modern smart phone camera, you will see moving yellow lines in the camera to show the visual disturbance created by the magnetic ballast.

More modern ballasts are electronic and can operated a T8 fluorescent lamp.  These systems use less energy than a T12 magnetic lamp and ballast system, but still far more than a LED system. T8 systems are 25-30% more efficient that T12s systems.

Converting to LED

You can fairly easily convert to a LED system with little cost on materials and some labor.   An LED systems is 70-80% more efficient than a T12 ballast and lamp, and 50-60% more efficient than a T8 system.  To boot, the LED system can last 70,000 hours when done correctly, leading to long lasting maintenance savings in both materials and labor.

If you identify a T12 and magnetic ballast system, it is best to replace the lamp and ballast system together.  You can do this by converting the older ballast to an external LED driver, and the sockets can be reused to house a LED tube compatible with the LED driver.  This is called a Type C application and all wiring is typically the same and easy to do.

Another option is to rewire the system to the sockets with standard 110V electricity, and then wire in a LED tube than has an internal driver.  This is called a Type B application.  This is fairly inexpensive in terms of material, but does not typically last as long as a Type C system.  It is also something really to pay attention to in terms of safety, as the sockets have higher energy draw than a typical fluorescent system.

We also find Type B to typically last less time than a Type C system, since the external driver has less heat build up over time.

Reusing the Fluorescent Ballast for LED


It is possible with T8 electronic ballasts to work with compatible LED tubes.  This is called a Type A application, and the LED tube is designed to work off the current ballast.  These systems are incredibly easy to do, just as simple as changing a lamp. However, the system will only work as long as the current LED light ballast lasts.

If you have the patience and access to a good distributor for lamps, this process can be smooth and easy.  However, if you purchase a few hundred of these and they are not compatible or fail quickly, it can be a frustrating experience.  We always recommend putting a few lamps in as a sample to start for a few days and nights, making sure it works.  While heavy ballast failure is rare, it does happen and can take a good partner to resolve.

Conclusion


New fixtures are always a nice option for a conversion to LED, as they improve the space aesthetics.  However, a retrofit can accomplish the same energy savings and maintenance reduction at a fraction of the cost.

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