LED Linear Light Replacement – Hype Vs. Fact

I always want to pass along great information, even if I didn’t think of it.

For what I”m about to share with you, I’ll gladly pass credit on to Jim Brodrick, Lighting Program Manager for the U.S. Department Of Energy. Jim probably knows more about LED technology than any other person in the world. So when he says something on the subject, we in the light business treat him like the old E. F. Hutton commercials – when he talks, we listen.

One of the things Jim has been talking about recently is LED linear light replacement, and in particular, research done through the U.S. Government’s Caliper program, which analyzes the latest and greatest lights to hit the market, to see if they live up to their marketing hype. What he’s uncovered through the testing, is something that all of us in the industry, should know.

One Caliper report that Jim shared from last year, showed that LED linear replacement lamps may not be ready to replace T12 and T8 fluorescents.

“LED technology is not yet ready to displace linear fluorescent lamps as replacement light sources in recessed troffers for general interior lighting.”


I’m no word smith but I get the drift – we probably need to pull back a bit before we anoint LED as the greatest thing since sliced bread, at least in its current form, as applied to replacing office fluorescents.

Some of the problems included:

1. CALiPER found that the light output from LED replacement lamps only amounted to half, at most of fluorescent it was supposed to replace. Their lower than expected light output, performance and efficiency meant that testers had to add extra lights, in order to maintain standard fluorescent output. Which kinda screws up the whole idea of using them.

2. Another problem the Caliper testing uncovered, says Jim, is that troffers fitted with LED replacement lamps had “narrower light distribution, which could compromise illumination uniformity and vertical illumination in existing installations.”

3. The news gets worse – further testing in three of the four LED’s required bypassing the fluorescent ballast. If you’re retrofitting, that means more labor, higher cost and more of a pain in the ballast. Efficiency was also diminished, wattage became uncertain, lighting colors became too cool to match other lights – you can see where Jim is going with this.

More testing last year pretty much verified the earlier research. Light output in the LED replacement lamps performed below the T8’s and T12’s they were replacing, at almost every benchmark – output, efficiency, color, additional labor you name it.

And then there’s the additional cost. We all know that LED replacement lamps are expensive – they average upwards of $100, even $150, compared to the miserly $3 T8 standard fluorescent. And, as the report noted, nobody knows how these LED’s hold up, long-term, because there ISN’T any long-term – they haven’t been out long enough. Whatever the lights are promising in terms of lifetime usage hours – I’ve seen some at over 50,000 hours – that’s nothing but an educated guess by the manufactures.

Of course the other issue revealed by the testing is that the fluorescents themselves have their own sets of problems. Low temperatures negatively affect their performance. There’s the mercury issue, although Philips has done a fantastic job of reducing it, by over 30% compared to competitors bulbs, in most cases. The report is highly critical of manufacturer’s over-hyped claims on their products – as if this is anything new to us who distribute them.  T8 technology still is one hell of a light!

As for LED’s – if they live up to the hype, great, we’ll be on the front lines, singing their praises to our contractor clients. But for now we’ll hang onto our incredibly efficient stringently tested high performing T8’s – unless and until the truly “next best thing” comes along.

Jack Huff, along with his son Brian and wife Sue, owns and manages Adventure Lighting in Des Moines, Iowa. For more information, go to www.adventurelighting.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

WordPress Anti-Spam by WP-SpamShield

Back to the top