Lighting the Way Forward

By Craig DiLouie | Jan 15, 2012




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By now, the electrical industry is well aware that national energy standards have eliminated the manufacture and import of fluorescent magnetic ballasts for 4- and 8-foot standard and energy-saving T12 lamps, with few exceptions.

On July 14, 2012, Department of Energy (DOE) rules regulating general-service fluorescent lamps will go into effect, eliminating many popular models.

About 30 percent of linear fluorescent lamps sold each year are T12s, servicing an estimated 35–40 percent of fluorescent sockets in industrial/commercial applications as well as 70 percent of fluorescent sockets in residential applications. The T12 phase-out will dramatically accelerate a shift in demand to T8 and T5 lamp/ballast systems.

As distributors wind down their inventories of noncompliant lamps and ballasts, removing the lowest cost and least-efficient products from the market, owners of T12 and basic-grade T8 lighting systems will be forced to make a change and will be looking for help from experts knowledgeable about their options.

The first key decision is selection of a lamp-ballast solution that will comply with the regulations. Next, the owner must decide which vehicle is most appropriate to deliver the light—keep the existing lighting fixtures or replace them with new fixtures.

T12, T8, T5, LED
After the July deadline, owners of T12 lighting systems will be forced to use compliant or exempt T12 products or switch to a higher efficacy system.
In the case of ballasts, T12 electronic ballasts are available for operation of one and two 4-foot, 34-watt (W) and 40W linear and U-shaped rapid-start lamps; one and two 8-foot, 60W and 75W F96T12 instant-start lamps; and one and two 95W and 110W F96 T12HO rapid-start lamps.

In the case of lamps, at least one manufacturer, Philips, offered several compliant 34W and 40W T12 lamps under its Advantage brand but reported that it would remove them as an option.
That leaves the exemptions, which include deluxe color products with a color rendering index (CRI) rating of 87 or higher, lamps designed to operate in cold temperatures, ultraviolet lamps and certain other specialty lamps. However, high-CRI lamps are designed to emphasize color rendering in color-critical applications, such as retail. They produce approximately 30 percent less light output for the same wattage, resulting in an initial lamp efficacy of about 55 lumens per watt (LPW), far below the DOE regulation’s threshold of 89 LPW for standard lamps.

As a result, building owners should begin exploring higher efficacy options now. The new standard is the T8 lamp, already the market preference with a market share of about 60 percent of all linear fluorescent lamp sales.

T8 is not only more efficient than T12 lighting, it offers other benefits such as lower mercury, long service life and high lumen maintenance. Options include 23W, 25W, 28W, 30W, standard- or high-light-output 32W T8 lamps, and extended-life T8 lamps operated on basic-grade and NEMA Premium high-efficiency electronic ballasts.

Replacing an existing four-lamp 34W magnetic T12 system with 32W T8 lamps on an electronic ballast, for example, can generate about 38 percent energy savings, which can be increased up to about 45-plus percent by using 25–30W lamps. If the space is overlighted compared to today’s recommended practice, it presents an opportunity to reduce light levels, using 25W lamps paired with a high-efficiency, low-power ballast, which can generate nearly 50 percent energy savings with a modest 10–15 percent light level reduction. Additionally, 4-foot T8 lamps labeled XL, XLL, SXL, etc., offer rated service life up to 50,000 hours and longer at 12 hours per start on an instant-start ballast (industry average is 24,000 hours) and 60,000 hours on a programmed--start ballast (industry average is 30,000 hours), which is ideal for green projects and maintenance-sensitive applications.

T5 is another option but is less frequently used in retrofit situations. The lamps are designed to metric dimensions (about 2 inches shorter) and have different bases; therefore, one cannot perform a simple one-for-one replacement of T8 or T12 lamps in existing fixtures, and they offer little advantage over T8 systems. Despite some retrofit options, such as optical inserts that can be installed in existing fixtures, T5 lamp-ballast systems are typically specified in new fixtures with very good optical control to prevent direct glare.

What about light-emitting diode (LED) options? While some good LED troffers have entered the market, LED linear replacement lamps have demonstrated insufficient light output and poor light distribution in existing fluorescent fixtures, according to independent testing conducted by the DOE. At a cost as high as $50 per lamp, LED replacement lamps must prove superior value. In metrics from light output to color to dimming to service life to cost, however, today’s best fluorescent lamps perform very well against LED replacement lamps. While neither the DOE nor the Environmental Protection Agency have considered linear LED replacement lamps ready for inclusion in Energy Star, the DOE has published suggested specifications on its website, which include a requirement for a minimum of 2,700 lumens and 80 CRI to be able to match the performance of a typical T8 lamp. The new DesignLights Consortium specification requires 2,200 bare-lamp lumens (3,750 for two lamps tested in fixtures), spacing criteria to prevent poor uniformity, and a minimum 80 CRI. Contractors should pay special attention to safety issues when installing these lamps.

Whatever option is selected, retrofits can generate high volumes of mercury-containing lamps that must be properly disposed of according to applicable federal, state and local regulations. For more information, visit

T12 conversion incentives
Incentive programs rewarding energy efficiency and reducing initial cost may be available from utilities and energy-efficiency programs, covering lamp and ballast retrofits and controls. When considering a lamp/ballast retrofit, ask if the utility has additional incentives for lighting systems that comply with demand-response programs. These ballasts will save energy during normal operation and may allow the project to qualify for potential incentives because they can shed load during high demand periods.

Adding a sense of urgency to converting existing T12 lighting systems is the fact that time may be running out for incentives that can significantly reduce the payback period for a conversion investment. As regulation eliminates the majority of T12 lamps and ballasts from the market, existing rebates targeting T12 lighting will no longer need to exist. According to BriteSwitch, these rebates—e.g., offering $5–$60 for conversion of 4-lamp, T12, to 4-lamp, T8 systems—are being phased out, while LED rebates continue to grow, with rebates of $15–$94 covering LED replacement lamps, downlights, track lights and high-bay fixtures.

Additionally, the Commercial Buildings Tax Deduction—with its Interim Lighting Rule enabling an accelerated tax deduction of $0.30–$0.60 per square foot for upgrading interior lighting in common building types—is set to expire at the end of 2013. The Interim Lighting Rule is based on exceeding ASHRAE/IES 90.1 2001, so the technology is readily available. For more information, visit

Don’t forget basic-grade T8s
With all the excitement about changing out T12 systems, it is easy to overlook the fact that the upcoming lamp energy standards will also eliminate basic-grade 4-foot, 700-series, T8 lamps from the market.
These lamps, installed in troffers and other fixtures in both new construction and lighting upgrade projects in existing buildings over the past 10–15 years, can be upgraded with newer T8 lamp options. At least one manufacturer, Osram Sylvania, now offers an improved-performance 700-series T8 lamp that complies with the rulemaking, offering a simple alternative. Another simple option is to replace the lamp with an 800-series (higher CRI in the 80s) lamp or a compatible lower wattage T8 lamp to generate additional energy -savings—from 6 percent for a 30W lamp to 22 percent for a 25W lamp—with the new lamps that are typically installed by owner maintenance personnel.

If the owner is amenable to bigger ideas, upgrade options involving the full range of energy-saving lamps and high--efficiency and low-wattage electronic ballasts, offering energy savings as high as 18–30 percent—or higher, if lower light levels are acceptable—can be considered, presenting project opportunities for electrical contractors.

Fixtures: keep, refurbish, replace?
Lamp and ballast retrofits are relatively simple operations as components are typically replaced on a one-to-one basis, with light levels tuned to current need through careful selection of lamp output and ballast factor. Other approaches include refurbishing the lighting fixture or replacing it entirely; they warrant some discussion.

Older lighting fixtures may be in a deteriorated condition and require replacement of components, such as lenses or louvers. As discolored lenses (the result of ultraviolet degradation or age) significantly reduce fixture optical efficiency, it is critical to replace these components to maximize application efficiency (lumens produced by lamp/ballast system that are delivered to the workplane). Similarly, room surfaces that are dirty or dark should be refinished with a very light matte finish, if possible. These simple changes can have a dramatic effect on light levels, resulting in overlighting that, in turn, can be curbed back through some form of wattage reduction.

An additional approach is to refurbish the fixture with a UL-rated T8 or T5 optical insert retrofit kit that includes a new reflector, prewired sockets and ballast, and lens or louver. The installation labor is the same or less than a direct component retrofit but yielding greater value; the kit may include fewer lamps, resulting in greater wattage reduction, while renewing the lighting system and space appearance. Many kits offer volumetric distribution, placing some light high on the walls and reducing the “cave effect” common with older parabolic lighting systems. If the existing fixtures must be kept, as in buildings with asbestos in the ceiling, this may be an ideal solution.

In some cases, the building owner may be interested in going even further and consider replacing the fixtures entirely as part of a redesign of the lighting system that comprehensively addresses lighting quality. In many older buildings, primary spaces have been retasked to new purposes for which the existing lighting system is insufficient, uniformity is poor (fixtures are spaced too far apart), glare or shadows result in visual fatigue, and light distribution on walls and ceilings results in a gloomy atmosphere. A redesign can address these problems and maximize lighting quality while also improving efficiency. Equipment options include volumetric-distribution recessed fixtures, direct/indirect pendants, wall lighting and others.

A role for lighting controls
When recommending an upgrade, consider maximizing energy savings with lighting controls. According to the New Buildings Institute, advanced lighting controls can reduce energy consumption by up to 50 percent in existing buildings. A number of available options are suitable for existing buildings, including occupancy sensors, low-voltage relay panels, line-voltage dimming systems, wireless sensors and controls, and other options. If the lights are left on all night, installing simple automatic shutoff controls can save a lot of energy. If the project is a redesign, more sophisticated approaches that involve installation of low-voltage control wiring can be considered.

An opportunity for electrical contractors
Regulations covering general-service fluorescent lamps are removing a majority of T12 lamps and magnetic ballasts from the market. The decline of the T12 is creating demand for compliant solutions—opportunities for electrical contractors who can provide lighting solutions that save energy while respecting or enhancing lighting quality.

DILOUIE, L.C., a lighting industry journalist, analyst and marketing consultant, is principal of ZING Communications. He can be reached at

About The Author

DiLouie, L.C. is a journalist and educator specializing in the lighting industry. Learn more at and





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