Choosing the Best LED Replacement Tube Lights for T8 and T12 Fluorescent Lamps

T8, T10 and T12 fluorescent tubes are used in different commercial spaces, but they are not energy-efficient. They have a tendency to flicker & hum, contain mercury, have a short lamp life and a poor color quality, and their light cannot be fully dimmed.

LED tubes make perfect replacements for these lamps as they have long lifespans, better color quality, do not contain harmful components, and their light can be fully dimmed. But when it comes to LED tube lights, there are so many products on the market it can be hard to choose the best replacements for fluorescent tubes.

We have written this post to ensure you choose the correct LED tubes and have an easy time transitioning to LED.

A Little about LED Replacement Tube Lights

In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act. The act put in place strict energy standards that ushered in a new age of more efficient, long-lasting, and environmentally-friendly lighting technologies. The purpose of this law was to eradicate inefficient and outdated lighting systems.

The 2007 act is partially responsible for the high consumer demand for high-quality LED replacement products. Electrical contractors, facility managers, and property owners know that a time will come when buildings will no longer be able to use outdated lighting technologies – because new energy laws are passed as environmental pollution rises.

Another important reason for converting to LED is because T8 ballast technology is being phased out. Many people are looking for LED products they can use with their existing fluorescent fixtures without having to pay a lot of money for new fixtures. LED replacement tube lights make perfect substitutes for fluorescent tubes (T5, T8, T10, and T12).

The first replacement tubes were introduced to the market back in 2007. However, they didn't generate a lot of light and didn't have safety certifications (which were almost non-existent back then). But today, LED replacement tube lights are the best there are. They are more efficient than fluorescent lamps and just as efficient as new LED tube lights. The good news is they are not as expensive as they were in the beginning and have a payback period of 1 year or less.

But as we mentioned earlier, there are many LED replacement tubes on the market – and a variety of installation techniques. This is why you have to find the best replacement option for your application.

How to Pick the Best LED Replacement Tubes for Your Location

The most crucial step in selecting the right LED replacement option is picking the installation technique of your preference. The installation technique will depend on the type of fluorescent lamps you currently have – whether T12 or T8.

To know the type of fluorescent tubes currently installed in your commercial space, simply remove the tubes from the fixtures and check the wording at the edge. It will indicate whether the lamp is a T12 or a T8 and will also give you more information about the bulb.

If there are no markings or wordings to let you know the type of fluorescent lamps you have, simply check the diameter of the tubes and you'll be able to know.

T12 tubes usually have a diameter of 1.5 inches while T8 tubes have a diameter of 1 inch. After you have established the type of fluorescent lamps installed in your space, the next thing you have to do is check the ballasts. Generally, T12 tubes use magnetic ballasts while T8 tubes use electronic ballasts. You can also open the light fixtures to examine the ballasts. Always remember, the older the fluorescent tube, the higher its chances of having a magnetic ballast.

Now that we have shown you how to check the types of fluorescent lamps and ballasts installed in your commercial space, let us talk about the different replacement options.

The 4 Types of LED Replacement Tubes

There's no better time than now to get rid of problematic fluorescent tubes and replace them with LEDs which have so much to offer. But there's always controversy when it comes to LED replacement tubes.

Some lighting experts prefer hybrid replacement tubes, others prefer universal replacement tubes, while others use ballast bypass tube lights. To be completely honest, each of these LED tube lights has its benefits.

Let's discuss each of the 4 LED replacement options and their installation techniques to help you make the right decision.

1.    Ballast Bypass LED Fluorescent Replacement Tube Lights

A ballast bypass tube light is also called a direct wire tube light and is one of the oldest LED tubes, but also the least expensive. When this tube first appeared on the market, it was quite expensive and did not have UL or ETL approval. It also didn't have DLC or LM79 certifications, which is why most business owners and facility managers didn't hop on the LED bandwagon earlier on. But today's ballast bypass LED tubes have all the important certifications for commercial installations: UL, DLC, FCC, LM79, LM80, CE, and RoHS.

Because of the danger of working with line voltage, safety organizations like UL have set standards to make sure ballast bypass LED tubes are safely installed. What an electrician does when installing this type of LED tube is bypass the ballast entirely, sending the electricity directly to the LED driver instead of constructing expensive circuitry to enable the LED to work with a ballast. For safety purposes, the line voltage input has to be installed on one section of the tube (for most tubes in this class).

The sockets have to be for a T12 or must be non-shunted rapid start sockets. If you’ve got T12 fixtures, you don't have to change anything as you have the required hardware. But if you have T8 fixtures, their input side sockets must be converted to T12 sockets (non-shunted rapid start sockets). This is because T8 sockets have circular conductors that prevent them from separating the line and the neutral sections of a circuit.

While ballast bypass LED replacement tubes have complicated installation requirements, their biggest advantage is that they have the lowest unit cost among all the replacement options – which can result in a lot of savings especially in projects where saving money is important. You never have to worry about replacing ballasts and also save on labor and maintenance costs.

2.    Electronic Ballast Compatible LED Replacement Tubes

These are relatively new in the market and work with electronic ballasts (for T8 fluorescents). They do not work with magnetic ballasts or work without ballasts. These fluorescent replacement tube lights are growing in popularity by the day as industry data shows that there are more than 1.2 billion units on the market.

One of their biggest benefits is that they are very easy to install, the electrician simply swaps the old fluorescent tubes with the LED tubes. But because there are so many electronic ballast compatible LED replacement tubes, most manufacturers have extensive lists showing the ballasts their LED tube lights work with.

It is worth noting that these LED tubes have high upfront costs per unit. Additionally, if the ballasts they work with malfunction, they won’t be able to produce light. On the upside, they are extremely easy to install and there is no downtime during installation.

3.    Hybrid LED Replacement Tube Lights

Some LED manufacturers make LED replacement tubes that work with electronic ballasts or can bypass the ballasts if they stop working. These types of LED replacement tubes are called hybrid replacement tube lights.

They work well with T8 electronic ballasts but they can also be wired like ballast bypass tube lights if the ballasts cease to function – or if they are installed in a facility with T12 and T8 fluorescent tubes that call for both wiring methods.

Hybrid replacement tube lights can be used in both T8 and T12 light fixtures and significantly lower the time spent on installation.

4.    Universal Ballast Compatible LED Replacement Tubes

These might be the most expensive LED replacement tubes for fluorescents, but they are also the most easy to install. The best thing about them is that they work with any type of fluorescent technology – whether it’s T8 which uses electronic ballasts or T12 which uses magnetic ballasts.

The installation process is simple, all an electrician does is remove the fluorescent tube and put the LED tube in its place. These lights are perfect for smaller facilities whose main objective is to lower energy usage or facilities that want no downtime during installation – as this may affect their bottom line.

The biggest downside of hybrid and universal LED replacement tube lights is their high upfront costs. And since the ballasts are not removed during installation, they will require a lot of maintenance. Getting new ballasts may be out of the question in some instances as T12 magnetic installations don’t work with new ballasts.

Talk to Us, We Understand LED Fluorescent Replacement Tube Lights

By writing this article, we hope we have played a vital role in helping you to select the best LED fluorescent replacement solution for your facility. We have the best assortment of all the 4 LED options we’ve discussed here so don’t hesitate to talk to us if you have any inquiries. We’ll ensure you have an easy time upgrading to LED technology.

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