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Eureka! A Road Map For Retrofitted Fixtures

Eureka! A Road Map For Retrofitted Fixtures

In the light bulb section of home improvement stores across the globe, shoppers are facing a critical choice to be made: to retrofit or not to retrofit with LEDs? Retrofitting means to add new technology or features to older systems. In lighting, it refers to an upgrade from less efficient lighting to more efficient lighting, from incandescent, halogen, fluorescent, or metal halide lamps to the most efficient lamp: LED. The answer to this question depends on the lighting application and, in residential cases, the owner’s skills. Maintenance costs, long term efficiency goals, the age of your fixtures and their supporting systems all affect the choice you will make. Before you jump in and buy the first LED that looks nice, consider the following tips on LED retrofitting for commercial or residential spaces.

1. The Long Term Goal

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What do you want your lighting situation to be six months from now? Or even 2 years from now?  A retrofit with more economical LEDs will generate significant labor and cost savings in the long run. Commercial buildings may want to replace all their lamps at once to avoid a lengthy project, while homeowners choose to begin with the main rooms, leaving less-trafficked areas for later. Nevertheless, don’t assume that you have to replace all your fixtures to operate your new LED light bulbs. Lamps that use ballasts—downlights and recessed cans, PL lamps, T8 fluorescent tubes, and high wattage post top lamps—are sometimes tricky to find the right LED alternative for. Yet many LEDs can work with your existing fixture until you are ready for the next step. These bulbs are typically called “plug and play” LEDs and they can use the exisiting ballast for operation. Some plug and play LEDs also run directly off the main electricity for the building. This allows you to phase in more efficient lighting using a timeline better suited to your wallet and schedule, depending on your residential or commercial needs.

2. The Type of Bulb

LEDs for retrofitting can be generally divided into three categories: direct wire, “plug and play,” and universal.

A retrofit T8 LED
A retrofit T8 LED
  • Direct wire LEDs operate using the power or line voltage of the building. For example, direct wire T8 retrofit LEDs require 120 volts of power to operate, the standard power rating in most American homes and businesses. However, any ballasts used to operate the old bulb must be bypassed. Bypassing ballasts simply means wiring around or removing the ballast from the power circuit.
  • Plug and play LEDs were created for easy installation, screwing or plugging into the same sockets as their incandescent, metal halide, and fluorescent predecessors with no additional work required. Typically, you can keep your instant start or programmed start ballasts connected to regulate the power.
  • LEDs that work with ballasts and use line voltage are labeled as universal retrofits. A frequent universal LED scenario involves installing the LED with the ballast still connected and when the ballast dies, rewiring the fixture to accept direct line voltage. You should choose the bulb that works best for your lighting situation.

3. The Age of Your Ballast

It is a little known fact, but the age of your ballast can determine its compatibility with newer LED bulbs. A ballast lasts an average of 50,000 life hours when within less than 10 degrees of its listed operating temperature. That is almost 6 years, but many ballasts last 8 to 10 years, outliving the metal halide and fluorescent bulbs they power. LED retrofits are tested for ballast compatibility; however, a 10-year old ballast that has been discontinued by its manufacturer will not make the list. This means there are large amounts of LED bulbs that can work with ballasts, but more than likely will not work with older or hard-to-find ballasts. A solution to that issue is to first, check for a ballast compatibility sheet or to contact the manufacturer of the LED to determine if your ballast is adaptable. Otherwise, if your LED retrofit bulb can handle direct line voltage, it’s better to just bypass the ballast altogether.

4. The Time and Cost of Maintenance

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Consider the time it will take to retrofit a fixture. One or two fixtures with a ballast to rewire or remove may take an hour, but dozens of fixtures to retrofit and suddenly you are wondering if you will have time to sleep. Plug and play LEDs can cut down on installation time, and you don’t have to be an electrician to screw in a light bulb. Other kinds of LEDs require the installation of an LED driver. Similar to a ballast, an LED driver regulates the voltage supplied to the LED. Drivers have to be wired for installation, and you can learn more about them in our article entitled, Do I Need an LED Driver? It is important to note that adding drivers requires time and expertise, things you may not have available. Additionally, drivers are an extra cost that you need to take into consideration when budgeting for your renovation.

5. The Benefit of Calling an Electrician Instead

You may reach the point where you are unsure of how to proceed with an installation. If at any point you think you have reached the end of your know-how, do yourself a favor: call a professional electrician. Not only will you save yourself a large amount of frustration and time, but you can also avoid the extra costs of repairing incorrect installations. Even more importantly, bypassing ballasts requires you to know the ins and outs of electricity. Anyone uncomfortable or hesitant to handle electricity should make friends with their neighborhood electrician because electrocution is not fun.

Do you have a funny story on a lighting DIY gone horribly wrong or more tips on retrofitting fixtures? Leave comment, question or suggestion below. Check out our FacebookTwitterGoogle PlusLinkedIn, or Pinterest for new article updates weekly. Your search for the perfect LED can also begin by contacting our brilliant staff at 1000bulbs.com. They are standing by to help you find everything you need for your lighting upgrade.

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