There are a lot of choices to be made by owners and operators of commercial, manufacturing and industrial facilities, including finding the best solution for upgrading existing lighting systems to LEDs; new lamps or new fixtures? There is no “one size fits all” solution to this question. The answer depends on factors related specifically to your facility and budget. Here are some points we hope will guide you to the correct answer. Calculate your savings with LED high bay lighting calculator >
The least expensive option to convert to a LED system is a plug and play LED lamp or tube. Design Light Consortium (DLC) is a recognized lighting industry organization whose stated goal is to promote energy efficient lighting. DLC classifies plug and play lamps and tubes as Type A. These LED lamps and tubes operate off the existing fixture ballast. For example, assume that a warehouse has 400W metal halide lamps in a magnetic ballast high bay fixture. You could simply purchase a 168W (or even lower wattage) LED plug and play high bay lamp and use it in the same fixture. The new lamp just screws into the existing socket as it is compatible with the fixture ballast. You instantly gain 232W per fixture energy savings in this real-life example by replacing the old 400W MH lamp with the new 168W LED high bay lamp. A new Type A LED tube or LED replacement lamp for CFLs would work the same way; simply install the LED tube, or the 2 or 4 pin LED lamp into the existing fixture and save around 50% of the energy previously used.
Using a Type A plug and play LED high bay lamp, LED tube or LED-CFL replacement lamp avoids the labor expense to re-wire the fixture to by-pass the existing ballast. The plug and play process to retrofit to a new LED system is truly as simple as screwing or plugging a new LED bulb into the existing fixture. About the only cost you incur is the purchase price for the new LEDs and minimal, if any, install costs. With the energy saved, the cost of purchase is quickly recovered through energy savings. And you now have a new LED system that uses much less energy, provides better light quality, requires less maintenance and provides a longer life cycle than the lamps or tubes replaced.
Plug and play sounds simple, and it really is. It is a great solution in many instances. But you need to consider more factors to determine if plug and play is the best solution for your facility. You must take into account the age of your fixtures. Magnetic ballasts are like battleships. They are strong, robust and just keep going. But they do not last forever. If your facility is starting to experience ballast failures due to the age of your fixtures, new LED fixture might be your best solution.
Using the same example of a warehouse with 400W MH high bay lamps, let’s assume the age of the fixtures is 20 years, and you are starting to see a few ballasts fail. It might be time to consider replacing the older fixtures with new LED high bay fixtures. Fixtures are certainly more expensive than plug and play lamps, and you should use a qualified electrician for the installation. So, the costs of retrofitting are definitely higher, but there are benefits too.
In our example 400W is just what the lamp uses. The existing ballast will use another 56W, or so, which makes the total system wattage about 456W. A new energy efficient LED high bay fixture uses only 190W total system watts to produce even a brighter and higher quality light. You will save 266W of energy per fixture. LED fixtures come with a long warranty, usually around 10 years, so you will not have to worry about replacing your lighting for a long time. And a new fixture is often eligible to receive rebates from your local utility company which will help offset the costs. There are also many no cash up front buying opportunities where you pay for the new fixtures over time using a portion of the energy savings to cover the cost.
A new LED fixture could include many add on features not available with your old lighting system, such as occupancy or daylight sensors which can increase your energy savings on average by another 49% according to one recent DLC study. A new LED fixture system can even provide data such as fixture hours of operation, energy consumption and much more. If you have the budget or use no cash up front funders, a new LED fixture system can provide many extra benefits not available with an older lighting system at a cost you can manage. If the age of your fixtures is around 20 years, a new LED fixture could be your best option.
Another option to consider is installing a lamp that operates off line voltage. This option requires using a knowledgeable electrician who disconnects the ballast and directly connects line voltage to the socket. A LED lamp referred to in DLC nomenclature as a Type B lamp is used. This approach has its pros and cons, but should also be considered. Some of the pros are the ballast is eliminated so that energy consumption is avoided, and there is no worry about ballast failure. Contractors really like this approach so they avoid call backs if the ballast fails after they install the new LED lamps.
But there are real issues with this approach that you must think about. Your fixture and the existing socket were designed to function with a ballast as part of the system. By eliminating the ballast the intended fixture design is being altered. By-passing the ballast sends direct line voltage to the socket and there are certain safety concerns with that, including will the next person working on the fixture recognize the ballast has been by-passed and the socket is receiving line voltage. And the LED lamp itself is also not protected by a ballast or electronic driver so it needs to be robust in design to operate over time with direct line voltage.
So here is our take on all this. Whatever you do, do not delay your conversion to an LED system. Each day that goes by is another day you are wasting money due to unnecessary energy usage. If your existing fixtures have been in service less than 20 years, consider a plug and play LED lamp to retrofit your system. It is the least costly option. If older than 20 years, figure out a way with rebates, energy lenders or lighting as a service providers to convert to new LED fixtures. Many no out-of-pocket LED system upgrade options are out there. A qualified LED company can help you find your way to better lighting at affordable prices. You will save money in the long term and help the environment too; a win-win for everyone.