In our last blog post, How to decide which type of LED T8 retrofit tube is right for you, we discussed the relative benefits and drawbacks of the two types of T8 LED tubes available today: direct line voltage tubes, which operate without ballast, and plug-and-play tubes, which operate on the existing ballast. What we did not cover in that discussion was the serious issue of public health.
T8 LED lamps are PCB and mercury free, and, according to one report on upgrading lighting for schools, they contribute to a more comfortable environment for students which is more conducive to learning. Unlike fluorescent counterparts, T8 LEDs are usually pleasant in colour and provide better directional light. Since many offices and schools still light with fluorescent, the health issue is fast becoming top-of-mind.
A little background. As many readers will know, older fluorescent lighting ballasts (manufactured before 1979) contain PCBs. In the United States, PCBs were banned in 1979 and have not been used in Canada since 1980, but they continue to exist in the ballast of many fluorescent light fixtures still installed. Jurisdictions all over North America have implemented programs to assist school boards, among others, in removing old PCB-containing fluorescent lighting. In the words of a New York City on the subject, it is “dangerous, inefficient and obsolete.” The report, prepared by a group called New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, called T12 ballast and fluorescent lights a “serious” public health risk.*
The problem is that the old ballasts in these aging light fixtures can leak the toxic PCBs inside. After 1979, T12 magnetic ballasts were manufactured without PCBs, but they too were declared obsolete by the US Department of Energy and are no longer manufactured. In addition to the problem with the ballast, T12 bulbs contained more mercury vapour and phospor, making them very environmentally unfriendly.
T8 the new normal
Today, electronic ballasts are the new norm for fluorescent lighting. T8 bulbs use electronic ballasts, which are considerably more energy efficient than the old magnetic ones. According to Department of Energy statistics, the electronic ballasts, using solid-state technology, deliver higher lamp efficacy and save energy. Moving from T12 magnetic ballasts and lamps to T8 electronic ballasts and lamps is estimated to result in energy savings of 17–48 per cent by the State of Oregon** Department of Energy, depending on specific lamps and ballasts. (See the US Department of Energy’s specification series, LED T8 replacement lamps for more detail.)
So, the type of retrofit lighting you choose could depend on whether your existing lighting is the older T12 magnetic ballast-type. If so, the ballast will have to be removed anyway, and direct-line-voltage lamps, which do not require a ballast to operate, would be an obvious replacement choice.
Whether you choose to go with T8 fluorescent or T8 LED is another matter. However, keep in mind that T8 LED lamps offer some key benefits:
- they are mercury free
- they provide better directional lighting than their fluorescent counterparts
- they use half the energy of a T8 fluorescent
- they are dimmable
- they last longer
* * Full Report “PCB Lighting in NYC Schools: Dangerous, Inefficient and Obsolete”, Feb 2011 http://www.pcbinschools.org/NYLPI%20Light.pdf
** If you replace your existing T12 lighting system with T8 lights and magnetic ballasts with electronic ballasts, you will see a reduction of lighting energy by 17 to 48 percent depending on the specific lights and ballasts. In some instances, you may want to remove some of the existing T12 lights and not replace them. You may also use one electronic ballast to serve four lights instead of one magnetic ballast for two lights previously installed. Or, you may use specular reflectors to further enhance light distribution. The overall result may bring 50 percent savings without compromising the quality of delivered light.