How Do LED T8s Compare to Fluorescent T8s?

Fluorescent T8 tubes have been a lighting mainstay for decades, but the development of LED T8 linear lighting means there’s a high-performing alternative. Is this a case of new replacing obsolete technology, or is there room for both fluorescent and LED T8s? It depends on the application. There are still some settings where fluorescent tubes make sense, but LED T8s have several advantages over their older counterparts. Some of them include:

  • Reliability – LED T8 lighting has a lifespan of about 50,000 hours. Some fluorescent T8 tubes are rated for 50,000 hours as well, but there are several fluorescent specific issues that can cut into that lifespan significantly. For one, fluorescent tubes are more likely to prematurely fail if they are switched on and off frequently. They are also adversely affected by cold temperatures and require a ballast, which will also eventually fail and require a replacement. These issues limit fluorescent lighting’s effectiveness in some applications, like those that require occupancy sensors.
    LED T8s don’t have these drawbacks and are far less likely to fail early. When comparing cost, it’s important to factor in LED’s long-term reliability.
  • Lighting quality – Fluorescent T8s can output a lot of light, but the quality of that light is inferior to LEDs in a couple of ways. LED lighting emits directionally so more of the light that LEDs emit can be aimed where it is needed. This can be useful in general lighting applications because more of the light can be aimed downward. LEDs are also useful in applications where concentrating the illumination is important, like in workshops. Fluorescent T8 lighting emits omnidirectionally, and some of that light is wasted in the process.
    LED technology also surpasses fluorescent lighting in color rendering. In other words, LED will display colors more accurately. While there are some high-CRI fluorescent tubes on the market, they are among the most expensive available. Fluorescent fixtures emit light beyond the blue and violet end of the visible spectrum, so they render warm colors especially poorly. The UV light that fluorescent tubes emit is also harmful to the colors in surrounding objects and will cause them to fade with long-term exposure. LED fixtures produce close to zero UV light, by contrast.
  • Controllability – LED fixtures are designed to be compatible with modern lighting controls and can be easily attached to motion sensors, photocells, timers and dimmers. This gives LED technology the versatility advantage and it also means a big efficiency boost in many settings. Fluorescent T8s cannot be dimmed as easily as LED T8s and they are a poor fit with occupancy controls.
  • Environmental – Fluorescent tubes work by exciting mercury vapor and creating light through a process termed fluorescence. Mercury vapor is a critical part of the phenomenon, but it is also harmful if it is exposed to people or the environment. For this reason, fluorescent tubes are treated as hazardous waste and their disposal may be subject to regulation. LEDs do not contain harmful chemicals or materials and may be disposed of without extra effort.

The only advantage that fluorescent lighting has is its cost. Fluorescent T8 tubes have been around for a long time and are cheap, while LED T8s are new and cost more upfront. However, the superior lifespan, efficiency and versatility of LED linear tubes can make them the more cost-effective option in the long run. There is also room for improvement in LED tube lighting and it’s likely that future generations of LED linear lighting will expand the technology’s advantages.

What Applications Are The Best Fit For LED T8 Linear Tube Lighting?

While fluorescent T8s are still useful in applications that call for a high volume of general lighting, LED T8s are starting to replace them in many settings. Some of those applications include:

  • Any lighting solution that requires occupancy controls – Office buildings, schools, retail shops, government buildings, industrial facilities and anywhere else high foot traffic is expected. LED’s durability and controllability are unmatched for these applications.
  • Any setting where cold temperatures are expected – If the lighting is going to be exposed to lower temperatures, LED T8s will prove much more reliable. Workshops, garages, outdoor walkways and sheds are spots where LED’s cold resistance is useful.
  • Any setting where the lights will be powered on and off regularly – LED tubes tolerate frequent powering on/off much better than fluorescent tubes. For this reason, LED linear lighting is a good choice for high traffic areas like residential and commercial hallways, kitchens and bathrooms.

For safety reasons, it’s also a good idea to consider LED T8s if there’s an increased likelihood of the fixtures experiencing breakage.

What are the different types of LED T8 tubes?

There are multiple LED T8 models on the market and some of them are ideal for retrofit applications. Labeled Type A, Type B and Type C, the primary difference between these models is how they work with existing fluorescent ballasts. Here’s a closer look at the three:

  • Type A – Type A LED tubes are designed to draw current through the existing ballast and power an LED driver that’s integrated into the tube. Type A T8s are the easiest and least expensive to install because they can be plugged in right where the fluorescent tube was removed. However, Type A LED tubes tend to be less efficient and because they rely on an existing ballast, they cost more to maintain over time.
  • Type B – Type B LED tubes are built with an internal driver that bypasses the ballast. This removes the ballast from the equation completely and optimizes the conversion from watts to lumens as a result. Type B tubes are also available in the widest array of lengths. Installation is more difficult and costly with Type B tubes, though, because the ballast and potentially the fixture sockets will need to be removed. This can pose a major safety hazard if not handled by a licensed and experienced professional.
  • Type C – Type C LED tubes utilize an external driver instead of an internal one. This external driver may be remote and it also removes the ballast as a functional part of the system. Compared to other LED linear lighting types, Type C tubes require the most work to install, however, they are the most efficient and controllable of the three.

Fluorescent T8s have a long and successful history in the lighting industry, but LED T8s are catching up. In many applications they are already ahead, and as LED lighting technology improves, so will LED’s already impressive reliability, lifespan, efficiency and flexibility.

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