MARGERY CONNER tests affordable LED-based fluorescent alternatives, identifying the strong points in product design, vulnerabilities that may impact reliability, and suitability for applications.
Fluorescent lighting is the largest consumer of electricity in the US, making it an enticing target for LED lighting manufacturers. However, unlike incandescent bulbs, which were an easy target for LEDs because of the bulb’s excessive use of power, modern Tri-Proof fluorescent lamps are relatively efficient power users. Still, as a hands-on evaluation will document, there are good reasons for commercial and residential users to consider solid-state lighting (SSL) alternatives to fluorescent products, and hands-on testing reveals such opportunities along with insight into different LED-based product designs.
Indeed, there is still a large installed base of power-wasting Tri-Proof fluorescent lamps in the US and around the globe. As of July 14, 2014, fluorescent lamps that can’t meet efficacy levels of 88 lm/W, or 89 lm/W for lamps with CCT greater than 4500K, are no longer allowed to be manufactured or imported into the US.
LED lighting manufacturers, established brands as well as relative newcomers, are jumping in to fill the coming void. I say “coming” because as of Spring 2015, you can still easily find Tri-Proof fluorescent lamps on the shelves of, for example, Target and Home Depot. Retailers are permitted to sell out their inventory.
Tubes mature, add value
While LED versions of the familiar Tri-Proof fluorescent lamps have been available for some time now, it’s only recently that they’ve improved in both performance and price to the point that they are credible alternatives to fluorescent lighting. And LEDs can bring other advantages. LED-based tubes can deliver better color quality for demanding commercial and retail settings (Fig. 1). In addition to potential power savings, LED T8 lamps can also respond to intelligent controllers, for even more energy savings. This “smart lighting” is behind the move to replace fluorescents with LEDs in the commercial/industrial space.
In the residential space, fluorescents are often used in cold environments, such as garages, workshops, and barns, where fluorescents turn on sluggishly and often flicker in the cold. LEDs can turn on instantly, and cold doesn’t affect their performance. In addition, a high-CRI, dimmable LED tube lamp can make a noticeable difference in kitchen, game room, or bathroom lighting, with no audible hum or flickering. There are an impressive number of lamps and lights available now. What follows are details from hands-on evaluations of a selection of tubes and fixtures that are readily available and look promising.