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fluorescent tubes

An Electrical Contractor’s Guide to Lighting Retrofits and Upgrades

Oct. 1, 2023
How contractors can take advantage of the changing fluorescent lighting landscape

On Day 2 of NECA 2023 in Philadelphia, Tom Shearer, Lutron Electronics, presented in the Technology booth on the show floor on “Understanding the Changing Landscape of Fluorescent Lighting.”

First, Shearer shared some background on the legislation impacting fluorescent lamps. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is mandated by Congress to set energy efficiency standards, which are reviewed every six years. Their lighting standards include various categories of lamps. Additionally, legislation at the state level is seeing pressure to shift to LED technology and are actively banning the sale of lamps containing mercury. However, there doesn’t seem to be any current movement at the federal level to follow suit.

With legislation continuing to pave the way for adoption of LED technology – which is more energy efficient and cost effective than both incandescent and fluorescent technology – Shearer believes that electrical contractors are uniquely positioned to help their customers understand what the best lighting options are. “This is a problem and an opportunity,” Shearer said in his presentation.

He then went on to address how electrical contractors can minimize disruption and help their customers plan lighting upgrades. There are two main options: an LED TLED retrofit and a fixture/system upgrade.

The TLED retrofit option is designed for 1:1 replacement and allow installers to maintain the control system and fixtures. No new wiring or opening of ceilings is required, so it remodeling costs/effort are minimal. Shearer says this is a great option if your lamps have a specialized ballast or if your fixtures are difficult/expensive to maintain. Additionally, it’s lower cost, maintains lighting performance, and can be done on the installer’s schedule.

The other primary installation is a whole fixture/system upgrade. It is ideal for installers facing a full remodeling because it minimizes cost and impact. Installers can implement the latest technology, such as tunable white/full color control features or wireless control. It’s great for ceilings with easily accessible fixtures. And the impact is significant, Shearer says – it modernizes the space, improves light quality, and allows flexibility and a custom approach for users.

Depending on the customer’s need, Shearer highlighted a few strategies for electrical contractors when it comes to lighting retrofits and upgrades.

For customers with multiple lights out in a space, either a retrofit or upgrading to new fixtures is an option. In spaces with a single light out, electrical contractors may opt to retrofit the single light and stock up on kits for when other lamps go out. For customers with no lights out, electrical contractors can guide their customers toward thinking about if they want to stock retrofits for future light outages of if they want to plan on a full upgrade. For any of these strategies, however, electrical contractors must help their customers plan ahead on their lighting needs after 2023, as the legislation around lighting technology continues to evolve.

Lastly, Shearer summarized the five main steps for contractors to determine which option to pursue before the final installation.

  1. Take stock of what you have. Check the lamp part number, dimming type, ballast part number, and other pertinent information, such as the fluorescent lamp length and color temperature.
  2. Know the color temperature of the lamp. This information can often be found on the lamp itself. Common color temperatures are 3,000K, 3,500K, and 4,000K.
  3. Check what type of product it is. Is it a system or wall box product?
  4. Work with local lighting/controls reps. Determine which products suit your installation needs.
  5. Create a mockup before installation. 
About the Author

Ellie Coggins

Ellie Coggins is the managing editor for EC&M and has more than four years of experience in the B2B publishing space covering the electrical contracting/wholesaling industry. She received a journalism degree from Syracuse University. Connect with her at [email protected].

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