to assess the existing facility’s needs, evaluate available options,
and calculate all costs prior to undertaking a lighting upgrade.
Assess Needs and Options
“First survey what you have and determine what you need,”
Myer explains. “If you’re using an outdated T12—and, shock-
ingly, there are still a lot of T12s out there—then that’s a slam
dunk retrofit opportunity.”
He adds that if a building is over-lit or using bad fluorescent
optics like egg crates, that is another no-brainer opportunity
because the number of lamps used to light the space can often
be cut in half. “You should be able to cut down on your output
because egg crate louvers are only 50% efficient, so you’re los-
ing a lot right there,” he says.
Tubular LEDs (TLEDs) are an easy retrofitting option because
many work directly with the inline ballast, and upgrading inefficient fixtures is as simple as changing a bulb. Also known as
UL Type A TLEDs, these products have the benefit of the easiest
installation, with no electrical or structural modifications needed.
As a result of these challenges, Myers believes troffer retrofit
kits are the most promising solution for lighting upgrades in
“Kits are the sweet spot,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of manufacturers advertise the speed and efficiency when installing their
kit. I think they’re the future because they reduce labor time
by not needing to change out the fixture, yet you reap all the
benefits of better thermal management, better optics and fewer
electrical interactions to manage,” he explains.
Myers adds that the up-front and installation costs are often
half of those for a new luminaire, and retrofit troffer kits are also
Count the Costs
Part of the difficulty in estimating overall savings with lighting upgrades is the many variables to consider, and each project
is case-specific. With that in mind, and using a national baseline
cost of 10 cents per k Wh, Myers estimates the potential energy
savings realized by converting to TLEDs or retrofit kits (along
with controls) in the neighborhood of 30-50%. However, he cautions facility professionals against selecting a lighting solution
based solely on wattage rather than lighting needs.
“Some people are not providing adequate light. They’re just
looking at the wattage, and they’re thinking, ‘Well, this product
draws this many watts. That’s all I want,’” he says. “They’re not
actually saying, ‘Well, how efficient is it? Am I getting the right
amount of light?’”
TLEDs are the lowest-cost equipment option, followed by
kits, then troffers. Labor is often the item that inflates costs the
most. “Depending on where you’re located – especially if you’re
in an earthquake area – it’s not only the electrical component,
but a structural one because you must tie off three or four cor-
ners of a troffer to a structural member,” he notes. “It’s not just
In terms of return on investment, the numbers are again very
case-specific (see case studies for examples). Some organiza-
tions have recouped their investments with retrofit kits in as
few as five years. Some large-scale TLED installations have been
paid back within eight years, while other full troffer installations
have had longer paybacks, Myers says.
When you have narrowed down your options, test them in
place. Don’t rely only on manufacturer data or choose based on
what seems comparable to the existing lighting. “You may not
like the color of a certain bulb or see some flicker,” he warns.
For standard fixtures, he recommends doing at least a single
mock-up, while a retrofit kit requires two or more. This ensures
that an accurate baseline can be established to determine how
long it will actually take to retrofit a facility as opposed to manufacturers’ estimates. For TLEDs, Myers suggests conducting
multiple tests before committing to a purchase.
“Make sure TLEDs are installed in a couple different places.
You’re going to have some variety in types of optics. Not all
TLEDs are going to behave the same way,” he adds.
Because at the end of the day, the last thing any building owner or facility manager wants is to get halfway through a lighting
upgrade and discover what looked good on paper turned out to
be a poor choice in the field. B
Egg crate optics can
be as little as 50%
efficient. As a result,
better optics may cut
the number of necessary lamps in half.
Don’t rely only on manufacturer product data.
Install multiple test units.
However, some manufacturers and energy service companies
(ESCOs) warn that if the age or manufacturer of the existing ballast isn’t known, TLEDs aren’t recommended. Not all TLEDs are
compatible with existing ballasts, which may fail, creating long-term maintenance and warranty issues that owners and FMs
want to avoid. Additionally, a UL Type A tube sacrifices efficiency due to the additional power loss from the existing ballast and
is limited in dimming and controllability, according to Myers.
Replacing all of the ballasts is another option, but it comes at
a much greater cost, of course. Alternatively, UL Type B TLEDs
can be hard wired directly into electrical leads, bypassing the
ballast which eliminates the compatibility issue. Type B TLEDs
are more efficient than Type As, with no power loss resulting
from removing the existing LFL ballast, but are also limited by
control and dimming capabilities. Also, as Myers notes, facility
professionals that choose this course of action have now created
an electrical scenario to which they are committed.