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The overwhelming consensus from the LED lighting industry is that retrofit linear LEDs—specifically T8s—are a grand misstep; a blight upon an otherwise promising technology.
But are replacement linear tubes getting a fair shake? After all, history tells us that many emerging technologies—now widely adopted—suffered early setbacks and failed to gain initial consumer confidence and industry support. Could this be the same trajectory the retrofit linear LED tube is on?
The European Commission Low Voltage Directive Administrative Co-operation Working Group (LVD ADCO) expressed their concerns over retrofit LED tube safety in a 2011 Recommendation report, especially in terms of electric shock. This mainly applies to the linear LED tubes with integrated drivers. This type of LED tube is most widely used, as it is considered easier to retrofit than those with external drivers. However, this is also where safety (and compliance) issues arise.
Why are LED T8 tubes susceptible to electric shock more than non-linear LED bulb? The installer must modify the fixture by bypassing or removing the existing ballast so that the LED can run directly off the line voltage (a fluorescent tube uses the ballast).
Below are some of the technical issues that retrofit LED linear tube critics often cite:
While LED tube prices are coming down, they are still more expensive than fluorescent tubes (~$25-$70 for LEDs vs. ~$3 for fluorescent). In addition, integrated LED tubes cannot be installed without modifications to the existing fixture, which, based on the requirements, can be significant. From a straight financial perspective, critics of integrated LED tubes say the return-on-investment (ROI) cannot be justified.
Unlike non-linear LED bulbs, many utility companies do not offer rebates for LED T8 replacements, even those with Design Lights Consortium (DLC) listing.
There’s no doubt LED tubes are improving–higher efficiency and better volume pricing should be available in the next 6 to 12 months–but now may not be the time to jump in. Calculate you ROI and when it looks like it’s down to 18 months to 2 years, consider making the investment.
Remember, every electrical product has safety risks and warnings. Technology is constantly advancing with new research and new ideas. Costs decrease with improved manufacturing and product design.