According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, commercial and institutional buildings, public street and highway lighting consumed about 274 billion kWh for lighting — roughly 21 percent of total commercial sector electricity consumption in 2012. The October 2014 issue of LD+A magazine cited that electricity for lighting consumes totals up to 461 billion kWh each year.

With so much energy use at stake, as Dan Mellinger writes in LD+A, "LED recessed troffers represent the single largest potential energy savings opportunity." So what is the best way this should be handled?

Working in the lighting industry, we are constantly being pitched the latest and greatest in LED from every manufacturer, big and small. I don't mind. I want to know what's out there. Then we have the Internet age where everyone can look up anything and read an opinion or two.

I say all this to bring us back to the topic of troffers. Most commercial buildings have tons of them. I wish I could say that most have moved beyond T12 lamps, but that is not always the case. However, it is true that most now contain T8 fluorescents.

One of the most frequent questions I receive are about LED tube replacements for T8s. Along with all the big, mainstream manufacturers, everyone and their brother is producing an LED tube. So is it a no-brainer and which one should you choose? Stop right there.

The lighting LED market is basically like electronics. As fast as something comes out, there is a better model on its way. More and more companies are getting into the game as well. It's a popular and seemingly understandable thought that tubes are a best buy. Like electronics, it can be fun to have the latest gadget and one-up our friends, but we should also do our homework and select the best choice for our situation.

Let me state right here that I am not a scientist or engineer. I don't claim to be an ultimate authority on LED or lighting, and it's my job to sell. But the best authorities and leaders surround themselves with people smarter than they are. I'm always meeting, questioning and reading to attempt to stay as knowledgeable as possible in my field.

For example, this year at Lightfair back in June in Las Vegas, I slowed down a bit from viewing the latest and greatest products and pitches to listen to studies and findings from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It's their job and they have time to test, review and report in an unbiased manner.

This year they presented a seminar titled, "T8 LEDs for Troffers: A Slam Dunk?" Now that is my kind of topic. Naomi J. Miller, FIES, FIALD, LC, of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, presented an interesting unbiased study based on currently available products.

I realize that I have been called a lighting dork, but I loved this presentation. Probably because the conclusions mirrored my own suspicions. I won't repeat every finding, but it's worth a read when you have time and can be found here.

In the interest of this article and immediate information, I will let you in on the conclusions. The DOE CALiPER program has been purchasing and testing general illumination solid-state lighting (SSL) products since 2006. CALiPER relies on standardized photometric testing (following the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America [IES] approved method LM-79-081) conducted by accredited, independent laboratories.

For this study, they purchased 31 LED T8 lamps types from different manufacturers and types and installed them into the most common types of 2-by-4 troffers. A group of 24 "real people" facility managers, energy engineers and lighting industry people were brought in to observe and complete questionnaires about glare, appearance and performance. According to Miller and CALiPER, the general conclusions are as follows:

  • Are LED T8 replacements in troffers a slam dunk? No.
  • There are some excellent T8 LED tubes, but there are some bad ones, too.
  • You must choose carefully. Look for T8 LED tube cutsheets with complete information backed up by good warranties from people you know and trust.
  • Consider alternatives like LED troffer retrofit kits and even premium fluorescents. (Some last 84,000 hours.)
  • Do a small-scale mockup before buying.
  • Get feedback from users.
  • Don't mix different wiring types on a single project. (In fact, it's probably best to change all lamps so the wrong ones can't be accidentally put in down the road.)

As someone who recommends and sells lighting for a living, I prefer retrofitting with a quality LED troffer kit. They are fast and easy to install, look and perform well and really are not much different in price than several tubes.

The bottom line is that retrofitting to LED in this case may well be advantageous. Do your homework; consult with someone you trust and install a sample to make sure you are happy with the result. It is possible to save energy and keep things shining (making you the hero).

For more information, also check out the DOE report: "LED Linear Lamps and Troffer Lighting."