Changing Fluorescent Tubes to LEDs

Intermediate
Beautiful tube-type LED bulbs
Fixtures with tube-type LED bulbs fit in perfectly.
Tube-type LED bulbs
LED bulbs can fit directly in your fluorescent light fixtures.
Remove the original bulbs
Step 2: Carefully remove the fluorescent bulbs.
Remove the ballast
Step 3: Remove the ballast wiring cover and ballast.
Rewire the electrical
Step 4: Rewire electrical supply to opposite ends.
Reassemble
Step 5: Reassemble wiring cover and install LED bulbs.
Finish up
Step 6: Close the breaker, hit the switch...ta da!
Beautiful tube-type LED bulbs
Tube-type LED bulbs
Remove the original bulbs
Remove the ballast
Rewire the electrical
Reassemble
Finish up

My husband David and I have been switching all of our home’s lamps to LEDs. For lighting efficiency, you can’t beat ’em. Most replacements were straightforward—unscrew the old compact fluorescent bulb from the light socket and screw in a new LED. But replacing our 32-watt T-8 linear fluorescent bulbs with 20-watt LEDs required some tinkering.

The LED bulbs will physically fit into the 4-foot-long fluorescent fixtures. However, the ballasts will ruin new straight-LED bulbs. Some LED bulb manufacturers offer bulbs that can work with the ballast in place, but they are less efficient and more expensive. (For more pros and cons on replacing fluorescent tubes with LEDs, see bit.ly/tubereplacement.)

Here are the steps we took to replace our old T-8 linear fluorescent bulbs in an older kitchen fixture:

Step 1: Be Safe

Turn off the electricity. The “lock-out, tag-out” approach is safest—turn off the breaker that supplies power to that fixture. Tape a note over the breaker that explains you are working on a fixture and to keep the breaker off. Inform other people in the house what you are doing. Also make sure you wear eye protection—this is especially important should an old fluorescent bulb shatter while you are removing it.

Step 2: Remove the Bulbs

You may need to remove a fixture cover to expose them. In some states, fluorescent bulbs are considered hazardous material. They contain mercury, and should not be thrown in the trash but must be taken to a disposal center (some hardware stores serve as drop-off points). See bit.ly/lamprecycle for regulations in your state.

Step 3: Remove the Ballast

Remove the cover(s) from the ballast and wires and unscrew the ballast from the unit. Remove the ballast from the fixture wires, leaving enough of the black (typically “hot” or energized) and white (typically neutral) wires from the center to reach the socket wires. We threw the old ballasts in the trash. There are no regulations regarding their disposal and no recycling programs available for them.

Step 4: Rewire

Next, connect the fixture and socket wires together, then replace the wiring cover. The most straightforward way to rewire the fixture is to twist the wires together with the properly sized wire nuts. In our case, there were two yellow wires on the left side; and two reds and two blues on the right side. Regardless of the colors, the important thing is to put all the wires from one side together securely with one of the leads from the center (i.e., the incoming circuit wires), and all of the wires from the other side together with the other lead.

Some replacement LED tubes are made with both the hot and neutral connection on one side. In that case, you’ll need to rewire the sockets and follow the LED bulb manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 5: Install LEDs

Take the LED bulbs out of their packaging, peel off the protective plastic, and remove the tip guards. Install the bulbs as you would a fluorescent T-8, inserting each end into the slots and twisting to lock each into the receptacle, with the LED string facing down. All bulbs should be tightly seated.

Step 6: Try It Out

Return to the breaker box, remove your note, and turn on the breaker. Test the light and replace the cover, if your fixture has one.

Let There Be Light

If in the future someone mistakenly installs fluorescent bulbs into the fixture, the bulbs won’t work, but won’t be harmed. It’s a lot like what happens when the ballast dies on an old fluorescent fixture—no light. Just in case, consider placing a sticker on the wiring cover noting that the fixture is wired for LED only and has no ballast.

We tested a new two-bulb fixture fresh from the store with the old T-8 fluorescents and with the new LED bulbs. The fluorescents, despite being rated at 32 watts, drew 45 W each, while the LED bulbs (rated at 20 W) drew 19.9 W each. We typically run the lights four hours per day, 365 days a year, and our electricity costs us $0.17 per kilowatt-hour. In this case, our annual savings will be $6.23. Our LED bulbs cost $12 each, so it will take a couple of years to recover the cost of the replacement.

The light quality in the kitchen is very good—the bulbs provide the same amount of light as the old fluorescents, but with a nicer color cast and no flicker. The lights take about 1 second to come on fully.

Comments (10)

Marc Fontana's picture

Great Article ! I'd like to convert the two 4-ft single linear T-12 fixtures in my kitchen to LED lights. These are 40W bulbs but I've measured 45+ watts probably due to inefficient ballasts. Your article doesn't say so, but I imagine these T-8 LED bulbs should fit in a T-12 fixture as well, since they use the same G13 bi-pin sockets - am I correct?

My current T-12 Fluorescent tubes are GE Ecolux Kitchen & Bath F40KB which produce 3090 Lumens , 3000K and CRI 70. I would like to find LED tubes or fixtures with similar color characteristics. The LED replacement tubes I find online are typically around 1800-2000 lumens, so not as bright as the fluorescent tubes, and their color temp is in the range of 4000K to 5500K, so a bit bluer and harsher light than I'd like in my kitchen but I would be willing to try them out, if I can produce the same amount of light. My tubes are inside a framed box, so I can really replace them with various LED fixtures if I can find the right product(s) and it makes sense energy wise and financially.

$12 is a good price. Where did you buy your LED bulbs?

Thanks.

pjeckert@gmail.com's picture

If you remove the ballast and wire the bi-pin sockets directly, they should take the T-8-sized LED bulbs just fine. But you are right about the lumens. The best we could find was 2400 lumens with 96 LEDs, so you'll lose some light intensity. We bought our bulbs from LEDKing.us through their EBay store, delivered to our Post Office for about $12 each. Good news is they come in three colors:
• Warm white (3000K light temperature, similar to incandescent light),
• Daylight white (4500K, similar to sunlight)
• Cool white (6000K, similar to standard fluorescent, bluish white)
They also come in “clear”, “cloudy”, or “striated”. We used the “clear” ones in the fixture in our article because it had a light diffuser and we used the “striated” ones in the open fixtures in the basement because the striation provides some light diffusion.

mohannad mahdawi's picture

I did it tow years ago and I feel so satisfied
the suppler told me its 15 y long life, so its very economic and efficient.
the amount of light is more than the florescent bulb and softer

Peter Ferlow's picture

Surprisingly, HID still offers more efficiency per watt. If you already have a 12v battery bank. Try any number of cheapo HID kits available on ebay. Can be found for under $35 for two ballasts and two bulbs. Get the 4000-5000k colour bulbs. 35w HID is VERY bright. With my K1200LT BMW I can now actually see stuff at night! Anyhow, experiment with sticking an HID bulb into a big glass globe type fixture, I'm sure 3000 lumens will be plenty bright. Take a look at LED vs HID further down this page: http://www.hid-lightsdownunder.com/... 35w HID takes 39w of LED to equal.

BlindSquirl's picture

I prefer low-tech solutions. I know that sounds ironic when talking about LED lighting but I know of what I speak. I spent 20+ years as a product designer in the auto industry and understand the dangers of complexity. Rather than lock myself into one specific LED replacement unit simply because it fits into the standard 2 pin fluorescent socket, I would simply replace the ballast with a standard duplex outlet and put something like this LED Tape and a 12volt "wall wart" style power supply in it's place. The wall switch would continue to function to turn the lights on and off and there are a myriad of LED colors available. You might not even need to physically remove the ballast but simply disconnect it.

k kerl's picture

Did you measure actual lumens output for the LEDS or did you assume they were "looking the same"? Usually the T8's (if cleaned, with good ballasts) put out significantly more lumens. And the $12 LEDs are a bargain, is that a repeatable price? SeattleSocrates

pjeckert@gmail.com's picture

We reported the lumens the bulbs came with (2400), did not have a way of measuring. Also we agree that they are a bargain! We bought our bulbs from LEDKing.us through their EBay store, delivered to our Post Office for about $12 each.

Brian Wood_2's picture

Very interesting, particularly the $12 T-8 replacements. Where were theses sourced from? At $12/tube they become very attractive for replacement of existing florescent bulbs even with the labor.

Michael Welch's picture

Hi Brian. See the author's note above.

Stephen Bach's picture

I've been very enthusiastic about LEDs lamps, partly because of their lower operating cost, and also because they don't contain mercury the way compact fluorescents do. But I recently saw an article on the Huffington Post about how the blue light emitted by most LED lamps affects melatonin production in our bodies, with effects on our sleep, among others. I bought these two expensive LED task lamps which I really love, one of which I've been using to read by before I go to sleep. Well, I'm going to switch to a low-blue-light LED lamp.

For those interested, there's a lot out there about the effects of blue light. Here are three links.

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsl...

http://www.cclvi.org/contributions/...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/...

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