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Are Flourescent LED Tubes Ready for Prime Time?

LED Flourescents Rage In Lighting Market

Software Advise - Houston Neal - April19, 2010 – Light emitting diode (LED) fluorescent tubes are all the rage in the lighting market. The technology promises to be more energy efficient, less environmentally harmful and more economical than traditional fluorescent tube lighting. Regardless, there is a lot of debate over whether they are ready for widespread commercial use.

We recently came across this very debate being held in a LinkedIn electrical construction group. It was a heated thread with two electrical contractors hashing out the pros and cons of using LED fluorescent tubes. To continue our series of articles on "green" construction, we thought we'd tackle the issue ourselves. So here we present our findings on LED fluorescent tubes.

Survey Results

We recently asked our blog readers and other industry professionals to participate in a short survey on LED vs fluorescent tubes. We received great feedback from participants, so be sure to check out our survey results.

What is a LED Fluorescent Tube?

"LED fluorescent tube" is a misnomer. LED lights and fluorescent lights are completely different technologies. LEDs are very small bulbs illuminated by movement of electrons in a diode. Fluorescent bulbs use electrodes and a gas combination of argon and mercury to produce light. So the name "LED fluorescent tube" really refers to an LED tube that reminds us of traditional fluorescent tubes (likely above your head as you read this).

LED lights should also not be confused with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. CFLs use the same tecnology as fluorescent tubes to produce light, but on a smaller scale. They are a replacement for the incandescent bulbs commonly found in most home light fixtures. CFLs have garnered a lot of press because of their energy efficiency and environmental benefits (i.e. they use less power).

An LED tube is made up of hundreds of individual LEDs. They come in a variety of sizes (2, 4 or 6 feet), different temperatures (i.e. different colors of light) and varying arrays of LEDs. They can be purchased with new fixtures, or used for retrofitting existing fixtures. But keep in mind, they don't require ballasts, so those will need to be removed when replacing fluorescent bulbs.

When comparing LEDs to fluorescent tubes, here are four key specifications you should review:

  • Lumens – This is the unit of measurement for strength of light. Look for tubes with 1500 lumens or more.
  • Watts – This is a unit of measurement for power consumption. Four foot LED tubes typically use 15 to 25 watts, while fluorescent tubes use more than 30 watts.
  • Lifespan – This is how long the bulb will last. It's measured in hours. 50,000 hours is common for LED tubes.
  • Color temperature – The temperature of the light is the color of the light. It is measured in units of absolute temperature, or Kelvin (K). 3000K is considered warm (redder), 4100K is considered neutral, and 5800 K is cool (bluer).

Pros and Cons of LED and Fluorescent Tubes

To give recognition where it's due, fluorescent tubes are a great invention. They have been lighting most of America ever since GE brought them to market back in 1938. They are four to six times more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and are said to last 10 to 20 times longer. Of course there are disadvantages too.

Fluorescent tubes contain mercury and phosphor which present health and environmental risks. Lights require a ballast which adds to the cost of the lamp and can cause a buzzing noise. Finally, they flicker and the light is often drab.

Meanwhile, LED bulbs last longer than fluorescents, they don't contain harmful ingredients like mercury and they use much less power than fluorescent lamps. And this is just for starters. LEDs aren't perfect though. The tubes are generally not as bright and cost more up front.

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