Upgrading Troffer Luminaires to LED

Lighting accounts for roughly 20% of the electricity use in a typical commercial building, and the workhorse in these indoor applications has been the linear fluorescent lamp. In 2010, lighting systems using linear fluorescent lamps accounted for over 75% of the lighting service in commercial buildings. Recessed troffer luminaires, commonly available in 1’ × 4’, 2’ × 4’, and 2’ × 2’ sizes, provide the majority of this lighting. The total installed stock of common linear fluorescent luminaires in the United States is estimated to be over 960 million luminaires. Although the installation of LED troffer-style luminaires jumped from an estimated 40,000 units in 2010 to nearly 700,000 units in 2012, LED luminaires still represent less than 0.1% of the troffer luminaires installed in commercial buildings. It may be possible to achieve over 25% energy savings on a national level if LED technology reaches its projected market penetration in troffer luminaires of over 65% by 2030. The energy savings on an individual project can be much greater than 25%. The related economic and environmental benefits are substantial.

Three primary LED options exist for upgrading lighting systems that use fluorescent troffers: replacing the fluorescent lamps with LED replacement lamps, replacing the fluorescent lamps and other luminaire components with an LED retrofit kit, and replacing the fluorescent luminaires with new luminaires designed for LED light sources. Selecting the best option for an installation depends on the current lamp and ballast types and the condition of the fluorescent troffer luminaires, the desired photometric properties of the upgraded lighting system, the accessibility of the ceiling plenum, and the initial and ongoing economic goals for the upgrade. This fact sheet provides guidance on the various factors to consider when deciding on an LED upgrade for a fluorescent system.

An evaluation of LED upgrade options includes assessing the system costs and the impacts on the lighting system performance. LED replacement lamps often provide the lowest cost option in terms of purchasing the LED components. The cost of LED retrofit kits is usually more than replacement lamps, and purchasing new LED luminaires usually is the highest cost. Replacement lamps that simply snap into the existing fluorescent lamp sockets provide the lowest labor costs for installation. However, most products marketed as replacement lamps require further modifications to the luminaire, and will have labor costs similar to products marketed as retrofit kits. Labor costs for installing retrofit kits are generally higher than those for replacement lamps, and depending on the extent of the luminaire modifications required, may approach or even exceed the labor.

Several groups establish performance criteria for troffer luminaires that use LED technology. The Better Buildings Alliance, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Energy and owners, operators and managers of commercial buildings, provides fact sheets, specifications, and webinars related to high efficiency troffer lighting and other building energy products. The DesignLights Consortium (DLC) develops specifications for high efficiency, high quality commercial lighting solutions and maintains listings of qualified products that satisfy the specification requirements.

  • Warranty of at least five years;
  • Minimum luminaire efficacy of 85 lm/W;
  • Minimum CRI of 80 (the BBA Specification also requires a minimum R9 of 0); and
  • Minimum of 50,000 operating hours with lumen maintenance greater than 70% of initial lumens.


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