The Definitive Guide to LED Tube Lighting

5 minute read – Tube Lighting Guide by VIRIBRIGHT

LED tubes are often used with office lighting and warehouse applications and can be used in both indirect and parabolic light fixtures. They work well in areas that implement climate control and have standard heights for the ceiling, including storage areas, mechanic garages, and fabrication floors. Almost any LED tube is a great, energy efficient alternative to fluorescent tubes. They also feature improved color rendering (CRI), burn out less frequently, and require less overall maintenance.

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Lighting Color Temperatures

When installing or replacing your overhead lighting, it is important that you know about color temperature so you have lighting which is consistent spanning the entire coverage area of your application. Color temperature is rated on a scale called Kelvin (K) and color usually ranges between 2400k to 6500k. The colors available on the market will typically fall under 2700k, 4000k, 5000k and 6000k. Viribright features all major color ways, and we were among the first to make all major colors available universally across our entire product line.

A lower Kelvin value will mean that the light output is going to be closer to an orange or “warm” or “soft” tint. “Cool” White normally references bulbs with a color rendering of about 4000k and are similar in color to clear metal halides. This color temperature is recommended for workspaces and offices. 5000+ Kelvin T8’s are the “daylight” equivalent with a glow that ranges from pure white to bluish white. Daylight color temperature is useful for any high-security areas, garages, parking structures and display areas. See the following image above as a reference.

Understanding Tube Sizes

If the label is missing or illegible, you can measure the diameter to determine the size. The letter “T” will stand for tubular shape and the number will tell you the bulb diameter in eighths of an inch. T8 will have one-inch diameter, the T5 will have a 5/8 diameter, and a T12 will have 12/8 inch or 1.5 inch diameter. If T8 and T12 are using the same bi-pin base (G13 most commonly), then you can use the bulbs interchangeably using the same fixture just as long as you check the milliamp requirements for the ballast (if applicable).

T5 (2 foot / 4 foot / 8 foot)

T8 (2 foot / 4 foot / 8 foot)

T12 (2 foot / 4 foot / 8 foot)

Different Types of LED Tubes

There are currently four different kinds of options available in the marketplace:

1.) Direct Wire or Ballast Bypass LED Tubes

Also known as “Type-B”, the most commonly installed is the direct wire or ballast bypass option. Rather than building expensive circuitry within for the ballast to function, this option enables the ballast to be bypassed entirely by the user. At installation, it will run directly off of the line voltage, therefore “bypassing” the ballast.

Interacting with the line voltage (which in commercial applications can be up to 277V) does cause potential safety hazards. Therefore, standards have been introduced by safety organizations like UL to ensure that the product can be safely installed. This results in a majority of single-end (SEP) powered instead of double end (DEP) powered tubes. Single-end powered simply means the power is wired through one end of the tube. Oppositely, double end powered means power is wired through the tube on both ends.

Non-Shunted Rapid Start Tombstones

This introduces a unique requirement. It is required that the socket is a “Non-Shunted Rapid Start” or T12 type. You are fortunate if you already have a T12 fixture. This means you already have all of the necessary hardware. The input side sockets on T8 fixtures must be changed over to “Non-Shunted Rapid Start” T12 sockets because there is a circular conductor in T8 sockets that disallows them to separate the line or the circuit’s neutral sides properly. Although the wiring is fairly simple and only takes a few minutes per fixture to perform, we recommend this task only be performed by a qualified electrician.

For commercial properties, this is required. Although the installation requirements for ballast bypass tubes are more complex, there are greater advantages. Their unit costs are lower compared to all other options. This is a very important consideration with large projects.

2.) Electronic Ballast Compatible Tubes

Also known as “Type-A” or “Plug-n-Play”. Electronic Ballast Compatible Tubes are a fairly new option. As is suggested by the name, they are intended to work with electronic ballast installations. So, they will not function without ballasts or with magnetic ballasts. According to industry data, this combination accounts for more than 1.2 billion tube lights, because they continue to become more and more popular. Similar to universal tube technology, installation is easy.

You just need to pull the old tube out and replace it with the LED tube. Due to the huge assortment of electronic ballasts that are available in the marketplace, many manufacturers have conducted compatibility testing and a complete listing has been developed of compatible ballasts that their own LED tubes work with. The disadvantages of this options are the higher upfront cost per unit, in addition to the continuous worry that the LED tube won’t illuminate if the ballast fails. Organizations and individuals need to weigh the potential drawbacks against the lack of downtime and ease of installation.

3.) Hybrid (Electronic Ballast Compatible + Ballast Bypass)

Also referred to as “Type A+B”. There are some sellers who recognize the opportunity to provide LED tube lights that will work with both ballast and non-ballast installations. This has resulted in a new category being introduced, which is the “hybrid” tube light. They work with both T8 electronic ballasts and can be wired directly. With this tube install, there is flexibility when a ballast fails or when a facility has both T12 and T8 that require both types of wiring. This would be considered in most cases to be a “one-size-fits-all” approach and proves to be quite handy. 

As the technology is continually developed we are seeing flocks of new customers and maintenance supervisors buy the hybrid tube for every day installs and make it their go-to choice for tube lighting. The advantage of being able to bypass a failed ballast is a huge benefit for installers and mitigates the need for tube replacement.

4.) Universal (T12 Magnetic or T8 Electronic) Ballast Compatible LED Tubes

These LED tubes are the newest, easiest to install and most expensive. They work with any kind of existing technology – whether it is T12 (Magnetic Ballast) or T8 (Electronic Ballast). To install them all you need to do is take the old fluorescent tube out and install the LED tube in its place. They are a very good option for smaller facilities or homeowners whose main goal is no downtime during installation and complete power reduction.

The main drawback to these options is their higher up-front costs per unit. They are one of the highest of all the options. Also, since the ballast is in place still there are maintenance concerns as well. That is particularly critical with T12 magnetic applications when it is no longer possible to procure new ballasts.

Installation Guide and Wiring Diagram for LED Tubes

Viribright recommends that only qualified electricians attempt to install LED tubes due to possible electrical shock. For more information on installing LED tubes, see our T8 ballast bypass installation guide.

We Are LED Fluorescent Replacement Tube Experts

Hopefully, this article has helped to simplify the basic of how to choose the best solution for your LED fluorescent tube replacement needs. You can depend on to carry the finest selection at all times of all of the options that are available in the marketplace from the most reliable and leading manufacturers and at affordable prices. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us with any question you might have about your upcoming fluorescent tube replacement project.

The fluorescent LED replacement tubes today are able to offer quality one for one replacement and hit price levels that feature payback periods under 12 months. The result is both commercial and residential customers becoming interested in the technology, with many being discouraged by the number of available options in both products and the installation methods.

Selecting the Right Replacement

The most important step in selecting the right product for you is to determine the installation method that you want to use. The method for installation will vary largely on the type of fixture technology that you have, either being T8 or T12. To determine what you already have installed, it will be best to take the bulb out of the fixture to read the markings located on the end.

This will tell you quite a bit about the current tube and indicate whether or not the bulb is a T8 or T12. If you do not see markings, the size or diameter of the tube will be the easiest way to tell the kind that you have installed.

T8 tubes will be one inch in diam. and T12 will be 1 1/2 inch in diameter. If you happen to have a tube that is relatively small in diameter, about 5/8 of an inch, it is a T5. Once you know exactly what kind of tube that you have installed, the key will then be to understand the kind of ballast. Generally, the T8 will use the electronic ballast, while the T12 tubes will have magnetic ballasts. Opening up the fixture that you have and taking a look at the ballast will then give you the final answer that you are looking for as to the kind of ballast that you have.

Usually, you are going to find that the older the fixture is, the more likely you will have a magnetic ballast in place. When you have the tube type and ballast considerations out of the way, you can then look further into your replacement options.

LED Fluorescent Replacement Tubes

There is a high consumer demand for quality replacement products for LED, which brought about a lot of industry changes, starting with the introduction of the proper light output and safety standards. Much of the development stems from facility and building managers who look for ways to replace fluorescent tubes with a longer life solution.

Replacement tubes for LED fluorescent options not only lack any great light output, but the safety certifications are fairly non-existent. A lack of quality brought about early replacement solutions that, unfortunately, gave early buyers a poor impression of the technology for fluorescent replacement options.