Introducing TriplePlay™ Fixture Compatibility for T8 LED Tube Lights

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T8 LED tube lights continue to be the lamp type of choice for a wide range of commercial and industrial lighting applications. With such a large base of fluorescent tube light fixtures already installed in office spaces, classrooms, retail properties and industrial facilities, a direct replacement of fluorescent lamps with their LED versions is both cost-effective and relatively easy to perform.

However, because fluorescent lamps and LED tube lights are built on fundamentally different underlying technologies, their electrical input and wiring requirements differ significantly. This can make understanding fixture compatibility quite challenging, and if performed incorrectly, can even result in safety and shock risks.

This article explains how Waveform Lighting's TriplePlay™ fixture compatibility technology reduces this complexity to help streamline product selection, installation and long-term maintenance of lighting systems.

CAUTION: Always observe electrical safety precautions. Installation should only be performed by qualified individuals with knowledge of lamp fixture operation and installation. If you are not qualified or not comfortable, seek a qualified electrician’s assistance. Please also see our note on ballast compatibility below.

How are fluorescent fixtures configured for use with LED tube lights?

LED tube lights are generally designed to physically fit into existing fluorescent fixtures, so that only the fluorescent glass lamp needs replacing, and the fixture (or "housing") can remain in place. To better accommodate LED technologies, however, fluorescent fixtures that use LED tube lights may have their internal wires reconfigured. Fluorescent fixtures that accommodate LED tube lights are generally configured in the following ways:

  • With ballast ("plug and play")

  • Ballast bypass ("direct-wire"), single-ended

  • Ballast bypass ("direct-wire"), double-ended

Fluorescent fixtures which currently have fluorescent lamps will have a fluorescent ballast in place. This type of fixture is called "with ballast," and LED tube lights that can be used in such fixtures are often marketed as "plug and play" ready. You may also see a designation called "UL Type A." This is the most convenient method, as no additional rewiring work is needed, and this would be a true, direct lamp replacement. Most LED tube lights, however, are not compatible with fluorescent ballasts, and those which are compatible will typically cost more due to the additional electrical circuitry needed to make them compatible.

Fluorescent fixtures which already house LED tube lights (and not fluorescent lamps) are more likely to be "ballast bypass" fixtures. In these fixtures, the fluorescent ballast has been bypassed such that the electrical wires are fed directly to the LED tube light via the lampholders (aka "tombstones"). The fluorescent fixture may or may not be present in the fixture - in some cases they may have been completely removed from the fixture for recycling, since they are not needed for ballast-bypass LED tube lights.

"Ballast bypass" fixtures will only work with LED tube lights which are compatible with such configurations. Oftentimes LED tube lights for this type of connection is called "direct-wire," reflecting the idea that the LED lamps are directly wired to line voltage, without the fluorescent ballast. These lamps are also considered "UL Type B" lamps.

Furthermore, ballast bypass fixtures can have wires going into either just one end, or both ends of the LED tube light,. These are distinguished as "single-ended" ballast-bypass and "double-ended" ballast-bypass wiring configurations, respectively.

Fixtures whose ballast has been bypassed are no longer compatible with any fluorescent lamps, and inadvertent installation of fluorescent lamps in such fixtures can create a significant safety hazard. Therefore, care must be taken to ensure that ballast bypass fixtures are marked clearly to ensure fluorescent lamps are not accidentally installed in them.

Most LED tube lights on the market today require a specific type of fixture wiring. For example, a lamp may be designated "ballast bypass / single-ended" which would suggest that the fixture must have its fluorescent ballast bypassed or removed completely prior to installation of the LED tube light, and that it must be wired for power from a single end only. Rewiring fixtures to bypass a ballast isn't too difficult, but for a larger installation, the time and labor costs involved can quickly add up.

Waveform Lighting offers T8 LED tube lights which incorporate TriplePlay™ fixture compatibility, which allows the same lamp to be used in any of the three configurations listed above. TriplePlay™ lamps are compatible with 4-ft fluorescent fixtures with and without fluorescent ballasts, and can either be double or single-ended for direct-wire configurations.

What are the advantages of TriplePlay™ lamps?

(1) Wide range of fixture compatibility

TriplePlay™ LED lamps work both with fluorescent ballasts and without fluorescent ballasts. This means that these lamps can be used in a much wider range of fixtures, allowing customers to focus on other factors that matter to them.

For example, if you have a retail store opening with existing fluorescent fixtures but want to optimize on cash flow, installing the TriplePlay™ LED lamps with the fluorescent ballast in place may be the way to go, since the immediate labor cost outlay would be lower.

Or, you may have found a "T8 LED ready fixture" which has no fluorescent ballast, and you just love the aesthetics. No problem - the same TriplePlay™ LED lamps can be used in this fixture as well.

(2) Flexibility with fluorescent ballast phase-out timing

Fluorescent ballasts are absolutely necessary for operating fluorescent lamps, but in an LED world, they are an obsolete component that does not serve any useful function for LED lamps. Using ballast-compatible LED lamps with fluorescent ballasts has the convenience of not needing to perform any fixture rewiring work, but keeping the fluorescent ballast in place does leave in an extra component that can be a point of failure over the long run.

When the inevitable fluorescent ballast failure occurs, the LED tube light will also cease to operate. At this point, the fluorescent ballast will need to be retired and removed, and you'll be faced with several options. If you have a TriplePlay™ LED tube light, you can simply wire the same lamp directly to line voltage in a ballast bypass ("direct-wire") configuration. If not, your existing LED lamp is likely ballast-compatible only, meaning it can only be used with a functioning fluorescent ballast. This means that you'll either need to purchase a new LED tube light that is ballast-bypass compatible, or, ironically, purchase a replacement fluorescent ballast for the LED tube light.

For larger commercial installations, the labor costs for an LED upgrade can be significant and may even be the reason the project cannot proceed, especially because the labor costs are incurred up front at the time of installation. With TriplePlay™ LED lamps, however, the timing of the fluorescent ballast bypass work can also be adjusted depending on labor cost budgets and resource constraints. For example, fixture rewiring to remove fluorescent ballasts could be performed at a pace of 10% of fixtures per month over a 10-month period. During this time, however, the same TriplePlay™ LED lamps can be used in both the pre and post-rewired fixtures without any disruption or additional component costs.

(3) Future-proofing for future installation locations

Prior to the proliferation of LED tube lights, virtually all fluorescent fixtures were wired with fluorescent ballasts. Nowadays, however, there are quite a few fluorescent fixtures that have been rewired and ballast bypassed for LED tube lights, so it can be quite difficult to predict what kind of fixture you'll be dealing with, especially if previous owners or contractors have been involved.

By virtue of the TriplePlay™ compatibility, these lamps are designed to work in fluorescent fixtures regardless of whether they have had any rewiring work. This of course simplifies things during installation, but is also a consideration for customers who plan on taking the LED tube lights with them when their tenant lease is up, as there is no way to predict what type of fluorescent fixture configurations the next location may have.

Note on ballast compatibility: Waveform Lighting's T8 LED tube lights with TriplePlay™ fixture compatibility are designed to work both with and without fluorescent ballasts. When using them with fluorescent ballasts, please check to make sure that the fluorescent ballast is listed on our approved ballast list prior to installation and use. Failure to do so may result in damage, shock and fire risk.

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