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Contractor’s Corner: LEDs and Retrofits

By Stan Walerczyk

With LED products, the lighting retrofit industry has to change.

First of all, it is important not to buy and install earlier version LED products. Often the specifications are made six months, one year or even longer before the products are ready to be purchased. So an old list should be checked to make sure the newest and best LED products are used.

I recently had a very good conversation with my old friend, Brooks Sheifer, who was a co-worker at Alamo Lighting and Sun Industries in California. What he clearly stated resonated with what I have been feeling for quite a while.

Before LEDs, mainly high performance fluorescent lamps and ballasts, often with reflector kits, were the workhorse products in non-residential lighting retrofits. It was no problem for contractors to get these products quickly and at good prices. What was not used on a specific project could be easily be used on upcoming projects or returned to the distributor, and the distributor could probably easily resell to other customers.

But most LED products cost much more, are more custom for specific projects, have better versions soon available, are often difficult to use on other projects, and are hard to return back to distributors, which can have a hard time selling to somebody else or return to the manufacturer.

Before LED products were frequently used in retrofit projects, contractors usually would mark up labor and parts costs for profit. But if the same percentage mark up that was used for incumbent technology products is used for LED products, the LED products become so expensive and often not cost effective to end-customers. So some contractors add a flat fee on LED products instead of the long used percentage mark up. But if too high a quantity of LED products were purchased or if there are other problems, there may not be sufficient adder to make enough money.

Yes, LED T8s are somewhat universal with standardized lengths and end-pins, but please, please, please do not use LED T8s, because of costs, light distribution, real rated life and numerous safety concerns using existing fluorescent lamp holders. This described in detail in my “Are LED T8s Ready For Prime Time?” white paper, which is a free download at my website, www.lightingwizards.com.

Another semi-universal LED product type is LED light bars. These are much better than LED T8s, which is also discussed in the white paper. Cree UR, LED Living Technology Claris and the upcoming Redbird Cardinal StripItKits are three good examples.  

The Redbird LED light bars may be special, because of stated 130 lumens per watt out of lensed fixture, 100,000 rating and 10 year warranty. With identical LEDs and drivers, the Redbird LED light bars provide significantly more light than their LED T8s, because the light bars attach directly to the top of fixtures, using it as a heat sink to keep the LEDs and driver cooler and there is no plastic 1″ diameter tube that the light has to go through.

For existing troffers, LED hard-wired LED troffer kits with integral lens and optics are usually better than LED light bars, and of course better than LED T8s. I have another free white paper on this subject.

In general the lighting retrofit industry is transitioning closer to the remodel and new construction model, where the contractor usually does not make specifications.

When LED products are a significant part of specific retrofit, remodel and new construction projects, contractors should talk with distributors to find solutions that are good for both. Maybe contractors and distributors can work together with manufacturers so warranty starts when products are installed, rather than when they were manufactured.

What is happening with LED products may start to happen with high performance HVAC, motors and other systems in the future.

As mentioned at the end of all of my columns, contractors, please send me feedback and input for new columns. My email is stan@lightingwizards.com.

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