How to pick a lighting retrofit for linear fluorescent fixtures. LED Tubes or LED Retrofit Kits?

So, you’ve decided to retrofit all your interior linear fluorescent light fixtures with LEDs. Great! Where should you begin? What kind of retrofit works best for your site? Let’s explore some options to answer some of your questions.

Currently, interior LED retrofits can be broadly divided in to two categories:

  • LED tube replacements for linear fluorescent lamps, or
  • LED retrofit kits

LED tube replacements

This form of retrofit is the cheapest way of converting your site to LEDs. Not all LED tubes are made the same way. There are three types of LED tubes that you will encounter:

Type A. One to-one replacement of existing linear fluorescent lamps with LED tubes.

We frequently find customers targeting this type of replacement when scoping a lighting project. On the face of it, this retrofit appears to be simple and straightforward. Requiring minimal modifications to the existing fixture or wiring. Although this type of LED tube is cheaper to install, maintenance costs and poor lighting quality add up in the long run. We rarely recommend this type of retrofit.


  • Cheapest way to go to LEDs
  • Bare minimum initial labor


  • Uses existing ballast, will need maintenance as ballast fails
  • LED tube-to-ballast compatibility needs to be checked
  • Power loss from existing ballast
  • Limited dimming and control compatibility

Type B. Bypass the existing ballast and wire LED tubes to line voltage.

These type of LED tubes have an internal driver that regulates current.


  • Eliminates constant ballast replacement cost associated with “Type A tubes”
  • Eliminates ballast-LED tube compatibility issues


  • Existing fixture needs electrical modification as the tubes are directly wired to line voltage
  • Sockets may need to be replaced
  • Electricians needed for each fixture due to line voltage installation
  • Limited dimming and control compatibility

We have had clients with shoe-string budget and a slim maintenance department look at Type A and B Tubes as an easy way to upgrade to lighting at their facilities.

Type C. LED tubes with remote driver.

This type of retrofit requires removal of existing lamps and ballasts, installation of LED tubes, and dedicated drivers to operate the lamps. If you are looking for a quick and relatively cheap way to go all LEDs for your facility, we recommend going with Type C retrofit. While it is slightly more expensive in terms of first costs as compared to the other two types (Type A and B), its benefits far outweigh the initial cost.


  • Best in class system efficacy
  • Eliminates ballast-LED tube compatibility issues
  • Installation crews don’t require electricians for all the work – new wiring is largely low voltage
  • Excellent dimming and controls capability


  • Comparatively higher first cost
  • Sockets might need to be replaced

Disadvantages of LED TUBE Retrofits

Though LED tubes are readily available, we are not big fans of this type of LED retrofit option, because:

  • Almost all major manufacturers of LED tubes have voluntarily recalled some of their products from the market citing fire hazards.
  • Using LED tubes in existing fixtures will probably result in minimal benefit to the occupants. Using new LED tubes in existing fixtures that are 70-80% efficient will not help achieve the full benefits of the retrofit. In other words, not all the light leaving the lamps will reach the work-plane.
  • LED tubes are a directional source of light applied to a fixture that was designed for fluorescent tubes that radiate through 360°. Using LED tubes in parabolic fixtures or suspended direct indirect pendants will result in terrible photometrics (or perception of light in the space).

Our Recommendation: LED Retrofit Kits

Instead of swapping out fluorescent lamps for LED tubes, we recommend our clients take a deeper dive into retrofitting mount fixtures with LED retrofit kits. These kits have following advantages over LED tubes:

  • Better thermal management; remember – LEDs are happy when they don’t heat up!
  • Best photometrics, more of the light leaving the fixtures reaches the work-plane.
  • No compatibility issues
  • Minimal maintenance over its long lifetime
  • Excellent dimming and controls capability
  • Better lumen maintenance as compared to LED tubes

If you manage a facility that is short on maintenance staff or is looking for a long-term solution, LED retrofit kits are the way to go. We have been working with clients, some of whom have burned their fingers with the wrong type of LED tubes, look at LED retrofit kits as a credible solution. Most institutional clients we work with want LED lighting that is reliable and will last for years to come. LED retrofit kits makes the most sense for them. If you need any help with your next lighting project, contact us anytime.

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