General Lighting

DOE Puts New Limits on Fluorescent Lamps

The Department of Energy (DOE) is tightening the noose on inefficient fluorescent lighting. New regulations that will go into effect January 26th, 2018 are expected to greatly reduce the availability of standard 4 ft linear and 2 ft U-bend 32w T8 lamps, as well as some reduced wattage T8 lamps. After that date, distributors will be allowed to sell remaining inventory of non-compliant lamps until supplies are exhausted.

The DOE began enforcing standards that phased out inefficient lighting technologies in July 2012, when new regulations eliminated the majority of 4 ft linear and 2 ft U-bend T12 lamps and many 8 ft T12 and T12HO lamps. Temporary exceptions for low color rendering T8 lamps which also failed to comply, expired in July 2014. Since then, consumers have had to convert their T12 fluorescent lighting to T8 lamps or, for the more forward thinking, T8 LED tube lamps.

However, the new rules will strengthen existing energy standards by 1-4% for 4ft linear T8 and 2ft U-bend T8 lamps. Lamps that do not comply will be prohibited from further manufacture and distribution as of the effective date in 2018. Until then, manufacturers have three years to review their products and reengineer or discontinue them on a case by case basis. For the most part, it seems that primarily reduced wattage (i.e. 25W, 28W) T8 linear fluorescent lamps will stand alone in passing the standards.

The effect is that consumers will find it much more difficult to find T8 lamp options. Most likely any surviving choices on the market will come at a higher average initial cost. Consumers will have a few energy-saving alternatives to choose from, including switching to reduced-wattage lamps,which the DOE estimates would have an average payback of 3-4 years. Reduced-wattage lamps can be used with dimming ballasts to save energy as well, though users should make sure the ballasts are rated to function with reduced wattage lamps, first.

Now more than ever, switching to TLEDs appears to be the most promising energy-saving option for the long term. For those consumers who upgraded their T12s to a T8 linear fluorescent lamp, the fix has been given an expiration date. By 2018, replacing those T8 linear fluorescents will become increasingly difficult. TLEDs have a much faster ROI of about a year and half, not including rebates and state incentives. They can also be wired directly into the line voltage, removing the future maintenance costs of replacing ballasts when they fail before the long-lived LED.

Whichever option consumers choose, they should consider the benefits of a full upgrade versus replacing non-compliant lamps individually as a part of maintenance. Replacing all lamps at once will ensure consistent lighting quality and color. It also provides an opportunity to completely re-evaluate the existing lighting system.

In 2010, the DOE estimated there were 532 million 4-ft. linear T8 lamps and 14 million T8 U-bend lamps installed in commercial and industrial buildings in the United States. But not for long. I, for one, look forward to seeing the energy savings that could be accomplished with the enforcement of the DOE’s new regulations.

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