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LED Tubes: Beware Claims of “No Electrician Required”

Posted on Nov 25, 2013

Claiming “Ballast Compatible” to mean fixture modifications are not required is a scam!   Here’s why…

When installing LED tubes (or T5 Adaptors) the electronic driver (or ballast for T5Adaptor) has very different electrical characteristics to a magnetically ballasted T8 tube.  Leaving the ballast in place when retrofitting an LED tube in place of a T8 fluorescent will result in some energy losses through the ballast.  Depending on the wiring of the fixture, it may be worthwhile to bypass the ballast to remove this unnecessary energy waste.  That part of the equation is really an economic decision.  If the LED tube is “ballast compatible” then it means leaving the ballast in place will not significantly adversely affect the life of the LED tube.

More important than this however is the capacitor inside the fluorescent fixture (pictured below).  With a fluorescent tube the capacitor is required to lift the power factor (Wikipedia explains power factor much better that we can in the space here) up to acceptable levels and ensure the fixture is not drawing excess current that is not being used in the fixture.  With an electronic LED driver however, the capacitor has the opposite effect and causes the LED tube to draw significantly greater current than is required to run the lamp.  So even though wattage may be approximately halved by switching to an LED tube, current (Amps) will significantly increase, possibly doubling in magnitude.

This increase in current draw presents two problems.  Unless you are a large industrial user and your bill includes a kVA based tariff for network demand, you are unlikely to be billed for the increase in current draw, but your energy provider will not like it and may instruct you to correct it.  More importantly, total load on the lighting circuit could exceed the nominal capacity of the wiring, circuit breakers and other electrical equipment.  This means circuits could trip out far more frequently and that there is a risk of electrical fire through overloaded wiring and components.

So you really must disconnect the capacitor inside the fixture.  Because this is hard wired you should get an electrician to do it.


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