New regulation: putting fluorescent lamps in the shade

The familiar sight and sound of traditional fluorescent lighting have been with us for as long as we can remember, particularly the old-fashioned tubes found in commercial buildings such as offices, schools, hospitals, and universities. 

It is common industry knowledge that LED lighting has offered a credible improvement to fluorescent lamps for some time, yet many facilities and business managers have been reluctant to make the switch.    

As a result, there are still millions of energy-inefficient fluorescent lamps in use across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with the average-sized primary school alone containing around 1,000 individual tubes. But new EU and UK rules affecting certain types of fluorescent lighting are on the way, and these will undoubtedly accelerate the pace of change. The EU has been leading the phasing out of fluorescent lighting in recent years, which saw the removal of highly energy-inefficient T12 lamps from the market in 2021.

The next step will see the EU and UK restrict materials containing hazardous substances such as mercury, and phase out many lamps still in use, including the T5 and T8 linear types of fluorescent lamps, and the ever-popular compact fluorescent lamps.

However, post-Brexit, the timetables for implementation are subtly different for the EU and the UK. 2023 will see the remaining fluorescent lamps added to the list of banned items. These will no longer be allowed to be placed on the UK market from 1st August 2023 – six months later than in the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU.

As a result, we will start to see the availability of existing stock diminishing. The production of associated lighting inverters and control gear has already been phased out, so, if the lighting control hardware fails, the connected fluorescent lamps would no longer be viable.

The challenges with compromise 

We are already seeing some businesses and facilities managers trying to go halfway and keep the fluorescent lamp fittings but replace the tube with an LED equivalent. Although this may appear like a commonsense and cost-effective compromise, it is important to remind customers and decision-makers that this could present further hidden costs and problems.   

Just switching LED tubes may require the luminaire wiring to be adapted and tested to ensure that it still meets safety requirements. LED tubes are also 20 to 30% less energy efficient than a full LED replacement, have a shorter lifetime, and often come with reduced warranties.

Present this as an opportunity

The reason why so many traditional fluorescent lamps have been ignored is the capital cost of replacement, and for some, the new legislation will feel like an unwelcome expense, particularly at a time when so many businesses are dealing with many other high material and labour costs.

But I think this can, and should, be presented and overcome as an opportunity. The latest LED lighting, when combined with good design and control systems, can reduce electricity consumption by up to 80% – at a time when energy has never been more expensive. 

LEDs can also deliver great quality of light, and, when used with the correct optics, can produce evenly distributed illumination along with good glare control. Good lighting is proven to have a positive impact on the wellbeing and productivity of staff, as well as other people who use the space.

So, regardless of the new legislation, I would see the demise of the T5, T8 or compact fluorescent lamps as an opportunity to recommend a full LED replacement, as the payback for customers will probably be faster than they anticipate.

Finally, it is important to note that not all LEDs are the same, and although cheaper, low-quality LED lighting will deliver immediate energy efficiency benefits and keep customers happy in the short term, they may not produce the required lighting quality and scheme and will most likely have a short lifespan, so make sure you factor that into your decision making.

Whitecroft Lighting 

Based in Greater Manchester, in the Northwest of England, Whitecroft has been manufacturing high-quality commercial lighting for almost 80 years, and although my focus is on Northern Ireland, we also distribute across the Republic.

Whitecroft has recently supplied major lighting installation projects at the new University of Ulster Campus, the Lisburn Community Care and Treatment Centre, and a series of new leisure facilities – including the South Lakes and Robinson Centres.