Striking the right balance with LED lighting

When advising customers on upgrading to LED lighting, wholesalers need to consider the best solution for all parties. Adrian Kitching of Crompton Lamps considers the options.

While LED lighting has really taken off in recent years, many buildings are still using older lighting technologies. For the wholesaler, therefore, there are many more opportunities to sell LED lighting. The question is, what is the best way to go about an LED upgrade, in terms of providing the best solution for both the end customer and the wholesaler?

The benefits of LED lighting are well established. LEDs are considerably more efficient than older light source technologies and have a significantly longer life. Thus their benefits include lower energy costs (or improved lighting for the same energy consumption), reduced maintenance requirements and improved environmental performance for the building(s).

Essentially there are two principal ways to go about upgrading to LED lighting. One is to replace all the existing fittings with LED fittings, the other is to retain the existing fittings and retrofit LED light sources to replace the older light sources – which in the commercial and industrial sectors are most likely to be fluorescent or high intensity discharge.

From a wholesaler point of view this may seem like a no-brainer – at least at first glance. The fittings market is twice the size of the lamp market, and the lamp market is ultra-competitive – and affected by quarterly price deflation.

So on the face of it, vying for the fittings sales seems to be the way to go. And it can certainly be helpful for the bottom line if you can sell a £50 fitting rather than a £7 LED lamp. But is this the best option for your customer? Indeed, is it the best option for the wholesaler in the longer term?

Future sales opportunities

One thing to consider is the potential for future sales. Once you’ve sold an LED fitting the chances are you won’t sell another one to that customer again because of their long life. If you sell them an LED tube there’s a chance to sell them another one a few years down the line.

Moreover, many of those customers will already have invested in high quality, well-engineered fittings that have many more years of life in them. So why remove them and replace them with a £30 opal fronted integrated downlight? The care and effort the lighting designer put into the original design is simply being thrown away. Surely in such cases it’s better to exploit the service life of the fitting and upgrade to the benefits of LED lighting with retrofit light sources.

There are also other benefits to using retrofit, replaceable tubes. Not least of these is the ability to choose the preferred colour temperature and to match that colour temperature some years down the line when the lamp needs replacing.

And, of course, the capital outlay is less for a retrofit project than replacing all the fittings.

Retrofit choices

For these reasons, retrofit LED lamps have strong appeal for many building owners and the electrical contractors they employ. So it’s important that wholesalers are aware of the pros and cons of the retrofit lamps on the market, to advise their customers accordingly.

One of the most important criteria is that they are a direct retrofit with the minimum of hassle for the installer or, in the case of domestic sales, the homeowner. This is very straightforward with LED lamps designed as retrofit for standard domestic fittings originally designed for tungsten and halogen lamps. With compact and linear fluorescent fittings, the situation may not be quite so straightforward.

Compact fluorescent PLS/PLC/PLL lamps

When replacing these lamps with LED versions it’s reasonable to expect twice the lamp life with about half the power consumption, so there are significant energy and financial benefits. Typically, the lumen output won’t be the same but the important metric here is the useful output. Because LED lamps are angled and direct light better, they can deliver comparable useful light output even though total lumens are slightly less.

There are a couple of potential disadvantages associated with retrofitting LEDs to these fittings. One is that if the ballast is old it may draw more wattage that it would on a newer ballast, so it may be advisable to change the ballast as well. The other slight disadvantage is that the LED retrofit lamp will not provide a 360 degree output – though it is possible to tilt the lamp to utilise more of the reflector.

T5 and T8 linear fluorescent lamps

There are several designs of LED retrofit lamps for linear fluorescent fittings on the market, each with its own characteristics.

For example, some designs operate from the existing fluorescent ballast and have an integrated driver. This arrangement may limit lumen output and overall efficiency, though the efficiency will still be better than the fluorescent lamp being replaced. Also, using the existing ballast makes it impossible to predict its remaining life.

Other designs have an integrated driver wired direct to the mains through the existing end caps. These may not match the lumen output of the previous fluorescent tube, though they will draw less power. Moreover, this design requires the internal wiring of the luminaire to be modified, so that installation costs are increased.

There are also retrofit lamps with a remote driver. Again, these require modifications to the internal wiring of the luminaire.

Clearly, the most cost-effective option for the end customer is a direct retrofit design that delivers excellent light distribution and exceeds the efficiency of the lamp it is replacing. In the case of a T5 lamp with electronic ballast, which is already an efficient combination, increasing efficiency will require a high quality retrofit LED tube if the maximum benefits are to be attained.

High intensity discharge lamps

The most common replacements for high pressure sodium and metal halide lamps so-called corn lamps, which use multiple LED chips to provide a high lumen output. These are robust with consistent light output, though there is a significant drop-off in lumen output with age. Due to the multiple chips they may also run at very high temperatures, especially in a sealed fitting. This can have implications for lamp life.


When considering all of these factors, wholesalers need to strike a balance between what’s best for them and what’s best for the customer. The answer will vary from one project to another but the important thing is to see that there are advantages for wholesalers in both the retrofit and replacement options.

Therefore, whilst selling LED luminaires may appear to be most appealing of these two options there is less opportunity for repeat business in the future. Retrofit LEDs offer that repeat business and also provide customers with the opportunity to take advantage of LED lighting at a much lower capital cost and with less disruption to their building.

For these reasons the really good news is that there are no disadvantages for wholesalers in ensuring the end customer and the contractor get the best solution for each project. And that’s the real answer to guaranteeing repeat business.