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Fluorescent phase-outs: Lessons from the past

As of September 2023, T5 and T8 fluorescent light bulbs will no longer be manufactured. Business Development Manager Christine Johns of Ceetech, an RSK Group company, argues that while the ability to purchase and use these tubes will not be immediately affected, the best and most economical action is to switch all tubes to LED light fittings immediately, rather than prolonging the change.

Fluorescent tubes are now on the way out. It’s the first of a series of steps designed to phase out fluorescent tubes completely in favour of LED lights, which offer a host of energy- and cost-saving benefits over fluorescent tubes. Completely replacing fluorescent tubes in a facility with LEDs does mean an upfront cost for new fittings, which all too often can result in the problem being ‘kicked down the road’ in an attempt to avoid the cost of a refit.

The phase-out of T8 and T5 tubes presents an opportunity to refit facilities with better, more efficient LED tubes: something we should be doing anyway. For starters, LED lights are cheaper to run. An equivalent LED fitting to replace a T8 tube would draw around a third of the amount of electricity. LEDs are also much more efficient at creating light, which means that while a 32-W T12 fluorescent tube will give out some 1800 lumens of light, a smaller 16-W T8-equivalent LED tube puts out 1900 lumens. This means you can use a smaller light fitting to give the same amount of light, making further efficiency gains.

An office running 50 light fittings could save £1903 on energy costs in the course of a year, giving efficiency and cost savings of around 60 per cent compared to equivalent fluorescent bulbs. If dimmable LED replacements cost £80 apiece, that means it is possible to make back the entire cost of refitting the office with LEDs within just two years.

This does not even factor in the significantly longer life that LEDs offer. A T8 tube might be considered to reach its end of life at 10,000 hours, while an LED replacement, on the other hand, might last up to 50,000 hours. That means for each single LED, you would have to replace the T8 tube five times!

Finally, LED replacement lamps do not emit any light in the ultra-violet spectrum, which is known to cause colours to fade in fabrics and to be a source of eye strain and eye fatigue.


As of 1 September 2023, T5 and T8 fluorescent tubes are no longer being produced, but existing stockpiles can still be used up, and there is no legislation requiring the use of LED lights in a building or facility. This is much the same as the process from two years ago, when we phased out T12 fluorescent tubes.

We learned a great deal from that experience. With more tubes being phased out, we can apply those lessons now to make the switchover a success.

As no new T5 or T8 fluorescent tubes are being made, the existing stockpile will be quickly used up, with replacement tubes becoming more and more scarce, until eventually they are unavailable. When T12 tubes were phased out, replacing a fluorescent tube was – at the time of the phase-out legislation kicking in – cheaper than refitting with an LED light, so many people held out, using the T12 tubes for as long as possible. This led to a ‘grey market’, where less-than-reputable groups and individuals bought up the remaining stock of T12 fluorescent tubes and effectively held them to ransom, selling to the highest bidders, making obscene fortunes: what was originally a £1.50 tube replacement was suddenly being sold for over £10.

Given the lifespan difference in fluorescent tubes compared to LEDs, not only was the cheap, short-term fix no longer cheap, but owing to how quickly they needed replacing, many people would have spent as much money on keeping their fluorescent tubes running than they would have spent by just replacing them with LEDs immediately.

Knowing that this is likely to happen again, we also know how to approach the phase-out to make the most of the opportunity.


Most importantly, we must accept that we will be refitting with LED lights. The quicker that process begins, the more cost-effective it will be. The longer we try to put off a refit, the more we spend on both replacement fluorescent tubes and on the cost of energy for the old, inefficient lighting.

Once we accept that, we then have to look at what to replace the old tubes with. It is possible, with some fittings, to install a ballast – this will enable the old fluorescent fitting to accommodate the energy-efficient LED tubes – but in my view, this is just another form of ‘kicking the can down the road’. As the T5 and T8 tubes have been phased out, the fittings and drop-in replacements will follow suit. Eventually, your fitting will fail; and then you’ll be at the stage of refitting anyway.

The best option is to dive in with a full refit right now with new LED fittings. Yes, there is an upfront cost, but the quicker you do it, the quicker you start saving money on energy and realising the benefits of LED lights. Once your new fittings and lights are in, you can comfortably expect to not need to touch them for the next five years, so why put it off?

Fluorescent tubes are old and inefficient, and it is past time we changed to newer systems. Dragging out that transition will only inflate the costs, and the quicker it is done, the quicker we can realise the savings. We’ve seen this with past phase-outs, and we will see it again.

About Sarah OBeirne

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