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Lights Out on the T12: How to Make the Switch

If we were a diner, T12s would be 86’d off the menu. But in our industry, it’s not as quick as a chalkboard erase or menu reprint. Our program teams need to get out there – they need to provide education and outreach to serve up savings and bring better efficiency to the table, business by business. The U.S. federal government has regulations putting an end to T12 fluorescent lighting – but they only apply to the import or manufacture of it.  

Regulation isn’t a stop button. There are many businesses across counties and cities operating without that knowledge or understanding of how much lighting efficiency can help them. It’s not something top of mind when you’re managing staff, budgets, local regulation, tax compliance, and services or products. Even more, T12s have been around since the 1930s; so, while they are outdated, they’re what many individuals are accustomed to using.  

But it’s a cost for companies not to make the switch. A typical 4-foot T12 lightbulb is 40W and will cost an average of $15 per year to operate. This could be replaced with a 15W LED tube, which would cost only $5.60 per year to operate and last 2.5 times longer. The actual cost to a business depends on the number of T12s they have and how many hours they use them, of course – but the bottom line is more Watts equals more dollars.

To get an understanding of just how many T12s are out there, my team visited 10 cities across Minnesota and assessed over 20 randomly-chosen businesses per city. We recorded a variety of information for each site including T12 fixture counts, lamp wattages and ballast types. The results may be surprising. To learn about them in more detail, visit the original webinar that outlines this study.

  • 56 of the 210 buildings had T12s, bringing their statewide estimate to 1 in 4 non-residential buildings.
  • The total power consumed by T12s in Minnesota is about 242 MW, representing 10% of all commercial and industrial lighting power.
  • Minnesota T12s consume about 881 GWh per year, equivalent to the energy consumed by about 77,000 U.S. homes.
  • T12s are most prevalent in small businesses.

After evaluating the results, we came up with some recommendations for making the switch from T12 to LED:

  • Use LED T8s, LED retrofit kits or LED luminaries. Design Lights Consortium (DLC)-listed LED products are preferred.
  • Extra precautions must be taken when replacing T12s with Type B (Direct Wire) LED T8s. Risks include electrical shock, incompatible socket types and accidental insertion of a fluorescent tube in a direct-wired fixture.
  • Installation costs can be a barrier for upgrading T12 fixtures. Energy efficiency programs can help overcome this barrier through bonus offers, bounty programs or bulk purchase programs.

It’s important to keep in mind that energy savings are only part of the equation. Upgrading to LEDs can improve the overall lighting quality in a space, offering a myriad of benefits including improved sales, safety and productivity. The bottom line is there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each customer has different needs and budget when it comes to lighting. Thankfully, the variety of LED products on the market today make it easier than ever to upgrade to an advanced lighting solution. 

Are you a small business ready to make the switch? Contact us to find out what programs are offered in your area – you may be able to take advantage of rebates for your upgrades.


Joe Plummer
Written by Joe Plummer

Program Manager
Joe Plummer is a subject matter expert who always keeps the clients’ best interests at heart. He provides technical analysis and consulting services for a variety of utility and government clients. Joe’s duties include custom rebate analysis, energy audits, technical resource manual (TRM) development and applied research and development studies. Joe holds master’s degrees in environmental policy and electrical engineering and is a certified energy manager (CEM).


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