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Out with fluorescent garage lights, in with LEDs

I’ve converted most of our home to LED lighting—costs have plummeted in recent years, and when you combine LED lights’ long lives with low energy costs, the payback period is incredibly short. Newer LEDs are also warmer in tone—we found some “soft light” 60W equivalent bulbs that are nicely warm (and warmer when dimmed). Through all of this, though, I had one area of the house I’d ignored: The garage.

Our garage has six (five overhead, one over a workbench) 48″ long fluorescent hanging fixtures. I hate fluorescent bulbs, but the cost to replace them with LED-equivalent fixtures was high—about $300 to do all six. But the other day at Costco, I noticed they had two-pack FEIT 4′ LED replacement bulbs—like these at Amazon—for only $18 (versus $28 at Amazon as I write this).

A “normal” 48″ fluorescent tube light, as in this Sylania four-pack is around $6 or $7 per light. So while the LED bulbs are more expensive, a $3 difference isn’t much at all given the lower engery usage and long life. (And the fluorescents in my garage go out quite often, even compared to indoor incandescents.) So I bought one box, as a test to use over the workbench.

Within a couple minutes of installing the LED tubes, I was headed back to Costco to buy five more boxes—the difference is that notable. Instant on, brighter and more-even light distribution, no flicker, and they should last nearly forever.

Here’s a before-and-after comparison; click to see the full photo…

As you can see, the right-most fluorescent tube (in the left half of the photo) has a large dead zone in the middle, and neither fluorescent tube light could be described as providing even lighting. By comparison, the LED tubes on the right provide an even spread of nice bright light—perfect for the garage.

If you have 48″ fluorescents in your home/garage, and a local Costco, it might be worth a drive to see if they have the two-pack lights in stock—they’re not listed on the Costco web site, though you can find a four-pack there (at $44 today, or $11 per bulb). Amazon’s FEIT two-pack isn’t as much of a bargain, at $14 per bulb. Amazon does have a couple of 10-packs (one, two) at roughly $9 per bulb, though I haven’t tried either of those.

Total up-front cost to convert the garage lighting was $90—not cheap, but I’ll probably never have to replace another bulb, my energy costs will be lower, and it’s a heck of a lot better than $300 to replace all the fixtures. Add in the brighter more-evenly-lit garage, and this was an upgrade well worth its cost.

4 Comments

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  1. Nice research Rob. The math bears out your conclusion that LEDs are less costly of the life of the bulbs compared to the alternatives. I wonder whether 20+ years is what one can realistically expect from an LED bulb’s lifespan. I remember expecting 10 years or so from CFLs but never saw that ever. When I would put in a new CFL, I would write the installation date on the bulb’s socket for reference. Usually I’d have a CFL last for about 2 years max. I hope LED bulbs last 20 years but I’m wary of those claims. All my LEDs have installation dates written on them.

  2. I would be extremely cautious about this retrofit. If the fluorescent ballast and the lamp are not compatible with each other you run the risk of sub par performance and potential fires. Believe me, this is not worth the risk. If they are compatible, then it will work well enough.

    1. The bulbs are specifically designed to retrofit fluorescent fixtures (T8 in particular, not T12), and specify on the box that no ballast removal is required. I have no safety concerns—especially as they’re in the garage and will only ever be on when someone is in the garage.

      From a comment on Amazon, if you install them in a T12 fixture, the light will shut off (thermal protection mode) when left on for some length of time. However, someone else commented they’re working fine in their T12 fixture.

      -rob.

  3. Great Article ! I’d like to convert the two 4-ft single linear T-12 fixtures in my kitchen to LED lights. These are 40W bulbs but I’ve measured 45+ watts probably due to inefficient ballasts.

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