If a lighting specifier thinks about the equipment and maintenance needed for a project, lamp and ballast selection is probably one of the most important “lighting infrastructure” decisions that he or she can make. And yet, a report by the National Lighting Bureau (NLB), a nonprofit independent lighting information source, said sales of T12 lamps are still quite strong, accounting for 30 percent of all 4-foot-length fluorescent sales.

The NLB's late August 2009 release is alarming for several reasons. First, it signals the continued production of this 70-year-old fluorescent technology which, as NLB vice chairwoman Susan Bloom of Philips Lighting and Philips Lighting Electronics says in a press release, “is generally considered outdated when compared to the far more efficient T8 and T5 fluorescent technologies currently available.” Second, it means that a substantial portion of the nation's buildings are not using the most efficient lighting technologies, and thus not operating at cost- or energy-effective standards. According to Bloom, industry sales data indicates that three out of every 10 4-foot fluorescent lamps sold in the United States is a T12. Finally, continued sales of 4-foot T12s indicates that many building owners and facility managers likely are not aware of the Department of Energy (DOE) mandate that will go into effect on July 1, 2010. This mandate says the magnetic ballasts most commonly used for the operation of 4-foot T12 lamps will no longer be produced for commercial and industrial applications.

According to the NLB's report, the July 2010 deadline is the final phase of a multistep process, which began July 1, 2005. At that time, ballast manufacturers could no longer sell T12 magnetic ballasts for use in new luminaires with full-wattage T12 lamps. In the next phase of the process, March 31, 2006, was the last day lighting manufacturers could incorporate those ballasts in any new full-wattage T12 fixtures. When July 1, 2010, arrives, “the manufacture of T12 magnetic ballasts solely for replacement purposes will cease.”

What does this mean? Millions of T12 sockets eventually will become obsolete because the substantially reduced number of available replacement ballasts will make them harder to maintain. So building owners will have to decide when, not if, they will address how to change these fixtures. The good news is that there are a lot of efficient options available, such as replacing the magnetic ballast with an electronic ballast; modifying the fixtures to accept either a T8 or T5 lamp and its companion electronic ballast; replacing the entire fixture; or exploring a completely different lighting technology.

There also are incentives available to make the switch less burdensome to the building owner. Some are administered by individual states and utility companies. There also is the Commercial Building Tax Deduction outlined in the Energy Policy Act of 2005—if the lighting upgrade qualifies for this federal tax incentive.

However, as with all federal regulations governing lamps, there are exceptions to the deadline. The following can continue to be manufactured:

  • T12 ballasts that dim to 50 percent or less;
  • Two-lamp F96T12HO ballasts designed for outdoor sign applications where temperatures may fall to as low as minus 20 F; and
  • Magnetic ballasts with power factors less than 0.90, designed and labeled for residential building applications.
  • Nevertheless, the end of T12 magnetic ballast production will serve as a kind of national house cleaning when it comes to inefficient lighting technology. The DOE's Energy Information Administration's last released Commercial Energy Consumption Survey in 2003 reported 2.73 million pre-1980 buildings and 1.92 million post-1980 buildings that have been using outdated lighting technology. That data is nearly six years old; one can only imagine the 2009 numbers. In the end, switching from T12 fluorescent lamp technology to either T8 or T5 lamps has the potential to reduce lighting costs by almost half, which should make a lot of building owners happy and alleviate many of the concerns they might have regarding the impending change.