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Practical advice on commercial lighting from LED retrofts to lighting design


Where to buy a plug-and-play T12 LED

Posted by Tom Borga on



Linear LED tubes have become more competitive over the years, and with that comes more options than ever. So, if you’re operating with discontinued T12 fluorescent tubes, you’re probably beginning to weigh the options for a retrofit.

But in the sea of choices, how do you know what the right product is and where to buy it? Now there's an improved option on the market you may want to consider.

Is there a plug-and-play T12 LED?

Yes. Philips has an improved TLED series now available called the "UniversalFit" TLED that works with both the existing magnetic T12 ballast and new electronic ballasts.

Here's a little more back story. Philips used to produce an easy plug-and-play LED tube that was compatible with the old magnetic ballast powering many T12 fluorescent tubes. The old product was easy to install (plug-and-play with the existing ballast), but when the old magnetic ballast failed, the tube became effectively useless. This product (20T12 EM part number) was eventually discontinued.

What's the big deal with this new LED tube? It all comes down to ease of installation and compatibility. 

The benefit of the UniversalFit tubes is that they are compatible with both the old magnetic ballast that may be in your fixture and the newer electronic ballast out on the market. So, when the old magnetic ballast fails, you can install a new electronic ballast and keep running off the same LED tube. 

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This product isn't the only way to upgrade old T12 fluorescent tubes to LED, but it may be the easiest. We'll cover a few more options so you can make an informed decision.

Which LED T12 solution is right for me?

The first – and often most disorienting – question to consider is what product to choose if you’re replacing fluorescent T12 tubes. Essentially, you have six options.

  1. Philips UniversalFit plug-and-play LED
  2. Plug-and-play LED paired with a new electronic ballast
  3. Direct wire or ballast-bypass LED
  4. LED tube with a remote driver
  5. LED retrofit kit for the existing fixture
  6. New integrated LED fixture

Whew. Is that all?

Making sense of these options can seem daunting, especially since the lighting industry is constantly changing.

What to look for in linear LEDs

When it comes to choosing linear LEDs, it seems like manufacturers are coming out of the woodwork every day. We recommend going with a reputable manufacturer that you know will stand behind their product claims and warranty.

In our experience, some of the best plug-and-play options on the market include Sylvania’s SubstiTUBE products and Philips Instafit. We also supply plug-and-play tubes from MaxLite and TCP.

For more tips on choosing a reputable manufacturer, download our checklist.

Where to purchase linear LED tubes for T12 retrofits

Does it really matter where you purchase LED products? Well, that depends. In the case of LED tubes in a commercial environment, you have a few risks to manage:

  1. There have been recalls and claims against LED tubes, so make sure you purchase the tubes from a reputable company that can help get you walk through the warranty process. Will Amazon be there if your tubes fail six months down the road?

  2. We’ve seen some poorly made tubes that didn’t last long, so make sure you’re able to get reliable advice on the reliability of the product and manufacturer.
  3. Be careful about the difference between residential and commercial grade products. You’ll want to make sure you get the right match for your project.
  4. If you’re doing a large-scale project, you’ll probably benefit from the project management and logistics support that a national distributor can provide. 

Depending on which product you use, you may find that you have to purchase from a distributor that has lighting expertise.

In an effort to serve our customers more efficiently, we're investing in online shopping tools to make purchasing great products easier. If you're a business customer, you can sign up for an account and receive business pricing here.

Other T12 to LED conversion options

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are other options to address discontinued T12 tubes. Some require more cost and time than others, so the most important thing to consider as you’re walking through the decision is your primary goal. 

Additional reading: What to do if your T12 magnetic ballast goes bad

Easy maintenance may point you in the direction of a new LED fixture or an ultra-long-life T8 tube. Maximum energy savings may point you in the direction of an LED tube with a remote driver or a new fixture.

The most common product selected by our customers is the direct wire or ballast-bypass LED tube. Here are a few reputable options to consider. Or contact us to sign up for a business account to receive business pricing.

Our LED Buying Guide is meant to make lighting easy for you.