What Happens When Your LED Retrofit Lights Fail

ILT LED Refrigeration Sticks

Starting in the late 2000’s, convenience stores, grocery stores and other retail establishments were replacing their existing fluorescent lights with more efficient LEDs. Fueled largely by rebates from utility companies and the promise to slash energy costs substantially, these establishments couldn’t replace their fixtures fast enough. Business was booming.

LEDs promised users the ability to jettison their inefficient fluorescent, incandescent, HID and other traditional lighting products for light sources that offer a longer life (up to 50,000 hours), use significantly less energy to operate, work better in cold temperatures, are instant on, and easily connected to controls for dimming, occupancy sensing, and the like. While LEDs have by-and-large delivered on that promise, like everything else, all good things must come to an eventual end.

Some ten years on and establishments that were early adopters of LED lighting are starting to see some of those fixtures fail. Still others are beginning to notice that these lights may not be as bright as they were when they were installed. So what’s happening? To put it simply, this is how LEDs die. Most don’t typically burn out ‘catastrophically’, they fade slowly over time.

Most LED fixtures developed ten years ago would have an average life expectancy of 50,000 hours – or about 6 years if left on 24/7. Life expectancy looks at two things – the power supply, and when the light emitted from the LED drops to 70% of it’s original output. Most LED drivers ten years ago had an expected life of about 5 years. The power supply is typically the weakest link in any LED system and will eventually experience a catastrophic failure. This is not a major deal, or a big change over fluorsecent fixtures using ballasts, if the LED fixture allows for an easy replacement of the power supply. Absent a defect or misuse of the fixture, most LEDs will continue to emit light so long as there is power going to the diode. The caveat is that the light will diminish over time and become dimmer and dimmer. The specifications for most LED fixtures was L70 at 50,000 hours, or the time at which the LEDs would reach 70% of their original output. While the fixture itself may still be in working order, users may want to replace them to meet their originally designed light levels. Additionally, LEDs continue to see constant improvements in both their efficacy and life expectancy, making the specs of fixtures made ten plus years ago nearly obsolete. Replacing old LED fixtures with newer ones could easily yield additional energy savings.

For grocery, convenience and other retail stores that are seeing failures in their refrigerated display case LED lighting, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  First, replacing a burned out LED light is probably not as easy as swapping out a fluorescent tube or changing a traditional light bulb. There is no standardized form factor for these types of LED light sources. In other words, they weren’t designed according to an ANSI standard where you can just swap one manufacturers light product for an equivalent. So if the led board can even be replaced in these fixtures, in all likelihood you will need to go back to the original manufacturer of that fixture.

Going back to the original manufacturer may pose a challenge in and of itself. Many manufacturers jumped on the retro-fit band wagon when business was booming. As the opportunities and rebates started drying up, many abandoned their product lines or went out of business altogether. And some of those companies were well known giants in the industry.

Lastly, it’s important to note that any replacement that was installed using rebates will not qualify for additional rebates to replace them. That was a one-time shot. Further, most utility companies have guidelines on what they will rebate, so even if you’re switching out the unit for the first time, if it’s already LED it probably won’t qualify for a rebate. This means the burden for the cost of the re-lamp (whether it’s just replacing a component, or replacing the entire fixture) will be solely on the store.


So what does this mean for G-stores and C-stores?

The first thing you should do is plan. If you retrofitted your refrigerated display cases and other lighting in the store to LED, you should estimate when these lamps will begin to fail. You should use the original specifications and manufacturer’s warranty as your guideline (see example of discontinued Sylvania LEDstixx refrigeration lighting system.  Click for larger image). Next, contact the installer or manufacturer you purchased the retrofits from and find out if they have an off-the-shelf replacement solution in place.

If they don’t offer an affordable replacement, or they are out of the business altogether, consider looking for an LED lighting manufacturer that can offer an off-the-shelf solution that will fit your application, or customize one for you. ILT has worked with numerous customers, from regional grocers to national chains, to design customized retrofit solutions that meet both performance and budget requirements.


If you have a retrofit project that needs a customized solution, contact us today!


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