Energy Efficient Lighting

After simple behavioral energy efficiency measures (turning off lighting at night etc.), lighting has the potential to be one of the simplest and most cost effective ways to reduce energy consumption and save money in a foodservice establishment. Lighting represents approximately 11% of a restaurant's energy bill. When it comes to lights, there are a multitude of different products and manufactures available. So, for this purpose, a general overview of only the most common lights used in foodservice establishments are listed. The National Lighting Product Information Program (NLPIP) (NLPIP) has detailed information on virtually every lighting system and component used in a commercial setting.

The following information uses the word "bulb" and "lamp" interchangeably.

Comparison of incandescent to CFL bulbs
Effect of color temperature differences (left to right): (1) CFL: GE, 13 watt, 6500 K (2) Incandescent: Sylvania 60-Watt Extra Soft White (3) CFL: Bright Effects, 15 watts, 2644 K (4) CFL: Sylvania, 14 watts, 3000 K

General Practice

Whatever lamps you decide on, stick with the same wattage, color and preferably brand to avoid the lighting rainbow affect of several varieties of color and brightness of lamps in your ceilings. Create a guide that indicates lamp location, brand, wattage and color. Then stick with those numbers, and don’t buy random lamps at the hardware store.


LEDs have pretty much taken over the lighting industry and there are very few lamps you can't replace with a quality LED. Prices, quality and output have improved to a point that there are few reasons not to use LEDs for all your lighting needs. Energy Star provides a light savings calculator that estimates annual savings using LEDs. Each 60 watt equivalent lamp running 12 hours a day saves about $22 a year in energy costs.

For the lamps below, we’ll cover LED replacement options and options for maintaining efficiency when non-LED lamps are required.


There aren’t many reasons to use incandescent lamps at this point, but there are a couple areas where they may be necessary.

Dimming - Incandescent lamps dim beautifully and create the warmth and glow desired in a dining room. Modern, dimming LEDs are a valid option, but there are two issues with them. First they do not provide infinite dimming capabilities like an incandescent. This really isn’t a serious issue as they provide enough steps that all situations can find a setting that meets the lighting needs of the space. Dimmer switch compatibility is a larger issue. LEDs are not universally compatible with all dimmers. Incompatible lamps may flicker, jump lighting levels, or not work at all. For this reason, it is sometimes easier to replace dimmers with a known compatible option when changing to LED lighting. If you are able to identify your dimmer model, you can check compatibility with potential lamps. However, most older dimmer switches have not been checked and users will simply have to test lamps to ensure they will dim properly or change out the dimmer. Any LED lamp that will be dimmed must be rated for dimming and we recommend only selecting high quality, Design Light Consortium rated lamps.

Heat - LEDs hate heat, which can shorten their life, so areas over the cook line may be one of the few spots where incandescent are still needed. However, personal experience shows that LEDs actually do just fine over cook lines. Again, choose quality over price.


Fluorescent are essentially dead and should be replaced with LED replacements. Any existing CFLs can be replaced with a lower wattage, better lighting quality and cheaper LED lamp. Linear lamps pose a bit more decision making as there are a few options.

Type A / Plug & Play: Electronic ballast compatible, plug and play replacement lamp.
Type B / Bypass: Direct wire lamps that require unshunted tombstones
Type C / External Driver: External LED driver and driverless lamps
Type A+B / Hybrid: Ballast compatible and can be direct wire option.
Integrated: Complete fixture with integrated LED strip lights - no lamps.

We’ll cover a few scenarios and the pros and cons of the options above.

Type A or Plug & Play Lamps

Type A are an electronic ballast compatible, direct replacement lamp for T8 systems. This is the most inexpensive option, the most available lamp type and the easiest to install. Because it does not require any wiring updates, these lamps can be replaced by virtually anyone. It’s not quite as easy as screwing in a light, but the next best.

All major manufacturers will provide a list of tested and compatible ballasts. Don’t overlook this when selecting a lamp. Additionally, assess the age of the existing ballasts and potential of near future failures. Old ballasts may warrant looking at another option as you will incur the added installation costs eventually.

Pros: Inexpensive, quick and easy install, readily available lamps
Cons: Lamps need to be compatible with the existing ballast. Ballasts can still fail and will need to be replaced, adding maintenance costs. Ballast use a small amount of energy contributing to the total energy consumption.

Type B or Bypass Lamps

Type B is a direct wire or bypass that includes an LED driver integrated into the lamp. These cannot be used with a ballast so they require an electrician to rewire the fixture, and tombstones must be replaced to unshunted units.

Pros: No additional components like external ballasts or LED drivers/less long term maintenance.
Cons: More expensive upgrade. More of a safety issue in that the tombstones are direct wired to 120v.

Type C or Exterior Lamps

Type C lamps use an external LED driver that powers the tube. Like Type B, these require rewiring the existing fixture, but also provide the best dimming and control options.

Pros: Best efficiency of any system, best control options
Cons: More expensive overall system

Type A+B or Hybrid

As the name suggests, these are both Type A and B lamps. They offer the ease of the initial install of Type A lamps, and can also operate as a Type B lamp if and when the ballast fails or the lamp is incompatible with the ballast. The fixture must be rewired for the lamp to operate as a Type B lamps.

One issue with the A+B is that each fixture requires a rewire when a ballast fails, which becomes expensive unless there is an in-house electrician. At some point, the full system needs to be rewired to make it economical long-term.

Pros: Easy and inexpensive initial install
Cons: Require rewire for ballast failures, added maintenance costs


Integrated fluorescent replacements do not use a lamp, but have the LED installed directly into the fixture.

These are nice for new installs and are an easy install for retrofits of linear fixtures because there isn’t any converting going on like rewiring tombstones, you’re not dealing with old lens or beat up old fixtures. However, when the lights fail ten years down the road, the entire fixture must be replaced or a less likely scenario of soldering in individual components of the LED system. For fixtures like 2x4 or 2x2, this isn’t too big of an issue because the replacement fixture will match close enough, but if you have a unique wall sconce, the likelihood of finding an exact match in ten years is small. At that point, you have a mismatched fixture or are replacing all of them.

Pros: Easy install. Clean and new
Cons: A lot of waste at failure. Replacement may not match design of old unit.

T12 to LED tubes

Any T12 system with magnetic ballasts will require a complete removal/replacement of lamps, ballast and tombstones regardless of which lamp/system type you choose. Depending on age and condition of the fixtures, it may be more economical to replace the entire fixture whether it is an integrated unit or factory made for A, B or C type lamps as labor for an electrician to replace all the components will exceed the cost of the fixture.

T8 to LED

T8 to LED is generally provides the easiest and most economical upgrade options. The LED lamp types are covered in detail above.

Multifaceted Reflectors (MR lamps)

MR lamps are made with a reflective material to direct the light into a concentrated area. They are most often used in decorative pendant fixtures and track lighting for accent, direct and task lighting. The MR16 is the most commonly used bulb.

MR16 bulb

As with some other LED lamps, MR lamps can have compatibility issues due to the transformer used to convert the voltage to 12 volts. So, again finding a compatible match can be an issue and may warrant replacing the whole system.

Something else to consider with LED MR16s is that they have a solid back whereas existing halogen lamps are glass and allow light out the back. While they are technically a task or spot light, you may find LEDs don’t provide the same lighting experience in a retrofit as there isn’t the light reflecting off the ceiling or wall.

LED MR lamps provide a lot of maintenance benefit as typical halogen MR lamps have short lives. This can make replacing lamps an annual task versus a weekly one.

Exit Signs

Modern lighted exit signs are made with LED lights that use about 1/10 the energy of standard incandescent bulbs and can last 10 years without needing to replace the LED bulbs. The simple fact of never climbing a ladder to replace a burnt out bulb that you soon discover you do not have is reason enough to replace exit signs. Energy Star estimates a life cycle (10 years) savings of over $300 and 1.6-year payback period. With that said, I’ve never seen an LED exit sign that is burned out. I’m sure it happens.

Occupancy Sensors

Occupancy sensors use motion, infrared, audio or a hybrid of these sensors to turn lights and equipment on or off in response to the presence or absence of a person in the area. In the foodservice industry, they are great energy savers in spaces like walk-in coolers, bathrooms and storerooms where the lights tend to be left on, but have little activity throughout the day. Occupancy sensors come in a variety of technologies, wattage capacities and programming options for uses in different areas and needs. Green Seal has published a report on occupancy sensors with recommendations based on specific needs.

Lighting Fixtures / Ceiling Fans

Energy Star has developed standards for energy efficient lighting fixtures and ceiling fans. Most of these fixtures were developed for residential use, but with thousands of qualified options, many could easily be used in a dining room setting.

Lighting Specialists / Electricians

When finding a lighting contractor, look for one with experience in energy efficiency and one that can answer questions regarding product qualities and efficiencies rather than simply install the cheapest and most familiar system. Many lighting companies in states with energy efficiency incentives specialize in lighting efficiency upgrades and will help with rebate forms, tax credits, payback schedules and most importantly choosing the correct lighting system. As with finding any good contractor, get bids from several companies and do not just choose the cheapest. The US Green Building Council publishes a list of member companies that currently does not contain a "Lighting" category. However, a local "Contractor and Builder" member may be able to help with upgrades or suggestions on other lighting contractors.

Many local utilities and non-profit organizations have programs to help businesses conduct energy use and lighting audits. These services are usually free and provide professional, experienced knowledge on energy efficient lighting systems.

Additional Lighting Information

CRI - Color Rendition Index. This number based on a scale of 100 refers to an object's perceived color under a light source compared to that of daylight or an ideal incandescent. Look for fluorescent lamps with high CRI ratings that will simulate an incandescent bulb.

Color Temperature - Often labeled as "cool white," "warm white" or some various there of, the temperature refers to a lights tone. Warm colors emit more warm colors like red, orange and yellow, while cool light emits more blue tones.

Jerry's Home Improvement(TM) Fluorescent Lamp Selection Guide

Effect on "Atmosphere"

Colors Strengthened

Colors Weakened or Grayed


Cool White

Neutral to fairly cool

Orange, yellow, blue


Blends with natural light

Deluxe Cool White

Neutral to fairly cool

All nearly equal


Simulates natural daylight

Warm White


Orange, yellow

Red, blue, green

Blends with incandescent

Deluxe Warm White


Red, orange, yellow, green


Simulates incandescent light

Additional Green Lighting Resources

Lighting Research Center
Research and education organization devoted to lighting - from technologies to applications and energy use, from design to health and vision.

The National Lighting Product Information Program
Their site provides in-depth information on a wide variety of lighting types. Their reports provide basic information for the layman and more complex information for building professionals.

Lighting Tax Deduction
A web site developed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the Commercial Building Tax Deduction Coalition, which provides info on federal tax deductions for lighting upgrades and useful information on current energy efficient technologies.

Green Seal
Green Seal is a non-profit organization that certifies environmentally responsible products. They have published a few reports on CFLs, occupancy sensors and luminaries for different lamp types and recommendations for each product type.

Energy Star
Energy Star is a government program developed by the EPA and Department of Energy that provides information on energy efficient CFLs, light fixtures, ceiling fans, exit signs and numerous other household items.

GE's web site provides several different calculators to help determine everything from how many fixtures a space needs to cost of waiting to replace lamps, along with a plethora of additional informational on lighting. A great site for designers and architects.

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