Put Safety First in LED Installations

September 27, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

led installationA press release from Foshan Electrical & Lighting Co. acknowledges that its LB18T8-OPL/84X LED tube carries an unauthorized certification mark from UL (formerly Underwriter’s Laboratory). The press release said that the fuse construction is not compliant with UL requirements and the voltage level that the UL mark attests to is lower than the voltage the tube uses.

News of one device with a bogus certification is not, in and of itself, a huge deal (except, of course, for those organizations using them). The tube has been available for about two years and only 9,800 were produced. The notice – and others like it, which can be seen at the Underwriter’s Laboratory website – raises an important point, however: Organizations installing anything in their facilities must be extraordinarily careful of what they buy. They also must pay attention to how the job is done.

One reason is that retrofit standards are lax. The emphasis seems to be on getting the job done, not necessarily doing it correctly. Mark Ode at Electrical Engineering suggests that the rush to move to LEDs may be leading some to play fast and loose with installations:

Many electric utilities have pushed to replace incandescent and fluorescent luminaires with LED lighting. Rebates and tax incentives are often offered to commercial and industrial customers to encourage these changes. Unfortunately, the retrofit-kit installation is often done without permits or inspections. Electric utility companies should be encouraged to require permit information as part of the completed rebate and tax submittals to ensure proper inspection of the retrofits has occurred.

Of course, the need to be safe is this is not limited to LEDs. But, since lighting fixtures are ubiquitous – with dozens or even hundreds being changed out at one time —  it is particularly important to pay attention. Companies must be sure that they are using the right equipment by checking to see that it is UL approved, that the approval is legitimate and that the unit is being installed correctly. They also must ride herd on  vendors and installers if they come from outside the company. (An Energy Manager Today post on this topic in April included some startling pictures of badly installed LEDs)

At Facility Executive, Terralux Director of Strategic Marketing Matthew Sallee said that the safety standard for LED retrofits is UL1598C. He discusses the contents of retrofit kits and their proper installation. These kits, he said, include LED retrofit drivers, modules and engines; the fixtures, hardware and instructions. The installer must take care that worn out parts are not being used:

In many cases, the existing lamp-holders are yellow and brittle, and no longer suitable to make an electrical connection. They can even crumble.  Over time, the heat and radiation effects of Pin-CFL lamps can be highly damaging to lamp holders, and this equipment should not be reused.

A very useful overview of LED retrofits was published this spring by UL. The piece lays out the basics. A particularly useful section looks at the standards governing different classes of retrofits. The main UL standard for retrofits is UL1598, but there are a number of others. Together, they cover areas as diverse as exit signs, luminaries, refrigerator luminaries and self-ballasted lamps.

The entire white paper is worthwhile. The bottom line is simple: There is a lot that potentially can go wrong with a poorly done retrofit. Not following the rules can lead to inefficient operations – thereby neutralizing the very benefits that are LEDs’ main selling point – and endanger people in the building.

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