T-12 Fluorescents Go The Way Of The Dodo

Fluorescent tube lighting has long been the lighting option of choice for a wide range of commercial buildings, due to the fact that it’s more energy efficient than using incandescents. But as U.S. lighting standards have tightened up all around (with some notable instances of back-sliding), the good old T-12 tube is now going the way of the dodo.

United States lighting manufacturers will cease production on T-12 lamps next month in compliance with an energy efficient lighting mandate released by the Department of Energy (DOE). This mandate — part of a suite of such decisions that also predicated the phase-out of the 100-watt incandescent this year — was designed help the nation curb its carbon emissions habit by removing outdated lighting tech from the marketplace. The DOE’s mandate required magnetic ballasts, used in T-12 fixtures, to be phased out of production in July 2010; with the last of those magnetic ballasts accounted for, manufacturers will now cease production.

Fluorescent tube

image via Shutterstock

That’s good news for the environment. Sure, those old-fashioned fluorescents in the commercial sector didn’t suck up as much juice as their residential, incandescent cousins, but the commercial sector also keeps its lights on far longer, with most commercial fluorescent lamps seeing as much as 11 hours a day of service.

Beyond being inefficient on the energy front, T-12’s also have shorter lives, poorer color rendering and lower lighting output than more efficient fluorescent alternatives, such as the T-8 or T-5. According to SmartWatt Energy, retrofitting from a T-12 to a T-8 or T-5 fluorescent lighting system is a simple way to reduce energy consumption by up to 45%, producing substantial energy cost savings at a payback period between one and three years. (These energy efficiency upgrades may also qualify for tax deductions and utility rebates, further reducing the payback period and initial cash required to upgrade.)

And for companies that continue to drag their feet, higher costs will soon become a reality anyway, as the T-12 fluorescent, come July, is due to become something of a collector’s item.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.


  • Reply June 21, 2012


    My issue is this forces many of us with home shops and farms to upgrade when we cant afford it . I have 30 lights in my home shop and I’m on disability , sure the new one will be more efficient but look at the initial cost outlay to convert to a new style bulb which is by what I have found so far 3 times the cost of the bulbs I buy now . My friend runs a small upholstery shop and he just installed 150 new florescent t12 units ,, he laid out a small fortune and now when the bulbs are discontinued he will have to do it again before he even pays off the loan on the new lights that were just installed . 

    • Reply June 21, 2012


      Just to note, these regulations were specifically called for under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, were fully fleshed out in 2009, and manufacturers have been prohibited from making fluorescent magnetic T12 ballast even for replacement purposes since 2010.

    • Reply July 13, 2012

      Emily Schapira

      Stinmar1, there are still utilities offering really aggressive rebates to help small businesses convert their T12s.  We can help you do a rebate analysis and cost assessment for new options to see what help there is out there!  Just reach out at http://www.aelux.com.  Happy to help!

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