UL Issues Warning on LED Retrofit Safety

by | Apr 1, 2016

Yesterday, Energy Manager Today posted a blog on the need to carefully plan often expensive and ambitious LED retrofits. One of the suggestions – from industry expert Jody Cloud – was to make sure that the LEDs are properly certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

As if to reinforce the important point that incorrectly or shoddily done projects can cause safety issues, UL – an organization which describes itself as “a global independent safety science company” – issued a warning yesterday about LED retrofit kits. There have been, the organization said, a “growing number of reports of improperly installed and uncertified retrofit lighting kits that may pose a fire or shock hazard.”

LED retrofit in a refrigerated case in a convenience store

Carelessly drilled hole in a refrigerated case in a convenience store

Shari Hunter, the Business Development Manager in UL’s Lighting Division, estimated said that the incidence of improper installations could be 10 percent or higher. Of course, only a small portion of the unsafe installations actually are reported to UL. Hunter pointed to one inspector in Arkansas who contacted UL with details about five or six violations in his jurisdiction alone.

So far, incorrectly installed LEDs have yet to be blamed for a fire. The danger is real, though, according to Hunter and Richard Berman, UL’s Senior Regulatory Engineer in UL’s Regulatory Services Group. There are a few problems.


Nothing secure in this installation

In some cases, Berman said, installers are using uncertified elements. They simply are installing what he refers to as ‘pieces and parts’ of components bought from electrical suppliers and, in essence, creating their own ad hoc retrofit kits. In other cases, the instructions accompanying the kits are being ignored. In other words, they are making physical changes to the installation, such as drilling holes in the equipment, without guidance. “They are creating hazardous conditions in respect to improper wiring, or improper components that have not been evaluated,” he said.

The situation could grow worse. Hunter said that there has been “huge growth” in the number of retrofit kits available as LEDs gain popularity and manufacturers introduce products to the market. Hunter and Berman said that problems are widespread and have been seen across every region, though they may be a bit more pronounced in rural areas where permitting tends to be more relaxed. “We find it’s a growing issue around the country.”

Hunter provided an example: In an existing installation, a troffer may hold two or four florescent tubes. Switching to an LED requires changing the power supply, the wiring and the LED itself. This will include disconnecting the ballast and either bypassing or removing it. The power supply cable than is attach to the LED power supply the ballast and attaching the electrical line to the LED power supply. While the output side likely is stepped down to 12 volt or 24 volt DC, the operation involves work that, if done incorrectly, can cause problems.

Last year, Craig DiLouie at Electrical Contractor offered insight into LED retrofits. There are, he writes, situations in which the new LED can be installed without modifying the legacy luminaire. This is uncommon. If the luminaire must be modified, an inspection by somebody certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory (NRTL) must be performed. In addition to UL, DiLouie points to ETL and and CSA as other NRTL options.

For an energy manager, the point is fairly simple: Make sure that the LED retrofit kits that are chosen for a project are UL-approved and that proper permitting takes place. The bottom line is that LED retrofits simply isn’t the place to take short cuts.

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