What’s the Best Lighting for an Office Environment?


Office lighting can be a little tricky. You’ll need to provide bright light to perform precision tasks, but the light can’t have a glare or be excessively bright because it will interfere with employees’ visual health. And, although there are many types of bulbs to choose from, the two most popular for office lights are fluorescent and LEDs.

Fluorescent lighting has been popular because of its low initial investment, relatively long lifespan, and energy savings. Fluorescent fixtures also emit much less heat than other bulbs, which helps maintain a cool working environment and cuts cooling costs.

LEDs are appreciated for many of the same reasons. And although they offer the largest amount of energy savings and have the longest lifespan, they are initially more expensive than fluorescents.

LED Lights are now becoming the standard across most commercial and industrial applications and facilities. Warehouses are rapidly converting over to LED high bays to save money. Parking lots are switching to shoebox fixtures for the same reason. And even sports facilities are converting over their high power HID lighting over to LED.

Here, we’ll take a much deeper dive into the differences between fluorescent lights and LED lights to discover which bulb really is best for office lighting.

office lighting guide

Additional Reading Resources:

LEDs vs Fluorescents

Many of the stunning benefits of architectural LED lighting are a result of careful and detailed engineering. And, although fluorescent lights were designed by lighting engineers, LEDs were created using the most updated technology available. And, because of this, they both work in extremely different ways.

Fluorescent tubes work by a process where the mercury vapor inside the glass tube is ionized. This process causes the electrons inside the gas to emit UV photons.

Then the UV light is converted to visible light by the phosphor coating on the inner glass walls of the tube. This process causes the lights to buzz or flicker which you hear when you stand close to fluorescent tubes.

LEDs work in a very different way. Light-emitting diodes are semiconductor devices that convert electricity to light using the movement of electrons.  Compared to older technology, this is a very efficient process – more of the energy radiates out of the fixture as light and less as heat. LED fixture designers know of LEDs’ limitations and the need to keep them cool, so good fixtures are designed with heat sinks to draw the heat away from the LEDs.

LED light fixtures use drivers to convert AC power to DC – the preferred source of energy to power and light up LEDs. Fluorescent lighting also uses ballasts, but ballasts are used to convert AC power into milli-amps.

LED vs Fluorescents: Efficacy

The efficacy of lighting is determined by comparing the ratio of lumens to watts. For example, a 150-Watt LED fixture generates 24,000 lumens, 24000/150 = 160 lumens/watt. That is the efficacy of that particular lighting fixture.

By comparison, a popular T8 fluorescent bulb produces 3100 lumens, consuming 32 watts. The same calculation shows 3100 / 32 = 96 lumens/watt.

It is not uncommon to find LED fixtures at 130 lumens per watt and some that go as high as 200 lumens per watt. This means LEDs are far more effective at producing lumens than fluorescent tubes are.

LED vs Fluorescents: Color Temperature & CRI

Correlated color temperature (CCT) indicates the color appearance of a light source, which can range from warm yellows and oranges to cold blues. It’s a measurement of Kelvins.

The majority of fluorescent light color temperatures range between 3000K to 4100K. 5000K is also available, but not common in office applications.

LEDs are commonly available between 2700K to around 5000K. The most common for office applications is 4000K. For commercial spaces, like warehouses and factories, 5000K is very commonly used. 5000K is a great color choice to replace Metal Halide.

Color rendering index (CRI) is a measurement of the quality of a light source. It’s a scale between 0 and 100. 100 represents the light the sun produces, which is considered the standard for all light sources. The higher a fixture’s CRI is, the more closely the output resembles natural sunlight.

Cri Berries

LEDs vs. Fluorescents: Lifespan

There are many comparisons to be made between LED lighting and fluorescent lighting. However, comparing the two directly often doesn’t make sense.

This becomes apparent when you compare the lifetime of fluorescent light with the lifetime of an LED light. The reason for this is that they don’t perform the same way.

Both fluorescent and LED lights will gradually dim over time as the light is used, but not at the same rate. Turning fluorescent lights on and off not only lowers their lifespan but their lumen output as well.

Another thing to note is that LED lights maintain their optimal brightness for the most of their lifespan. As you can see in the graph above, fluorescent lights burn out much quicker, in addition to losing lumen output more quickly as well.

And, as any facility manager knows, whether they manage an office or a coal mine, having low-maintenance lighting that offers consistent light and a long shine time, can save big bucks.

LED lifespan

Lighting & Worker Productivity

Any bright white light that simulates sunlight appears to improve performance for people while they are at work. It aids workers by allowing them to see better and complete their jobs and tasks. Some work is so detailed that the only way to accomplish it is to add a lot of work light. Visually appealing office lighting may have the ability to reduce stress levels of workers and make them feel happier at work.

Researchers have found that exposure to “blue light” sources can directly improve alertness and worker performance. Blue-enriched white light has been shown to be able to stimulate the brain and may help to improve workers’ alertness, work performance, and quality of sleep.

Light intensity and color temperature of lighting may affect physiological processes. Studies have shown artificial light can cause changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and a person’s body temperature.

The Problems with Fluorescent Lighting

Although the buzzing and flickering that is associated with fluorescent lights are certainly annoying, there are some serious health risks associated with frequent exposure to fluorescent lights as well.

  • Fluorescent lighting can turn a mild headache into a severe one. Fluorescent lighting does not cause migraines, but it can affect people who suffer from migraines. People who are pre-disposed to migraine headaches are also sensitive to light. Very bright lights, and ones that flicker, can turn a mild headache into a migraine.
  • Fluorescent lighting causes sleep-pattern disruption. Working under artificial light will not disrupt sleep if enough time between exposure to blue light lights and bedtime has passed. That is why people who use their cell phones late into the evening are more likely to have disrupted sleep than those who have a break from all forms of artificial light before bedtime.
  • Fluorescent lights flicker. People prone to seizure are best served to stay away from flickering light sources. Fluorescent lights do flicker, and it gets more evident when the fluorescent bulbs are near the end of their life.
Office With Led Lighting
Office Hallway With Led Lighting

LED Lights for the Commercial Office

Between the considerable energy and maintenance savings, lighting control compatibility, and customization options, it’s pretty clear that LEDs are the best option for office lighting.

Resource: Home Office Design Inspiration 

If the initial price is a concern for you, take a look at our article on state rebates.

Power companies across the country offer significant rebates for upgrading to energy-efficient lighting, so we suggest contacting your local electrical provider to find out what they offer.

Rebates aside, although LEDs are more expensive than other types of lighting, thanks to advancements in technology, LEDs are not that much more expensive. And, with all the savings that they offer, the lifetime cost of LEDs is actually much, much less than fluorescents.

Dwayne Kula

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About the Author

Dwayne Kula is President of LED Lighting Supply. On any given day, Dwayne is writing content for the site and helps manage the marketing initiatives that are on-going. He has a Software Engineering degree and still dabbles in writing software for the company as needed. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, working out, playing the occasional game of golf and exploring New England.

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