Bright Ideas

Should you Re-lamp, Retrofit or Replace your Wall Lights?

Posted by Joe Lightman on Jan 20, 2017 4:19 PM

A lighting upgrade typically involves one of three options: re-lamping, retrofitting or replacing existing fixtures. Deciding on the best of these three options is a decision that a lot of older facilities have to go through. The criteria involved in the decision includes budget, energy savings, environmental criteria, existing technology and project goals. While as a general rule, it is better to try and retrofit an existing fixture, each project has to be evaluated on a case by case basis, ideally utilizing some form of payback/ROI analysis as a guiding factor. In this post, we cover some of the key issues to consider when deciding to re-lamp, retrofit or replace an existing fixture. While we had wall lights in mind when putting this post together, the thinking here obviously applies to a range of other fixtures types.


Re-lamping refers to changing out the existing lamps (bulbs), whether for maintenance, energy savings or to improve the light quality. Replacing the lamp is one of the easiest ways to improve energy efficiency in a facility. Today’s LED lamps provide significant energy gains over incandescent, halogen and fluorescent, have a long-life span and costs can often be offset by rebates.

Pros to Re-lamping

  • Maintenance Savings - LED lamps are practically “fit and forget” and can realize significant maintenance costs
  • LED lamps use a lot less energy than traditional lamps, meaning significant power savings depending on the fixture type
  • In most cases, the fixtures do not need to be modified as they do for a retrofit and lamps can be replaced relatively easily

What to look out for in Re-lamp

  • Unlike with retrofitting or replacing, the fixture wattage is limited by the specifications on the existing fixture.
  • Older fixtures are not always dimmable and if controls need to be added (if possible), this brings additional cost.
  • If a cherry picker, lift or other equipment is required to access the fixture, it might make a re-lamp cost prohibitive.
  • Sometimes the replacement lamp will simply not meet the need of the fixture. For example, “corn cob” style bulbs might not work with the existing reflector or need heat sinking.


A lighting retrofit involves replacing components in a lighting system with parts that use less energy. Over time, the lighting retrofit should recover the initial cost and continue to produce energy savings.  In a LED retrofit, older technology such as Metal Halide, High Pressure Sodium or Fluorescent fixtures are converted to LED. This generally involves upgrading the existing fixture with a retrofit kit as opposed to replacing the entire fixture.

Pros of Retrofitting

  • Retrofitting is typically faster, easier and cheaper than replacing existing fixtures.
  • A retrofit can provide dimming and other controls that would be difficult to add to an existing fixture.
  • Retrofitting allows you to keep the original look of fixtures, in the case of heritage building or where there is a need to match features on a building or landscape.

What to look out for in a Retrofit

  • Retrofitting certain fixtures such as a wall light does not necessarily make sense since the housing might be in bad shape, especially in harsh environments such as Canada.
  • Retrofit kits are also usually manufacturer specific, so a kit might not be compatible or available for a certain fixture.
  • If no expertise is available in-house at the facility, it might be a good idea to get the assistance of a professional lighting designer or engineer to assess whether the retrofit will meet the goals of the project. This applies also to a lighting re-lamp or replacement.


Here we are talking about replacing the existing fixture. Where this gets interesting is that with newer technology and depending on the lumen output requirements, it might be possible to reduce the total number of fixtures with fewer fixtures that produce the same or more of the right kind of light required.

Pros of Replacement

  • The latest LED fixtures replacement fixtures provide a range of the latest features and options, in some cases integrated into the fixture, such as dimming and control sensors
  • In most cases, an LED replacement fixture provides a longer life than a retrofit or a re-lamp, with little maintenance and need to replace for up to 20 years.
  • An LED replacement fixture provides significant energy savings and ROI over the mid to long term.

What to look out for in a Replacement

  • The ROI might not make sense in the short term – a payback analysis needs to be done to inform a replacement decision.
  • In some cases, a building might have been refinished since the original fixture was installed, making the surface incompatible with newer fixtures. This challenged can often be solved by adding a goof tray or plate.
  • An LED fixture installation might take longer and with lighting technology evolving so rapidly, it’s important to consider the longer-term outlook of the facility, asking questions such as - is the facility going to expand, is there a plan to implement smart controls – among others.

If the decision is to go with an LED replacement, it’s important to look at who you are buying from. Today there are a wide range of lighting ‘manufacturers’ with a corresponding range of quality and price points. Some of these are simply importers. When selecting fixtures, it’s important to consider factors such as where the lights are made or assembled and what type of warranty they come with. Some companies offer warranties that are far longer than they have been in business. Service is another component to verify when choosing fixtures. Does the company have a good reputation for quality and service and is their service offered locally?

Obviously, there are lot of points to consider when deciding whether to re-lamp, retrofit or replace the fixtures in a facility when doing a lighting upgrade, the points we cover here hopefully provide a starting point.

If you have questions or need any help making your decision, feel free to reach out to one of our lighting specialists through the form below, or click the button to get a free lighting consultation. In the meantime, Happy Lighting!

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Topics: Wall Lights, lighting upgrade, lighting replacement, lighting retrofit, lighting re-lamp