Can I swap out my old floodlight bulbs for LEDs?

Attracted by their lower running costs and better performance, an ever-increasing number of organisations are making the switch to LED lighting systems. With many of those businesses having a lighting solution in place already, however, it isn’t uncommon for them to wonder whether they can simply switch out their existing bulbs for LEDs.

That line of thought is entirely understandable. On the surface, LED floodlights can look very similar to metal-halide and halogen units – those typically in use within an existing floodlighting solution. And, with costs an ever-present concern, it’s also logical to wonder whether swapping out existing bulbs for LEDs might help to reduce the expense of a system upgrade.

Appealing though that prospect may be, the reality is that making the leap to LEDs isn’t quite as simple as switching out your bulbs. In this post, we’ll look at why that is, and what an upgrade to your lighting system really entails.

LEDs vs. older systems: what’s the difference?

Before exploring the practicalities of upgrading a lighting system, let’s take a moment to look at the key differences between LED floodlights and some of the legacy luminaires on the market today. 


As can be inferred from their names, metal-halide and halogen floodlights use gases to produce light. In the case of the former, an arc of electricity is passed through a  mixture of vaporised mercury and metal-halides, whereas halogen lamps involve the use of a superheated tungsten filament to generate light (with the gas helping to prevent said filament from burning out).

While these approaches differ from each other, they’re even further removed from LED-based luminaires. Here, gases are eschewed entirely in favour of light-emitting diodes, the components behind the “LED” acronym. LEDs are small semiconductors that emit light upon receiving an electrical current, and a sufficient number – when connected to a circuit board – are capable of illuminating even the largest of spaces.

The contrasting nature of these technologies means that it isn’t really possible to perform a like-for-like replacement. LEDs, metal-halides, and halogen lamps work in fundamentally different ways, ensuring that the only common elements between them are the chassis – the body within which the lighting technology is housed. Even then, the financial benefit of converting and reusing said chassis is negligible.

The simple answer to the question of whether bulbs can be swapped for LEDs, then, is “no”. That doesn’t mean that an existing lighting system can’t be upgraded to accommodate LED luminaires, however. It’s here that we need to turn our attention to the subject of what are known as “retrofit” designs.

Making good use of existing infrastructure

The design of a modern lighting system is likely to feature a number of standardised elements. While the exact specifications of the assets used will vary, most commercial floodlighting blueprints will include:

  • Luminaires – the units that provide the light itself.
  • Masts or posts – that elevate the luminaires to the requisite height.
  • Drivers or ballasts – that regulate or convert the electrical current supplied.
  • Controls and wiring – that connect the system to the wider operation.

While it might not be possible to replace the contents of an existing fixture with LEDs, many other elements of a lighting system can be reused within a retrofit solution. Critically, the assets that can be retained – typically the masts, posts, and wiring – are often among the most expensive. Masts on their own can account for as much as 50% of the cost of a new build project, so their reuse equates to a significant saving. 

In the majority of cases, all that is normally required during a retrofit project is:

  • The removal of the existing luminaires, with LED units installed in their place.
  • The switching out of ballasts (used by metal-halides) for drivers (used by LEDs).
  • Some degree of rewiring, simply to connect the new luminaires to the existing control system.

Because of this, the costs of a retrofit solution are considerably lower than those involved in a brand-new installation. Importantly, a retrofit approach is also far more cost-effective than it would be to try and replace the bulbs within an existing system (were that a possible solution to begin with).

And so, while it might not be advisable to look at swapping out your bulbs for LEDs, retrofitting your existing system with new LED luminaires is a simpler, cheaper, and much better alternative.

A word on LED tubes and strips

If you happen to have looked into the possibility of swapping your bulbs for LEDs already, then you may have come across technologies like LED retrofit tubes or magnetic strips. While these can be useful in some environments, these solutions are designed to replace fluorescent tubes – the kind that sit in overhead lights in commercial spaces like shops and offices.

In addition to being incompatible with a floodlighting fixture, the quality and uniformity of the light emitted by these devices is much lower too. Those two factors alone help to ensure that these units are not an appropriate solution for the kind of sites that require high-performance floodlights, such as sporting, maritime, and aviation facilities.

Should you have any further questions about the best way to make the switch from legacy lighting technologies to LEDs, why not get in touch? Our complimentary, no-obligation design service gives you everything you need in to determine the best approach for your specific circumstances.




If you’re thinking about switching your existing lighting solution to LEDs, some of the key issues that you need to bear in mind are:

  • LEDs and older lighting technologies like halogen and metal-halides are fundamentally different. They generate light in very specific ways, with legacy luminaires employing gases and LEDs using semiconductors.

  •  Because of this, there is no easy way to switch out gas-based bulbs for LEDs. Doing so would require significant modifications to a luminaire, and would ultimately be an extremely expensive and inefficient way to implement an upgrade.

  • The sensible approach to upgrading your lighting system is through a retrofit installation. Here, the majority of the components within a solution can be retained, with only the luminaires themselves (and some aspects of the control system) requiring replacement.

  • While LED retrofit tubes and magnetic strips are available, these are focused on smaller premises like offices and shops. These are not suitable for the needs of venues that require high-performance floodlighting.

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