Mercury Vapor vs. LED

by | Feb 21, 2020 | 2 comments |

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Mercury vapor vs. LED lighting became a hot topic in environmental circles during the early 2000s. Today, there is a continued push to retrofit mercury vapor lamps to LED. Based on cost savings, quality, and political factors – our experts here at Action Services Group help to define why it may be time for you to retrofit your own mercury vapor lamps with LED lighting.

Mercury Vapor Background

Mercury vapor is considered the oldest type of High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting to have been mass-produced for commercial use. In fact, developed in the 1930s, they were once considered the best light source for commercial and outdoor needs, including streetlights, rural roadways and various types of properties. HID lights work through the use of an arc tube and mercury vapor ones are no different. The arc tube, typically made of fused quartz, sits within an outer glass casing. Within the arc tube, however, is where the magic happens. An electrical current is supplied to the tube, flowing through argon gas and mercury. As the current runs through the arc tube, it vaporizes the mercury droplets and mixes it with the argon gas to create light.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005

If you pay attention to environmental policies, the word “mercury” may have already triggered alarm bells. If not, though, there is one policy you should not overlook if you currently using mercury vapor lamps. The Energy Policy Act (EPA) of 2005, which was quickly approved by both the Senate and House, was intended to combat growing energy concerns throughout the United States. As such, page 551 of the EPA document speaks to the use of mercury vapor. Specifically, it prohibits the manufacturing and importation of mercury vapor ballasts after 2008. While this does not outright ban the use of mercury vapor lamps, it severely impacts the ability to produce new ones. The EPA does, however, allow for existing fixtures to remain in service. However, they are to be replaced as they burn out to phase out the use of mercury vapor ballasts entirely.

Interested in learning more about the EPAct 179D? We suggest reading our blog on the topic. Bonus! Did you know they retroactively extended it? Read more about this topic in: EPAct 179D Retroactively Extended – Major Savings Available to Commercial Businesses

Cost Savings

As mercury vapor lamps burn out, the most common replacement has been in the form of Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lights. Retrofitting a mercury vapor system may seem like an expensive investment being forced upon your business due to green legislation. However, there are plenty of cost savings that can ensure your investment pays for itself.

Mercury Vapor vs. LED Energy Consumption

Let’s first focus on the cost savings as it relates to mercury vapor vs. LED energy consumption. Mercury vapor lamps require time to warm up prior to use. This can last up to 10 minutes, which means you need to turn your lights on at least 10 minutes prior to when you need them. While this may not sound like a long amount of time, it adds up. An extra 10 minutes of use every day for a year means you have wasted not just money but roughly 61 hours of lamp life annually. Since 40% of your energy consumption is spent on lighting, eliminating this can be a great way to save on costs. Furthermore, an HID light, mercury vapor lamps are omnidirectional and rely on heat to help produce lighting. Because you likely use a reflector to force light from your mercury vapor lamp downwards, you lose roughly 15% of that heat. This means you reduce the efficiency of a mercury vapor lamp by 15% simply based on the overall design of the light itself.

Mercury Vapor vs. LED Maintenance Savings

Mercury vapor lights have traditionally cost less than LEDs. However, LED prices continue to decrease as the technology behind them becomes more commonplace. That being said, LEDs are hardier than their mercury vapor counterparts. Since mercury vapor lamps are made of glass, arc tubes, and other delicate elements – they are more prone to damages or shattering than the more resilient LED lights are. Mercury vapor lamps have been known to last at least 24,000 hours, with some lasting beyond this. As an HID product, that makes these lamps somewhat long-lasting. However, when compared to the 50,000 to 100,000-hour minimum life expectancy of an LED, it becomes evident that a mercury vapor lamp will need to be replaced long before an LED will. Furthermore, once a mercury vapor lamp has burned out, it can be an issue in and of itself as the Environmental Protection Agency has made their disposal difficult. In addition to this, maintenance costs need to factor in the fact that the EPA of 2005 has mandated that mercury vapor lights are phased out. As the components to maintain these lights become harder to obtain, maintenance costs will likely increase for mercury vapor lamps.

For organizations managing mercury vapor parking lot lighting, we have several blogs with need to know information on this topic. Here are a few we suggest reading. The Financial Benefits of Converting Parking Lot Lighting to LED and A Before and After Comparison of an LED Parking Lot Retrofit – Where Illumination and Safety Go Hand-in-hand – This one has a video!

Tax Reforms

There is one more added cost benefit to the use of LEDs over mercury vapor lamps. During the 2019 holiday season, new tax deals were retroactively added to the EPA of 2005. For those who completed lighting retrofits in 2018 or 2019, replacing mercury vapor lamps with something more efficient, they become retroactively eligible for tax deductions. For those who will complete these upgrades in 2020, they are also eligible for tax deductions. Ultimately, this means that you could receive a tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot of retrofits, which include HVAC and building envelope improvements on top of lighting upgrades. To qualify for this full deduction, however, your energy consumption must be reduced by at least 50%. LED retrofits, in general, qualify you for a $0.60 deduction per square foot.



Mercury Vapor vs. LED Quality of Light

Aside from costs, you may have concerns related to the quality of light provided when it comes to the mercury vapor vs. LED debate.


Because HID lamps require a higher voltage to heat the internal elements and create the gas-vapor process, these types of lights typically fade over time. Furthermore, mercury vapor lamps emit ultra-violet (UV) radiation. Although the outer bulb only permits trace amounts to seep out, should this become damaged or shatter, the UV radiation can become a potentially serious health risk. In addition, mercury vapor lamps are known to emit a buzzing noise as they age. This can be not just a nuisance, but problematic, given the particular environment your mercury vapor lights are installed in. LEDs do not emit any toxic chemicals, fumes or radiation. They also do not fade or create buzzing noises.


Both mercury vapor lamps and LEDs come in a wide array of colors, sizes, and shapes. However, mercury vapor lamps can become limited as they age. Although the most common mercury vapor lamps start out as a bright white light, they typically develop a blue-green tint over time that can affect visibility. LEDs do not suffer from this problem and retain at least 80% of their initial lumens for the duration of their lifecycle.

LED Installations with Action Services Group

When it comes to mercury vapor vs. LED lights, the cost savings and quality of lighting make the LED the clear winner. If you want to reap the benefits of an LED upgrade to your current mercury vapor lighting, contact Action Services Group today by calling 610-558-9773, email [email protected] or schedule a call!

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