Give Your Drop Ceilings a Lighting Makeover

Since the 1950s, suspended ceilings, also called “drop ceilings” or “false ceilings,” have been popular with businesses (and finished basements) of all types. They’re economical to install, they reduce heating and cooling costs, improve acoustics, and provide easy access for maintenance for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. Just as the ceilings themselves have evolved over the years—toward greater environmental sustainability and increased energy efficiency—so have lighting options for suspended ceilings.

As with the ceiling tiles themselves, these lighting changes offer improved aesthetics as well as efficiency. With LED replacements, you can now get brighter light at higher CRI, even from your existing light fixtures. Or you can replace your fixtures entirely and take full advantage of the sleek designs and uniform light spread that LED suspended ceiling fixtures are able to offer.

Which way should you go with your drop ceiling lighting makeover? Below we’ll explore retrofitting existing fixtures versus installing all-new ones.

Retrofits: Converting Existing Drop Ceiling Lights to LED

Fluorescent Troffer Showing Fluorescent and LED Tubes

If your existing fixtures are in good shape and you’re happy with their placement, you can easily update those drop ceiling fixtures to LED. Lighting upgrades for drop ceiling fixtures come in two flavors: LED fluorescent tube replacements and LED retrofit strip kits.

LED fluorescent tube replacements are exactly as they sound: LED tubes that look like fluorescents. For maximum efficiency and lowest maintenance, you’ll want “ballast bypass” LED replacement tubes. With these, you remove the ballast from your fixture entirely, eliminating both the extra energy draw and the extra point of failure that ballasts add to the system. Ballast-bypass (or "retrofit") LED tubes come in two basic styles: single-ended or double-ended power. The main difference, as far as you'll be concerned, is that with single-ended tubes, you'll likely need to replace the lampholders (also known as tombstones or sockets) in your fixture with non-shunted tombstones. With double-ended tubes, which are more like the fluorescent bulbs you're replacing, you can use the shunted lampholders that are already in your fixture. Both tube types perform equally; double-ended power simply has the advantage when it comes to installation time.

TIP: If you choose ultra high lumen tubes, which run significantly brighter than fluorescents, you can compound your savings by reducing the number of lamps you’re drawing power to. Replacing four fluorescent tubes in a 2x4 fixture with two ultra high lumen LED tubes, for instance can give you just as much light at half the energy. And, although the per-lamp cost is higher for an ultra high lumen tube, being able to run half as many works out to be several dollars cheaper per fixture than four low-cost standard LED tubes.

LED retrofit strip kits also bypass your fixture’s ballast but, because only the driver needs to be wired (and not also individual tombstones, as is the case with replacement tubes), installation goes more quickly. Retrofit strips have the additional benefit of an external driver. For LED drivers, the rated life can be significantly shorter than that of the LED chips. With an external driver, you are often able to replace just the driver, allowing you to get the full life expectancy out of the LED strips. For this reason, strip kits are also a more ecologically friendly option than tube retrofits.

TIP: If you’re having a hard time envisioning how LED strips work in a fluorescent fixture that takes tubes, our short installation video provides a great visual:

Replacements: Changing Your Lighting Layout and/or Appearance with All New Suspended Ceiling Light Fixtures

Maybe the current arrangement of lighting fixtures in your drop ceiling doesn’t meet your needs—furniture and equipment get moved around over the years, after all, and the way we perform our tasks often changes over time as well. Installing brand new LED lighting for suspended ceilings gives you an opportunity to rethink the overall performance of your lighting and change the placement, size, and number of fixtures to meet your twenty-first century business needs.

Regarding placement, these new LED fixtures can be brighter than the fluorescents you’re used to. You may not need as many fixtures as you have now, saving you money on not just energy consumption but on fixture and installation costs as well.

Also, all the LED drop ceiling fixtures we offer are dimmable, allowing you even more control over your new lighting.

TIP: If you’re uncertain how many fixtures you’ll need and where they should be placed, we can provide free lighting simulations and layouts, so that you’ll know you’re getting the right lighting before you make your purchase. Contact us at (215) 355-7200 or

It could also be that you’re fine with your lighting placement, but you feel your fixtures are dated and you’d like a refresh. The biggest deal in LED drop ceiling lighting these past few years has been panel lights. These 2x4 and 2x2 LED lighting fixtures share the same dimensions as fluorescent troffers, making them easy to install in suspended ceiling grids. However, because their light sources are installed in the edges, facing outward across the light, they provide a smoother, more even distribution of light across the entire diffuser. It seems a small detail, but it really does make a visual difference. That difference makes the LED ceiling lighting panel the sleekest solution in lighting fixtures for drop ceilings.

TIP: It sounds counter-intuitive, but replacing a fixture entirely is as easy as, if not sometimes easier than, retrofitting a fluorescent fixture to work with LED tubes. Because the ballast has to be bypassed and the sockets (tombstones) wired when switching out tubes, there are more wiring connections to be made than when a fixture is replaced altogether.

You can find both 2x2 and 2x4 LED panel light fixtures in our Drop Ceiling Lighting department.

We’re here to help!

We’ve worked with businesses across the United States to select just the right lights for their drop ceiling lighting upgrade. From offices to retail stores, from gymnasiums and fitness centers—wherever there’s a suspended ceiling grid, we offer quality, affordable, and dependable LED lighting solutions. Contact us at (215) 355-7200 or