DIY replacing a fluorescent box

tinanFebruary 15, 2013

I would like to replace the lighting in our kitchen - currently one of those big ugly old buzzing fluorescent boxes. I bought an LED track light fixture and was all ready to do it (I have changed regular non-fluorescent ceiling light fixtures out before). I turned off the breaker, tested the switch to confirm and took off the cover. I have a plastic sided ladder good for electric. I removed the bulbs and started to unscrew the fixture from the ceiling... but twice when I touched the metal box with the screwdriver, I got a little shock, probably static. But it scared me, and then I realized I'd have to remove the ballast cover to get at more screws. I chickened out and put the bulbs back in and left it!

Electricians in our area will charge over $250 to do this simple job, so I was hoping to just do it myself.

Is static charge a common problem with these fixtures and is there a way to discharge it? Or is it possible there was actually some dangerous current leak? I have a voltage tester but there was nothing to test without removing the metal box.

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Typically there is a ground wire connected to the metal housing.

Use a circuit tester or multimeter to check if the circuit is live or not.

If you're not confident, get someone who knows their way around electricity.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 1:14AM
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"tested the switch to confirm"

Tested with what?

Tested how?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 12:23PM
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brickeyee - Turned the switch on and the light did not come on. I couldn't test wires without removing the metal ballast cover, which is what was giving me the little shocks when I touched it.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 10:12AM
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" Turned the switch on and the light did not come on. "

In other words you did not test anything.

How old a house?

Old wiring often has its own set or problems, one of them being leakage.

You need to\use an actual voltmeter to see what is gong on, and measure to a known ground.

You may need a 3-prong extension cord into a grounded receptacle to get a 'known ground" to test against.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 1:13PM
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brickeye, the townhouse was built in 1980. I have a tester and tested the tester out on an outlet first. However, what could I test for on the light fixture or switch without removing the covers first?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 12:56AM
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Properly installed, the fixture's housing should be grounded so if the housing accidentally becomes energized there is a safe path to ground to prevent shocks. Now it's possible the fixture or the circuit it is on is not properly grounded. It is also possible that you built up some static electricity in your body and it was discharged when you touched the housing of the fixture.

You would need a voltmeter to measure between the fixture's housing and a known, good ground (hence, Brick's suggestion of a 3-wire extension cord).

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 3:19PM
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I very likely did have a lot of static electricity - it's been dry here, vinyl flooring in kitchen and rubber soled shoes...

I have a voltmeter but didn't know about using it to test the housing vs a known ground, that makes sense. I have only ever used it in the past to test wires but it stands to reason that if there was a charge in the housing (due to say a loose wire inside touching it?) it can detect that too.

However, this job seems beyond my comfort and knowledge zone at this time, I'll probably wait a bit and consider hiring the electrician.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 8:10PM
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