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utility light rehab on a budget

Posted by ionized (My Page) on
Wed, Feb 15, 12 at 13:23

I have some ballast and related fluorescent lighting questions and would like a little advice from anyone that knows about long-tube fluorescent fixtures. I would really appreciate it if someone can point me in the right direction.

First, a little about my situation. I bought a house with significant garage and workshop space from the family of a long-retired, deceased electrician. I think that he equipped the place with salvaged commercial-type T12 fluorescent fixtures (including a couple in the house). I have not even examined all of them closely yet. They are all old. I have at least 15 96” single-pin fixtures, double and, at least one, quad tube. I also have a significant number of bipin 48” fixtures, single, double and quad tube.

Over the next few years, I can see myself needing to replace many ballasts. Some of them are shot already and I have disconnected those fixtures for the time being. I think that I should plan on replacing most or all of the ballasts with T8 ballasts. Is this a good idea right out of the gate, or should I just stick with T-12s? Maybe I should can the existing fixtures and buy new ones. If I do that, I would have to make sure I got fixtures with efficient ballasts. I can save some money by buying in bulk if I make the right decisions.

Either way, what kind of ballasts should I get to keep operating and initial costs down? Many of these fixtures will not get much use, at least for a few years, but I do work on the car and other stuff out there so it would be nice to have the lights working. Keep in mind that the temps in my area only go below freezing for a few nights a year.

Let's start with the 96” single pin fixtures. Am I stuck with instant start if stay with single pin tombstones and lamps? Can they be effectively changed over to T8? My understanding of ballasts indicate that the only type of ballasts that I can use with single pin tombstones is instant start . That means that If I want to switch to rapid or programmed start ballasts, I have to change-out the tombstones. Is that correct?

My understanding of the T12 single-pin fixtures is that they are all instant-start, and that chews up the electrodes. This yields very short lamp life if they are turned on and off a lot relative to the use hours. Is that correct? Is that the same for T-8? Should I worry about the lamp life issue at all?

Moving on to the 48” bipin fixtures, Should I change them over to T8? My understanding of T8 ballasts is that they are all rapid and program start except for the ones meant for single pin bulbs. Is that correct? Does anyone have any general or specific recommendations for what to buy?

Some general questions about ballasts:

Programmed start means that you have instant-start efficiency with the long bulb life of rapid start, but ballasts are costly. Is that correct?

If there is room, can I put two, double lamp ballasts in a quad lamp fixture?

What is the difference between ballasts “rated” for commercial vs. residential? I get the impression that the specs are different for electronic noise and for efficiency.

Are electronic, instant start ballasts any better than the older instant start for frequent lamp starts?

How hard is it to replace tombstones and ballasts in existing fixtures? It looks easy, but lots of stuff looks easy and turns out not to be.

Thanks for looking!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: utility light rehab on a budget

T-12 lighting is obsolete and consumes more power than T-8 tubes.

Electronic ballasts are more efficient than the traditional magnetic ballasts.

Replacing ballasts and the tombstone connectors are simple tasks that a 10 year old can do under supervision.


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RE: utility light rehab on a budget

After you pay for ballasts you probably could have purchased whole new fixtures.

It takes as much handling to put a ballast on the shelf as a whole fixture, and the fixture makers get very good prices from the ballast makers since they purchase in huge bulk.

Unless there is something special about how the fixtures fit into the structure, simply replacing them with new fixtures is often cheaper.

A 48 inch dual T8 fixture is around $40-$50 each.


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RE: utility light rehab on a budget

Thanks for the responses so far. I tried to hire some of the ca. 10 year-olds in my neighborhood for some other projects, but they want way too much cash ;-)

I am considering replacing the whole fixture, but ebay might be my friend. I see listings for lots of 10-12 new, efficient ballasts for less than $10 each, sometimes considerably less. They are easy to find for 48" fixtures. For 8 footers, it is a little more difficult. They might cost as much as $15-20 each. That would compare to 2x $40-50 to replace each 8' fixture with two 48s according to your figures. I would have to buy quite a few to get a good price and free shipping. That is why I want to be sure I have my head on straight with my options WRT ballast characteristics. The other factor is the PIA 8' tubes. They are hard to transport and store with most passenger vehicles.

Some of the fixtures are connected by Romex and some by conduit. I am not sure I want to start learning to work with conduit. I suppose it is inevitable since I will eventually want to make some kind of changes around the home. There are tools for doing it here, but I probably don't even recognize some of them ;-(


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RE: utility light rehab on a budget

I'd suggest that good quality ballasts can not be bought for less than $10 each. It's been almost a decade but I want to say I was spending at least $20 for an Advance 4-lamp electronic ballast with a commercial discount. Cheap ballasts are probably not a good investment.

Most areas that require conduit don't allow for Romex although areas in that allow Romex you can use conduit. You need to check your local code. Bending conduit is skill only acquired through practice (which means buy more conduit that you think you will need). You'll need a conduit bender.

Cut it with a hacksaw. The cut ends need to be deburred. You'll need a conduit fitting screwdriver

Or conduit fitting pliers:

If you don't have too much to clean up, a rat-tail or half-round file will work too.


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RE: utility light rehab on a budget

Thanks, Mike. I understand about quality ballasts. So far, I have only been considering GE and Sylvania, current models that the companies are pushing as efficient replacements. Advance is a good brand, at least 10 years ago? Are there any others I should consider? Should I trust GE and Sylvania as well?

I have some conduit benders. I am just not sure I WANT to learn how to use them. At the very least, I probably have to learn how to transition to cable since I might want to modify some of the conduit. Conduit is not required here. I think that when the electrician who lived and worked here needed to get something done, he just took a look around and used what ever he had on hand. If it was cable, he used cable. If he had conduit and wires he used that. (I have not found any BX yet.)

I admire the guy's parsimony and ingenuity in may areas. He built some impressive stuff out of think most people would discard, but sometimes he went a bit too far.


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RE: utility light rehab on a budget

I just bought 10 program-start, T8 GE ballasts on line for $90 including shipping. They can be used for one or two tubes, have detection for burned-out bulbs and are very efficient (power factor and lumens/watt). I will use them in the house and in the garage for frequently-switched lights, 4', 3' double and single and, if they fit, in a fixture with 4 2' tubes. I think that will use them up!

I still have to deal with the 8' fixtures. I have no choice but to go with instant start with those. I am planning to install switches on the individual fixtures so I don't have to fire them all at once and save the tubes from frequent switching. (I will also put another type of light on that circuit to get me into the area and, in effect, demote the 8' fixtures more to task lighting.) I have seen some good prices on good instant-starts too.


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