Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

New Year's Lighting Repairs

The main bedroom in Fernley House has a long-tube florescent fixture that hasn't worked right from the time we got here. It was slow to light tubes, and eventually it actually simply blew out a brand new tube when we put it in the fixture. At one point we had an electrician in to quote a job that would have included fixing the fixture.

These kinds of fixtures have a device called a "ballast" that connects to the main circuit and feeds power to where the tubes connect. Lisa suspected that the ballasts (which probably date from the construction of the house in 1965) were shot and needed to be replaced.

Some time ago, we had an electrician in to quote a number of things we wanted done with the house, including fixing the ballasts. Instead of doing that, what he wanted to do was to tear out the entire light fixture and put in another one. That was just one of the reasons Lisa sent him packing. The main reason was that he refused to talk to Lisa (the person who knows how things work and furthermore the woman who was going to pay him several thousand dollars for the work), and directed everything to me because I am The Man and therefore must be Competent. He patronized Lisa to the point of fury, and he consequently got nothing. (Lisa later went on to put in the circuit for the hot water heater herself, as we related some time ago. The major project, which is dropping a new 200A service and replacing the main power box with a new modern one, is beyond our resources at this time. Some of you may remember me writing about us replacing the main 100A circuit breaker with a 125A one, bringing us up to the maximum that our utility feed can handle at the moment.)

This weekend, Lisa decided it was time to fix this burned-out fixture. On New Year's Eve, we went to Lowe's in Fernley and examined the kinds of ballasts they had. She found one that looked like it would work for our fixture and was not Made in China. (Every other ballast was Chinese.) On New Year's Day, we went and bought some tubes and one ballast. We really needed two, because each ballast controls two tubes and there are four in the fixture, but Fernley only had one of the correct type. This morning, we drove into Reno to the Lowe's there and got the additional hardware.

(We also got Lisa some new shoes and checked in at the place where we bought the kitchen sink hardware about a special order we're making for a different faucet.)

Returning home (the snow flurries that started this morning in the Reno-Fernley corridor were not sticking, thank goodness), we started doing repairs. My job was to hold tools and run errands, such as going outside to turn the power off or on as needed.

Bad Ballast

After shutting off the circuit that controls that light and every other outlet in the room (Lisa ran an extension cord from another room to give us light by which to work), Lisa started disassembling the fixture. Here, she's removed the central wiring channel cover to reveal the two old ballasts and attendant wiring.

Bad Ballast

In this closer view, you can see how gunk has leaked out of the ballasts onto the supporting wiring. This is very much Not Good.

Installing Ballast

Lisa removed both of the old ballasts and wiring, and started installing the new ones. The new ballasts are smaller than the old ones: they're the newer electronic type as opposed to the older magnetic type, which among other things means that they don't hum like older such lights often do. Lisa had to drill new holes and attach the new ballasts to the fixture with sheet metal screws. (This also entailed a trip to Big R for lock washers for the sheet metal screws, as she'd run out of washers.) The brown splotches on the fixture are stains from the leaking material from the old ballasts. I don't want to think too hard about what that is. We gingerly put them in a box, and will dispose of them with other electronic waste at our first opportunity.

Wiring the Fixture

Here both ballasts are now in place, but not all of the wiring is connected. Although at first glance it looks pretty confusing, it's really not so bad. A total of eight wires come out of each ballast. You connect the black and white wires to the corresponding black and white lines from the house power, ground the ballasts to the ground wire, then connect the remaining six wires coming out of the ballasts to the fittings following the fairly simple circuit diagram on the box and on the ballast itself.

Tidying Up

Lisa connected all of the wires per the diagrams and tidied up the wires.

Channel Secured

With the wiring channel cover back in place, all we needed to do was re-energize the circuit, put in four tubes, and throw the switch.

Let There Be Light


There are two different sets of lights here, but that's on purpose. One of the two ballasts controls the outer two tubes, and one controls the inner two. We bought two different types of tube of different color temperatures to see what we like. I currently expect to replace the outer two tubes with the "warmer" type tubes used on the inner two fittings here because this is the bedroom. The "cooler" tubes we will use on the fixture in the garage, where brighter lights are more useful.

This electrical work took us six or eight hours spread over three days, but it did get easier as Lisa got the hang of it, and I think I helped some, doing stuff an electrician's apprentice would have been doing, like handing up tools and holding things in place so The Boss could get the job done faster. Lisa told me that she'd never worked on a florescent fixture before, but it wasn't too difficult in the end. (The fixtures in the garage probably need similar work done on them, and Lisa now feels more confident about doing so.) She certainly feels that the electrician who wanted to rip up the bedroom ceiling to put in a new fixture was full of it when he said it would be cheaper than fixing the ballasts. Not counting the labor, of course, the ballasts and parts cost less than $50, and we didn't need to tear up the bedroom to fix it.

In celebration of having a fully working bedroom ceiling light for the first time since we moved in to Fernley House, we went to dinner at the Black Bear Diner.
Tags: house, lisa
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