Electronic Fluorescent Ballast: Zowie!

Back in 2000, I replaced the ballast in our bathroom light; the old one failed after a mere 45 years. The casing didn’t sport any PCB-free labels (no surprise there), so I disposed of the carcass at a town hazmat day.

Under normal circumstances you’d replace the whole fixture, but this is a slender 4-foot chromed steel base with a matching chromed shield over a 4-foot fluorescent tube: charming, in a retro-mid-50s sort of way. We couldn’t find anything suitable at the local big-box home supply stores, so I just cleaned it up and stuck a new ballast inside.

I indulged in the luxury of a warm-white tube so I didn’t look quite so dead in the morning.

That ballast just failed, after a mere 9 years, which I confirmed by swapping in a new tube. It seems nothing lasts any more.

We went through the same “should we get a new fixture?” exercise and, unwilling to drop more than $150 on a really cheesy two-tube fixture that would be way too bright, I bought Yet Another Ballast from, oddly enough, the same manufacturer and possibly even the same Mexican town.

This time I got an electronic ballast, with an A sound rating which comes mostly for free without that big magnetostrictive iron core. Costs twice what the magnetic ballast does, but I figure you only go around once, right?

It comes with a scary label telling you to insulate the unused lead (it can drive two tubes) “for 600 V”. That turns out to be the standard wire-nut rating, so I clipped off the exposed copper end and screwed the nut in place over the insulation. Wired the leads up per the diagram and that’s the end of that story.

Now, I’m here to tell you that going from a nearly dead magnetic ballast to a shiny new electronic ballast is a wonder to behold: the tube pops on at full brilliance, far brighter than it ever was before, and is (no surprise) flicker-free.

It’s almost enough to make me preemptively re-ballast the kitchen fixtures …

Update: Which I did, a few months later. The 4-tube kitchen light pops on and is much brighter. However, that may be due to new tubes as much as anything; the ballasts wanted T8 tubes. Alas, I couldn’t find 3000 K warm-whites and had to settle for 3500 K soft-whites. All in all, a good improvement.

More on electronic ballast adventures there.