Fluorescent Light Troubleshooting and Repair: starter, bulb or ballast?


Up until recently, I thought that fluorescent light fixtures were very similar to other light fixtures, and all you had to do was change the bulbs every once in a while. And I could not have been more wrong. I’ve been having a problem with this
light fixture here in my garage for months now. When I flipped the switch, it would either glow a little bit at one end, and never fully light up, or it would
flicker a lot. Aaaaa! The Flayer is coming! or be so dim that it wasn’t even really
worth it. And changing the bulbs made no difference whatsoever. Unlike regular light bulbs, fluorescent bulbs operate based on the excitement of the molecules
inside the bulb, and you have to have something to start that off with. And one day in a discussion on the ChickFix Group Page, a lady said, “Oh, well you know,
when you change the fluorescent bulbs, you should also change the starter.” A starter like on a car? Yes, a starter like on a car. So I started off by trying to change
the starter. I honestly have no idea how to do this, But I’m gonna figure it out. Now, where does this guy go? Maybe it’s inside this thing? Okay…(laughing)…now what do I do? It turns out that most modern
fluorescent light fixtures don’t actually have starters. They’re what’s known as “rapid start” and they don’t require a starter. If when you turn the light on, if there’s a delay of a couple of seconds, then you probably have a starter. If it comes on pretty much instantaneously, you don’t. One thing that can happen with these is minerals can build up on the ends of these little connections, and also on the actual fixture itself. These actually seem like they’re okay, so I don’t think that’s the problem. Now through a little bit of research I decided that the issue is probably the ballast which I’m gonna
change. And frankly, I’m not real psyched about it, because I don’t like working over my
head on a ladder, and there’s an awful lot of wires up there. There are some countries in this world where you are not legally allowed to actually
change this out or do any kind of electrical work unless you’re a licensed
electrician. In the United States you’re fine, but countries like Australia, New Zealand, and I believe also Canada, you actually have to be a licensed
electrician to do anything electrical at all. So keep that in mind and make sure you know whether or not you’re legally allowed to do this. Now, different ballasts go with different types of fluorescent lights, so make sure
that you’re getting the right one. And it may also not even be the same size and shape of the one that’s currently in there. You got to go based on the wattage
of the fluorescent lights, how many bulbs are in it, etc. If it’s a two-bulb, you’re gonna have one of these. If it’s a four-bulb you’re probably gonna have two of these. Now I’m noticing here that this new ballast has the same wires. It’s got two red, two blue, two yellow, a black and a white. The only thing I’m worried about here is that the yellow actually, on the new ballast, comes out this direction
instead of that direction, so I don’t know if that’s gonna be too much of an issue, but we’ll see. I have already turned off the power to this garage so I know the power’s unhooked. Make sure you do that before you do anything! I think I’ll take those wires out first. We’re just gonna have to see. Just kidding. The power is definitely off on these. I don’t really like doing this.
I don’t like cutting wires. It scares me. What’s the worst that could happen, right?
It’s already not working. This one up here has some electrical caps on it, and I probably didn’t have to clip those. I probably could have just pulled them
right out, but trying to follow the directions. All right, it’s out! The next thing I need to do is strip these wires about a half an inch.
Unfortunately I don’t have any wire strippers, which seems like a really
weird thing. I need to get some of those. So basically I’m just gonna do this very
very carefully, kind of score it. There we go! See? Those, I’ll just take off like that. There we go! Did it! Now the fun part begins! Oh my gosh, look at me! I look like a drowned a rat. Oh well, that’s reality! I was kind of worried about whether
or not it mattered which blue wire went to which blue wire on the ballast, but it
basically just says connect them all. I don’t know. I’m gonna give it a shot
and see. These electrical caps you can buy at any home improvement store. I think the yellow ones are gonna be big enough. And they will both keep the electrical connections attached to each other, but they’ll also insulate them. My garage doors face the south so we get the southern exposure so this garage
feels like it’s about 150 degrees right now. I’m meltiiiiiiiing! It always seems kind of strange to me that these electrical connections are this simple. Like you’re literally just attaching two wires together. But that is actually the way it is. Now if you’re an electrician watching, and you’re looking at this going: “Oh my God, that woman is
going to burn her house down!” I really would appreciate the constructive
criticism below Keyword: CONSTRUCTIVE because I am still learning
all of this stuff and I really don’t want my family to get hurt or my house
to burn down. Before I put all the casing back on this thing, I am going to just stick a bulb in here and see if it works before I bother. Ah, it worked! Can you see that? It’s actually working! That’s awesome I gotta go back down and turn the power back off. This thing kind of squeezes into these slots, so that’s nice. Oh geez! That would NOT have been good, that would have shattered into a million pieces. Just gets worse and worse. Back down to the basement again turn the power back on. Here we go: awesome And now it is definitely time
for me to go get a shower. I got a hair in my mouth At least I hope it’s hair. (curse) Ugh…crap. That box of electrical caps fell off the ladder and went everywhere. Crap. (curse) (curse) Too many wires! (humming “It’s a Hard Knock Life”)

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50 thoughts on “Fluorescent Light Troubleshooting and Repair: starter, bulb or ballast?

  1. Lady, you have my respect, most women turn this over to, their husbands or boyfriends. But you tackle it head on, it's a great way to learn.

  2. ChickFix USA: no it's Delaware for sure, they are afraid you might light yourself on fire. I've been pumping gas since I was 18, 54 years ago and I haven't set myself aflame as yet.

  3. Thank you for all you're info! I have a bathroom light that has a ballast problem! We're not rich so I needed to know if I didn't have to by a new fixture! I don't YAY!😎

  4. I always find it cool to see a woman doing the same work I do 🙂

    You don't need to be licensed in Canada to work on one unless you're doing it professionally (getting paid for your work.) A lot of DIY homeowners these days are doing all kinds of stuff on their own thanks to the internet.

    On the other hand… If they happen to get zapped, well, It's pretty much their own fault at that point. Troubleshooting these things properly does require doing it live so… It can be a rather risky situation regardless.

    It's almost always better to just hire someone IMO – 120v will give most people a run for their money.

  5. I have a similar problem. Mine came on and shut off twice. I twisted the green wire it came on one more time and then turned it off. And doesn’t work anymore How can you test if this is the problem and not the switch

  6. My problem is not replacing a ballast or putting in a new bulb but actually installing the flourescent tube. It is way overhead in my garage and I dont have the ballance anymore to be standing on a stool to reach the fixture. I have a tool that install floodlings 20 feet up on the outside of my garage. I jusyt need a tool like that to install flourescent tubes. That is what brought me here to this website, to install Led frourescent tubes without breaking my neck

  7. Thank you for such a helpful post. It helped me realize I don't actually have to change the connection at the socket – I can just use the twist connectors. By the way, please use safety glasses. I scratched my cornea with a flinging wire once and had to wear a patch for several days, not to mention the pain and inconvenience of several doctor visits!

  8. I haven't personally seen a "starter" in any florescent light for over 30 years. T8s eliminated the need for a separate starter circuit when this improved technology was introduced in the early 1980s. Anyone that says you need a "starter" should brush up on their general knowledge of fluorescent light technology. … or just recommend LED. BTW, nice red garage wall paint…is that to match YT red? 😄

  9. I couldn't tell but it looks like you have existing T12 bulbs in that fixture and so you must use a T12 ballast, no exceptions. There are very few T12 ballasts these days as that technology is being phased out in favour of T8 and yeah….LED. Although T8 bulbs will work in a fixture with a T12 ballast, they tend to burn out as the baĺlast will over-drive the filaments in each end of the bulb. T8 bulbs require T8 ballasts and the wiring is different so in that case, you will need to rewire the tombstones to a "shunted" configuration accordingly.

  10. Pam Mullinsx: I never would, turns out it wasn't the ballast, I just switched from T-12 to T-8 and replaced the burned out bulbs. Problem solved.

  11. Frank Anstey: That's because I'm not, I'm 73, born 1947 same day as Hitler, two years after his alleged death. I could be his reincarnation. With his moustache, I'm a dead ringer for Der Fuhrer.

  12. Just be aware that the bulbs have toxic mercury inside, so if you do end up shattering one, be sure not to breath near it and clean it up ASAP. Nice work!

  13. Very nice job. I am going to do mine Sunday. Just wanted to add Canada is not a country where you must be a licensed electrician if you want to do electrical work.

  14. This is the first time I've seen your videos. I have changed tons of ballasts over the years. I can give you a couple of tips. Get yourself a small tool pouch to wear, I use one that has two pockets. Tools in one and parts in the other. Another thing is when you wire the ballast trim some of the wire off, the blues, reds and yellows. There's no reason to leave it all in there as it just make it harder to pack the wires in. I also twist the wires together to make them easier to pack. Another thing you may want to consider is revamping the fixture to LED. Thanks for the video, Bob

  15. 3:26 – I like your technique of cutting a single wire at a time instead of multiple wires, so you don't create strippers out of your cutters by blowing a hole in them and damaging your unprotected eyes with the molten metal that flies from such a spark. (That's just in case you turned off the wrong breaker because the panel schedule was mislabeled – I didn't see you test the circuit after shutting power.)

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