The fluorescent light in our study area died after several years of use. While there is no other problems other than the fluorescent tube that needs to be replaced, I decided to change the magnetic ballast to an electronic one. In case you don’t know, the ballast is also called a choke.
There are several reasons to consider changing the fluorescent light ballast to an electronic one. The original magnetic ballast sometimes hum and flicker when the voltage in the neighborhood dips. This happens especially when air conditioners or water heaters are switched on in other houses.
Magnetic ballast like the one you see in the photo below have been in used for many years. Their advantages is that they are cheap and reliable. They hardly ever fail but they do age. Their disadvantages are they are consume (quite a lot of) electricity, create heat, make light flicker and at times make annoying humming noises. The heat they generate is quite substantial as some studies show that around 20% or more electricity is dissipated (consumed) by the ballast rather than converted to light!
If you walk on your upper floors, you can feel hot spots on you floor. It is very likely, the hot spot is where you fluorescent light fixture is located on the floor below and the heat is from the ballast.
Electronic ballast on the other hand cost more and may fail over time due to many electronic parts inside. They however consume much less electricity, the light do no flicker and start up immediately. Life span of the fluorescent tubes may be extended as well.
To change to electronic ballast, you’ll need to modify the existing circuit a bit. It is not very difficult and I rate it as beginner level DIY. However, as always, you have to take precautions when dealing with mains electricity. Use your test pen to make sure there is no electricity flowing in the wires you are about to disconnect.
The tools you’ll need to make the change is fairly simple for fluorescent tubes. You’ll need:-
- test pen
- screw driver
- extra length of wire
- wire connector
- solder iron and solder (for circular fluorescent fixtures)
The diagram below shows the wiring difference between magnetic and electronic ballast. In some ways, the electronic ballast is simpler to wire if you start from scratch. However because we are modifying the existing wiring, it may take a bit of time to figure it which wires goes where.
At first, it may seem daunting because the old ballast only has 2 points while electronic ballast has 7 points! I had my doubts as well when I bought the electronic ballast. Don’t let this stop you since they are quite straight forward. The points are clearly labeled as L – Live, N – Neutral, G – Ground (or the electrical symbol for it which looks like this) for the main supply side of things
Like I mention, it some ways, the electronic ballast is easier to wire since the mains power and ground connection in on one side on the ballast body. On the other side are the connectors that goes to the tube. The connectors on the opposite side of the electronic ballast are labelled 1,2,3 and 4. These points connect to the fluorescent tube so the wiring is quite straight forward. See the photo below
Take a look at diagram A and B. Diagram A is for a fluorescent light which uses a magnetic ballast and starter. Diagram B below is for one that uses an electronic ballast.
To modify the wiring, here’s what you need to do.
- Use the test pen to make sure there is no power going into the light fixture before you begin.
- Remove the wires from the old ballast and then remove the ballast.
- Install the new electronic ballast
- Trace the wires that connect to the tube holder
- Wires from one end of the tube should go to point 1 and 2 on the electronic ballast
- Wires from opposite end of the tube should go to point 3 and 4 on the electronic ballast
- Connect Live, Neutral and Ground wires to the new ballast
- I suggest you remove the holder for the starter in especially for long tubes so that others will not be confused in the future if he or she needs to fix the light.
You will find that you’ll need some extra length of wire to connect everything up.
For circular fluorescent tubes, I could not find much info online which is why I decided to post this article up. For a circular fluorescent tube, if you can find and purchase a proper connector (one without a holder for the starter) to connect to the circular tube, that would be the easiest way to go. If you manage to buy such a connector, all you have to do is removed the old connector , install the new connector to the circular tube and new electronic ballast and you are done. No soldering required.
If you can’t buy a different type of connector suited for electronic ballast, then you’ll need to modify the existing connection to fit wires to the circular tube.
The wiring diagram is still the same as above, just that in the physical sense, instead of a straight tube, the tube is now in a circle and both ends are side by side each other. So instead of 2 tube holders on opposite end, there is one with an attached starter holder.
What I did was to pry open the tube cum starter holder and solder 2 wires where the starter used to be. All you need to do then is to connect the left pair of wires to point 1 and 2 and the right pair to point 3 and 4 of the electronic ballast.
That is all there is to it. Click on the photos below for a larger image.
If your light flickers or you find that your eye tires quickly while reading at night, you may want to consider upgrading your light to use an electronic ballast. They are easier also on the eye since they operate the light at a higher frequency and especially useful if your children need to study at night. You do not need to buy special reading lights.
In my opinion, the advantages of an electronic ballast outweigh the cost and the small amount of time required for the modification. I really like it when the lights come on immediately when I switch lights now. No need for the light to flicker and hum while I wait at the light switch.
If you rather replace the entire light fixture to slim T5 fluorescent light bulb, you should check out this article. Avoid all the hassle but you get all the benefits.
PS – Want to create some unique lights for your house? Check this out. I made this floor lamp with some nice paper, spare bulb and an old clock! You can decorate on a budget.