The flourescent lights in my shop burned out. What’re we gonna do?!
In the summer of 2017 I had my shop rewired by an electrician to add many
more 120V outlets along with a few 240V ones for the presumed upgrades I
was going to make.
At the same time, they swapped out the existing simple overhead light sockets
with new flourescent light fixtures, but only in
the third bay of the garage. The main bay of the garage where we park our
cars still used old light sockets.
The new lights were a huge improvement in the shop, though! Now, however,
we’re six months on and almost all of them have burned out. And one thing you
should know about me is that if I can upgrade something to save money in the
long term then I’ll always take that road.
So let’s talk about flourescent versus LED shop lights. I considered going
LED last summer when I bought the lights but was talked off that ledge by the
electrician. He counseled that LED was still too expensive and that a T8
flourescent fixture would be better. When I made that decision, however, I
didn’t think I’d only get 6 months out of a set of eight bulbs. A set of
compatible LED replacment tubes has an “expected
life” of 36,000 hours, which means less climbing up on a ladder to replace
them (and what you need to know about me is that I’m a lazy man.)
So easy! Let’s simply rewire our light fixtures and then pop in the new LED
tubes! The main car bay will still be lighted like a back-alley but the shop
will be bright and happy and I didn’t need to be able to see where I parked
the lawnmower anyways!
I have a better idea for the long term.
I’ve been following April Wilkerson’s wood and
metal shop build with interest via YouTube and Instagram and she recently had
a video about installing the walls and
ceiling, with a small aspect about the overhead lighting. The main thing that
interested me was the light fixtures she was using: Big Ass Lights Garage
I really like the look and profile of that light, but it’s too expensive for
me to swap out everything in my garage right now. My goal in the medium term
is to swap in one Big Ass Light above my most often-used work area and move
the LED tube fixture over to the car bay, then eventually buy a second Big
Ass Light for the shop side and move the other LED tube fixture over to the
car bay as well. At that point everything in the garage would be 5000K LEDs
and I think I’d be in pretty good shape!
…a few days pass, during which I actually follow-through with the above
Oh god ohnononono. This was much harder than it needed to be. I have lots
that I learned doing this. PLEASE SIR OR MADAM HEED MY WARNINGS.
Ok, good news first: I now have only LED tube lights in the shop bay of
my garage. If that statement sounds carefully parsed, then you’re really good
at reading into statements! Congratulations!
I pulled down one of the fixtures, and after watching the above YouTube video
again I disassembled it and cut the wires apart, re-hooking them back up
while bypassing the ballast. I then inserted the Phillips Instantfit LED
tubes and cautiously plugged everything back in.
Flourescent fixture: disassembled and rewired
I’ll skip the hours of swearing and rewiring and get right to my first lesson
of the day: Phillips Instantfit LED tubes will not work when you bypass the
ballast; they are meant to be used in UNCHANGED flourescent fixtures.
Unfortunately, by the time I figured this out, I’d already torn apart the
inside of one of my fixtures and the way I cut the wires… uh, I wouldn’t be
re-hooking up the ballast.
- Good News: I was able to easily use the Phillips Instantfit tubes I had purchased through Amazon in the other fixture that I had not yet torn apart.
- Bad News: The Phillips Instantfit tubes would not work in the fixture I had already torn apart.
Phillips Instantfit tubes working in an unmodified flourescent fixture
So, as is often the case when I’m working on something I’ve never worked on
before: to Home Depot we go!
There, I found toggled LED tubes specifically made
for bypassing a ballast in an existing fixture. They were a bit more
expensive, but I was reasonably sure they’d work in the fixture I’d already
Once home, however, I realized that these tubes required even a different
wiring than I’d already done, so time to break out the wirecutters again and
rewire again. Luckily, the instructions that came with each tube were helpful
and instructive, and I was able to get things wired up pretty quickly. They
still weren’t working, however, until I realized that these tubes must be
installed in a certain direction or they won’t work. Once I turned them
toggled LED lights working in a ballast bypass-modified fixture
- Good News: All my fixtures now have working lights in them
- Bad News: Different lights in different fixtures… man.
Reflections & Learning
I’m gonna throw this section in even though this isn’t technically a
“project” post. As frustrated as I got with this, I really learned a lot
about the different options in converting from flourescent to LED.
The main thing you need to consider is why you’re converting:
- If you’re converting primarily to save money on energy costs, you should
rewire your fixtures and purchase ballast-bypass LEDs. Note that this means
you should NOT buy Phillips Instantfit tubes. This is because the ballast
is still using the same amount of energy whether you’re using it to drive
flourescent or LED fixtures, so you won’t see the cost reduction from using
the LEDs in this case. You should still see a greater lifespan, however.
- If you’re converting primarily for heat generation or “avoid climbing a
ladder as often” reasons then go ahead and just buy Phillips Instantfit
tubes, stick em in your existing fixture and be done.
I also learned that I should go buy some extra spools of 18awg wire of all
colors to have when I’m working on rewiring shit like this. I got stuck at a
few points because I was forced to re-use wires I’d cut out of the fixture.
And that’s it! I have light in my shop again; hope this helped you folks
thinking about converting over yourselves.