How to Repair a Fluorescent Shop Light

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Shop lights are inexpensive fluorescent lights that typically have no cover or lens. The exposed tubes and the fixtures are more utilitarian than decorative. Commonly used in garages and basements, they provide an excellent source of bright white light in areas that need it most. Shop lights are durable and can last for many years because repairing them is relatively easy since the problem is usually one of four culprits: bad tubes, a bad socket, a bad starter or a bad ballast.

Things You'll Need

  • New fluorescent tube
  • New starter
  • Screwdriver
  • Touch-type voltage tester
  • Wire strippers
  • New socket
  • Nut driver set
  • New ballast
  • Wire connectors
  • Electrical tape

Replacing the Fluorescent Tubes

  • Turn off the light at the switch.

  • Grasp the fluorescent tube with both hands, and twist it about a half turn. The pins on the ends of the tube must align with the slot on the socket. Pull the tube straight down to release it from the socket.

    If the tube is bad, it usually looks darkened near one or both ends.

  • Install a new fluorescent tube by sliding the pins up into the slot on the socket and twisting the tube a half turn until you feel it snap into place. Both ends need to be in the socket before you twist the tube.

Replacing the Starter

  • Turn the light off at the switch.

  • Remove the fluorescent tube as instructed in Section 1. If the fluorescent fixture has a starter, it will be located directly behind the tube. Newer fixtures don't have independent starters, so if you don't see one, it's because your shop fixture has an electronic ballast with a built-in starter.

  • Grasp the starter with your fingers, and turn it clockwise a quarter turn. Pull it straight out to remove it.

  • Slide the new starter into the starter slot so the pegs fall into the socket holes. Give the starter a counterclockwise quarter turn to snap it in place.

  • Install the fluorescent tube as instructed in Section 1.

Replacing a Socket

  • Turn off the circuit breaker that powers the fluorescent shop light. Since you're going to be accessing the fixture's wiring, it's safer to cut the power entirely to the fixture rather than rely on the light switch.

  • Remove the fluorescent tube as instructed in Section 1.

  • Remove the ballast cover by removing the set screws that hold it in place with a screwdriver or by using your hands to squeeze it out of its compression clips, depending on your fixture.

  • Test the wires coming into the fixture with a touch-type voltage tester before you touch any of the wires. Press the button on the tester, and touch its tip to each wire to make sure the circuit is dead. If the tester beeps or lights up, the circuit is still live. Try turning off additional breakers until you find the correct one.

  • Remove the socket by loosening its set screw with a screwdriver or by sliding it out from its slot, depending on the type of fixture.

  • Cut the wires where they enter the socket with wire strippers. Remove about 3/4-inch of insulation from the end of both wires, and stick them into the top slots on the new socket.

    Some sockets come with four slots on top, two on one side and two on the other. One wire goes into one of the two slots on one side, and the other wire goes into one of the slots on the other side.

  • Slide the socket back in its holder, and tighten the set screw if it has one.

  • Install the ballast cover and the fluorescent tube. Turn the breaker back on.

Replacing the Ballast

  • Turn off the circuit breaker that powers the fluorescent shop light.

  • Remove the fluorescent tube as instructed in Section 1.

  • Remove the ballast cover by removing the set screws that hold it in place with a screwdriver or by using your hands to squeeze it out of its compression clips, depending on your fixture.

  • Test the wires coming into the fixture with a touch-type voltage tester before you touch any of the wires. Press the button on the tester, and touch its tip to each wire to make sure the circuit is dead. If the tester beeps or lights up, the circuit is still live. Try turning off additional breakers until you find the correct one.

  • Disconnect the black and white ballast wires from the black and white feed wires.

  • Cut the remaining ballast wires with the wire strippers where they exit the ballast.

  • Remove the ballast by using the proper size nut driver to remove the nuts that hold it in place. Keep one hand on the ballast while you loosen the nuts because the ballast is heavy and can fall unexpectedly.

  • Secure the new ballast in place with the nut driver and nuts so the correct color wires are facing their like-color wires connected to the sockets. For example, on a two-tube F40 fluorescent fixture, the sockets on one side of the fixture have yellow wires, and on the other side, they have blue and red wires. The ballast will have wires with those same colors, so make sure the side with the yellow wires faces the sockets with the yellow wires.

  • Cut away any excess wire, and use the wire strippers to remove about 3/4-inch of insulation from the end of each wire.

  • Connect the colored ballast wires to the like-color socket wires using wire connectors. Because of the large number of ballast types, always check the wiring diagram on the ballast's label for the proper instructions.

  • Connect the white ballast wire with the white wire coming into the fixture with a wire connector. Connect the black ballast wire with the black wire coming into the fixture with a wire connector. Make sure both connectors are on tight, and wrap each one with a strip of electrical tape.

  • Install the ballast cover and the fluorescent tube, and turn the circuit back on.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always test your tester on a circuit that you know is working before you test the circuit you are going to be working on. This is to ensure the tester is functioning properly.
  • Photo Credit Light image by ladymodem from Fotolia.com fluorescent light starter image by Edsweb from Fotolia.com
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