LED there be light – Retrofitting a fluorescent tube fixture for LED tubes

Not too long ago, my father-in-law gave me an old florescent light fixture for my shop. Prior to receiving this, my shop lighting consists of a single LED fixture above my work bench and the two stock garage lights with basic 800 lumen LED bulbs. Here’s the thing, though–I hate florescent lighting. The first thing I did when we moved into our house was replace all of the CFL bulbs left by the prior owner with LED bulbs.

I started looking into it to see if it was possible to replace the CFL lights with LEDs, and it turns out that you can, it just depends on whether you want to buy a direct wire conversion kit or LED bulbs that will function on the ballast system.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, you might be asking “What’s a ballast?” It’s a lot more technical than I’d even try to explain, but short version it regulates the electricity provided to the florescent tubes in a florescent fixture to keep the bulb from overheating and burning out. If you want a more technical explanation than that, I’m sure there’s an electrical engineer or an electrician available on the Google who can do a much better job explaining it than I ever could.

Also, the process I did on my light fixture won’t work on shunted lampholders. “What’s a shunted lampholder?” you may be asking. I won’t try to get into the technical part, except to say that it’s found in Instant Start Ballast lamps. If you’ve come here looking for information on shunted vs. non-shunted or instant start vs. other types of ballasts, I’m sorry, Mario, but your princess is in another castle. There’s plenty of good articles out there that discuss it. In the video, I’m working on a non-shunted, non-instant start ballast fixture–if you’re not sure what type of fixture you’re looking to do this on, figure that out before you even think of trying to tackle it.

If you’re sure you’re not working on an instant start ballast/shunted lamp holder, here’s what I did to retrofit my lamp with LED tubs.

Hardware:

  • Wire cutting/stripping device 
  • A non-contact voltage tester  – This is only if you’re working on a fixture that’s still plugged in to a power source. In the video, you’ll notice that mine is on a bench and clearly disconnected from power while I’m working on it. If you’re working on one wired to a circuit, make sure to shut off the breaker and check for power with a voltage tester before you start cutting wires.
  • Screwdrivers – This depends on your fixture–I didn’t use any on mine because there was nothing to unscrew, but your situation may differ.

Software:

    • Direct Wire LED Tube – I used the Toggled brand from my local big box store.
    • Wire Nuts – Worth noting, my tubes came bundled with the wire nuts, so you may not need to purchase separately.

Process:

  1. Disconnect from power to the fixture – As noted above, I didn’t have mine plugged in at all while I worked because it was on my bench. If this isn’t your situation, make sure power is off to the fixture before you start working. Check with a voltage tester to be sure.
  2. Open the access panel – The ballast and wiring is typically tucked behind an access panel underneath the bulbs. Take out the existing bulbs and open the access panel to reveal the ballast and the internal wiring. Make sure you dispose of the florescent bulbs in an appropriate method–there’s a lot of great information available at the EPA website.
  3. Cut out the ballasts – When you look in the lamp’s inner workings, you’ll see the wires involved in the circuit run through the ballast. Effectively, you’re cutting the ballast out of the loop. start by cutting the wires on the powered end (the end closest to your plug), leaving enough slack to strip the wires and connect them with a wire nut. If present, leave the green wire unscathed – that’s your ground wire, and cutting it out will have an adverse affect on the fixture’s functionality. in my fixture, I cut out the ballast completely, since it would have just been dangling in the access area anyway.
  4. Replace access panel & install new LED bulbs – This is just reversing what you did in step 2, then placing your new bulbs in. The LED tubes I purchased will only take power from one end, so make sure that the end of the tube that takes power is attached to the socket next to your power source. They should be clearly marked on the tube.
  5. Enjoy your new light!  – If you haven’t installed the fixture yet, now’s the time to hang it.

Disclaimer: Almost any DIY project involves risk of some sort. Your tools, materials, and skills will vary, as will the conditions at your project site. The Hesitant Handyman has made every effort to be complete and accurate in the instructions provided on this website. The Hesitant Handyman will not assume any responsibility or liability for damages or losses sustained or incurred in the course of your project or in the use of the item you create. Always follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions in the use of tools, check and follow your local building codes, and observe all commonly accepted safety precautions.

If I’m linking to a tool or material, there’s a good chance it will direct you to Amazon—using the magic of affiliate linking, your use of the links in the post lets Amazon know I sent you their way, and if you buy something within 24 hours, I’ll receive a commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it helps us keep the lights on.
Rest assured, I’m not going to randomly pitch you on something that I don’t think you could use—Whenever possible, I try to link to the tools I use myself. If it’s something I don’t have, I only recommend tools from brands I trust.

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