20 January, 2022

Upgrading the shop lights to LEDs, how I wired my double ended LED tubes.

So my old T12 2 tube shop light fixtures were starting to fail. Going through tubes quickly, and T12s are hard to come by these days, and the ballasts were buzzing loudly. I needed to either fix or replace these things...

Now Costco HAD some really nice I think they were either Feit or Honeywell 2 tube LED fixtures, but unlike the majority of the LED fixtures I have seen on the market, these seemed to be simply flourescent shop light casings and keystones, just no ballasts, and LED tubes instead, and I REALLY liked them.

While not a ton, shop light fixtures with their metal reflectors offer SOME, not much but some impact protection for the tubes, where the majority of the dedicated LED fixtures, the tubes themselves were structural members.

But my costco membership expired during the first month of COVID lockdown, and I didn't want to get anywhere near the insane people trying to haord toilet paper. And Sams club didn't have them.

So I started off going to Walmart, and tossed a box of T8 / T12 plug and play LEDs in the cart.  To say these were a miserable failure would be to complement them.  Searching the Walmart website and they no longer carry the ones I got. Good riddance!

I knew the problem would keep coming back if I kept the ballasts, I had to do a ballast bypass.

I started searching, and ended up on Amazon. FIrst landing on single ended, which means I had to replace the keystones as well and I did not want to do that. Mostly out of a desire to recycle as much of my original fixtures as I could. No need to toss more into the landfill, or the recylcers that really aren't recycling, especially since there are plastics involved.

So I started coming across double ended. No need for new non shunted keystones, I could recycle the keystones AND the wire from the fixtures.

The process is simple. Starting with an unplugged shop light fixture, preferrably on the bench take the fixture apart enough to expose the wiring and ballast.

Coming in from the power wire / socket, there are 3 wires, the ground runs straight out of the plug wire to a ring connector screwed to the fixtures. I left that alone.

Next is a long white wire that typically but not always ran to the far side of the fixture, it connected to and jumped between 2 keystones on one end. This is the neutral wire. I cut the other wires going to the keystones on this end as close to the ballast as possible. Strip the ends back about 3/8" ish... Cut the white wire at the same length, strip BOTH parts of the white wire and using an orange wire nut, wire nut these wires together.

The other wire coming in from the power cord will either be, or be converted to a black wire somewhere in there. Cut the black wire as close to the ballast as possible. Likewise cut the remaining keystone wires as close to the ballast as possible. Strip the wire ends and wire nut those together. 

Unscrew the screw securing the ballast, slide it out and fully remove it.

Insure all wiring connections are solidly made.

They should be as follows.

Green screw through ground wire ring termnal should have remained intact and untouched.

White neutral wire should be wire nutted to the 2 keystones that originally were connected to the white wire, and this should be a good connection secure in the wire nut, and secured in the fixture.

The black wire is your hot. This should be wire nutted / tied to the wires that feed the 2 keystones that are not tied together and were only connected to the ballast. Again the connection should be securely held in the sire nut, and if needed, secured in the fixture via electrical tape.

Additional security for the connections can be done by using a couple of quick wraps of electrical tape tightly around the connection and wire nut.

Now reassemble the fixture, and install the LED tubes. Mine had a big and small end. I like having the big end on the side with the power cord. Make sure the strip the LEDs actually mount to when the tube rotates in the pin socket, points TOWARD the reflector to keep the tube oriented the right way.

With both tubes ready, and some leather gloves on, plug the fixture into your extension cord, ready to pull the connection should it somehow be bad. The result you expect to see is both tubes lighting up. You may have to fiddle with tube position, or even try a different tube. 

Out of my box of 20, I had one tube that was defective enough that it would light, but only upside down. Not exactly useful.  Amazon gave me a credit for the tube so no harm no foul...


The brand was Hykolity, the cost was actually right around or maybe just a shave less than repalcement flourescent tubes, and certainly cheaper than buying new flourexcent tubes and ballasts.

Now the end result?

The Kill A Watt meter showed the fixture with 2 flourescent tubes / ballasts consuming 81w. WIth just the LED tubes, 36w, a more than 50% reduction in energy use. Being that my shop / garage is in Texas, the fact these LEDs run cool and thus don't add heat to my shop is a HUGE bonus, and....

WIth the new LEDs installed, it is SUBSTANTIALLY brighter in my shop. There are 2 main reasons for that though. One is the actual brightness of hte tubes, the other is the pattern of light output.

The light pattern for starters. The LEDs emit light in a pattern 200 degrees from their mount point. Or the strip that can be seen in the tube. Thus you are not shooting actual light directly at the reflector of the fixture. Like I said, my main purpose behind the reflector is to physically protect the tubes form impact. 

The flourescnet tube is just at ube of gas that glows when energized, sort of like Neon. It emits light 360 degrees, reflecting some of it, but losing effectiveness as it does so off the reflector. Maybe mirror polished diamond plate would work better but I wasn't going to go that fancy...

The other reason for the difference is the actual light output of the tubes. 
Not sure if I believe the numbers mind you, but I have seen product descriptions of the flourescent tubes I had been using for years, and they output something like 1550 lumens per tube, so 3100 lumens per fixture. That number is debateable, but since it is the one for the ad copy for the tubes I was running, I will go with that number.

The LEDs are rated at 2400 lumens per tube, so 4800 lumens per fixture. 

And I have a total of 7 fixtures in the shop. 
Flourescent 21,700 lumens.
LEDs 33,600 lumens.

To say the least visibility IN the shop is MUCH better than it ever thought of being.

I am NOT without shadows and certainly am going to need to add task lighting at some point, but for now, I think I have gone as far as I can with these fixtures.

If you have old T12 or T8 4foot shop light fixtures you'd like to upgrade to LEDs, and would like to help me out, please consider buying from my affiliate link. Thank you.


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