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Thread: Premature electronic ballast failure

  1. #1
    *Flashaholic*
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    Default Premature electronic ballast failure

    The ballast on my kitchen fixture needed to be replaced today. I was quite surprised since the fixture has only been in use about 16 months. The fixture has 4 32W T-8 tubes, and uses an instant start electronic ballast.

    We have had mostly linear fluorescents in all those areas which get heavy use since this house was purchased in 1978. Up until this point, we only had one ballast fail. In the last year I've replaced quite of few of the older fixtures with electronically ballasted ones for greater efficiency and non-flickering light output. Does anyone with experience who has dealt with large numbers of such fixtures know if the electronic ballasts are proving to be less reliable long term that the old school magnetic ones? I'm more than a little concerned that the ballasts may go on other fixtures which have been in use for two years or less. Should I be, or is this just an isolated case of so-called infant mortality? In case it's of any help, the fixture is on roughly 15 hours per day, 7 days per week. This means that the ballast had maybe 7000 hours on it. The tubes are still in good shape. No end blackening or anything otherwise strange. They claim to be rated for 34,000 hours but since we're going for longer than 3 hours per start we might get over 40,000.

    Is there any difference between commercial and residential ballasts in terms of longevity?

  2. #2
    *Retired* The_LED_Museum's Avatar
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    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    I had a CFL bulb blow up just today. I was sitting here at my computer, and a Fieldbreeze 18 watt CFL bulb blew up - literally!!! There were two loud pops, followed by a softer but still significantly loud pop, while this stinky, acrid smoke issued from the lamp base. I quickly extinguished the ceiling light fixture it was in (two receptacles) and removed the bad bulb. The base had that caracteristic "burnt electronics" odour.

  3. #3
    Flashaholic* Zelandeth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    Think it's probably just an isolated incident. WIth any device, electronic or otherwise, there'll be the occasional "lemon" that sneaks through the QC inspections. So long as it was only one that failed I wouldn't be worrying.

    Electronic ballasts these days seem to vary from the very good to the very bad, the bad ones being very prone to overheating, and resulting in premature failures. Basically, the cooler they run, the longer they'll last as a rule.

    Other things that could contrubute:

    Poor ventilation causing overheating.
    Bad line voltage or surge.

    The latter two being pretty unique to electronic ballasts, as it takes a pretty big spike to blow out an old magnetic ballast! (A good one anyway).

  4. #4
    Flashaholic* legtu's Avatar
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    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    I've had 2 electronic ballast fail on me just recently. One of the ballast has been in service for at least 3 years while the other one, around a year. Our ballast are made in china(if it makes any difference).

    With magnetic ballast', I've encountered 2 failures which are only around 6 months "old". There's also this one that failed on me after 6 years.

  5. #5
    Flashaholic* yuandrew's Avatar
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    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    Heat maybe?

    I have a bunch of cheap Chinese CFLs (actually got them for free) that are running at my house. One of them I butchered and used the electronic ballast circuit board in an under cabinate light. That board barely gives out any heat and the ballast compartment is off to the side of the fixture where it dosen't get that hot. On the other hand, a CFL with the same ballast has the "lamp" right next to the board which allows the heat to transfer. I already have a few lamps smelling of overheated electronics (not that strong however, you really have to sniff the bulb to smell it) and the ballast part of those lamps seem to get very hot after using them for a while.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    1. It’s raining/sprinkling in LA right now---woot lightning & thunderclouds for the 1st time in 3-4yrs on the Westside---mountains get that every season, wasn’t predicted, but must be that global ‘cooling’ because of all the greenhouse gases; after 5 years of lower than average precipitation for this area, we have the earliest snowfall in the local mountains on record for earliest skiing season before October 31st…woohoo!

    I just got through watching U2 do an excellent set on SNL, doing record 3 (4 but at least on the West Coast we did not get to see the 2nd encore) songs, and reading this thread title gave me a good laugh. But only jtr will get the joke as we’re thinking about his post to SC’s thread on that ‘other’ forum J Was this thread title a play on words for the new U2 album, “How to dismantle an Atomic Bomb’?

    2. Therefore I thought maybe this thread was some kind of play on words to jtr’s post about the unspoken male embarrassment that SC and FS probably suffer from---give the content of that other thread jtr posted to [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/crackup.gif[/img] . Now how does LED Museum’s Craig put it? {vulgar term for female/slang for cat}? [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/wink.gif[/img]. Following along those lines of thought, which mostly only jtr will get the inside joke (remember how Prof. Wiz. Commented on my post with “Classic American decadence…bad taste”? What can I say, but when I read jtr’s post to that other thread, I just happened to be watching the West Coast version of the not often shown (eat your heart out Prof. Wiz; the Ultimate USA vs. EU thread…not even close) controversial Foghat “Slowride” commercial [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/grin.gif[/img]. PG so it’s ok for me to post a link, to explain my warped mindset [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/grin.gif[/img]. Oh my, Cameron Richardson rocks in more than one way [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/wink.gif[/img]
    http://www.shapeofdays.com/2004/week42/
    http://www.hardeesgirl.com/thecommercial.html

    3. Alright back OT, (like jtr is not the king of going OT) as best as my questionable mental faculties will allow ;-). Let me try to restate an analogy, I’ll get to the point someday. I think it was my 1st or 2nd post on these forums where I stated to Ginseng, the CPF Incandescent Demi-God, that those big D-cell body lights just did not appeal to my senses (jtr understands this line of logic, wink, wink; referring to something entirely different…in a way) and that I had a Lights Of America outdoor area light fail on me back in the late 1990’s. It was a Chinese made 70w HPS that was inexpensive, all plastic for $40. But being that inexpensive, it was naturally made of the lowest quality, least expensive parts. The all solid-state electronic ballast failed after just after the one year warranty expired, and it was just a simple resistor on a PCB ballast that probably cost $5 or less for the whole board, maybe a few cents for the resistor that fried itself.

    Same problem with the 2, one Phillips, one CE; Chinese made CFL I had fail on me with less than half the rated hours lifespan, the ballast/electronics are made from inexpensive parts which cannot handle heat. They fail much sooner than rated life, in all but the coolest, best ventilated applications. It’s a sham, IMHO for these to be sold as being able to be used inside lamps of all sorts where the heat build will invariably case them to fail prematurely. It’s the economics of scale with mass produced items, and it is not limited to Chinese made goods. I replaced that LOA 70w HPS, with an American made 100w HPS, that uses the older style ballast, large electronic-eye light sensor switch, and it has operated flawlessly for 6-7yrs now. Pretty much the same can be said of any HID ballast, they last as long as they are well made for a range of operating conditions. But I also do not believe that it costs that much more to produce long lasting heat durable components. Ginseng had pointed out 2 things about HID that limits use a flashlight was both cost and size of ballasts as reasons that they are not used in smaller lights. But 4th generation auto HID ballasts are smaller, thinner, cheaper to make…much like electronic ballasts for fluorescent lights. So it would be possible to design a smaller, heat durable ballast for a EDC light such as one I speculated on in my equally long and semi-OT post...hehe, I always manage to tie in the subplots with the actual subject of the thread title somehow [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img], where I teased js’s SF M6-R thread here (BTW, other than fluorescent lights, I have not other problems with any type of ‘premature’ occurrences ;-) The SF M6-R: a regulated rechargeable SF M6 (HOLA :

    4. I do not think there are so many of the so called ‘lemons’ as Zealandeth would assert. I believe the lower quality components used in ballast, no matter what the country of origin, will not tolerate too much heat. More robust components that can handle heat, will result in longer lifespans, of the ballast/electronics. It is that simple, commercial vs consumer/retail is not a good indicator of robust component packing.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    I was laughing hysterically at parts 1 to 3 of your post, udaman, although I think the inside jokes will be lost on just about everyone here. I'm still trying to figure out the significance of those two links in the grand scheme of things. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/thinking.gif[/img] I can only imagine what went through your mind when you saw my name and the thread title after reading my post in the other place. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/faint.gif[/img] [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/ooo.gif[/img]

    FS and SC with a male problem? I think you're on to something here, especially with SC. Seems like he's always going out of his way to brag about something about himself to perhaps cover up some other embarrassing deficiency. I just hope he's not interested in lights or he'll be pissed at both of us. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/happy23.gif[/img]

    Yes, small things are what I like. Small, delicate, and refined if you know what I mean. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/icon11.gif[/img] None of that course in your face stuff with bulges everywhere. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/thumbsdown.gif[/img] Anyway, back to the main topic since I think you're on to something here.


    I opened it up today to take a look. Here is a composite of the inside and the cover:



    It has that "burned out electronics" smell but none of the semiconductors on the board appear to be fried, unlike the Feit CFL ballast which blew both MOSFETs a few months ago. The black on the cap is just electrical tape of some sort. Most likely one of the transformers overheated because that is what the smell mostly reminds me of. Electrically, it's an open circuit. A day or two before it went, it had trouble starting the tubes. About half of the length of the tube would light up, and on the next try it would start. On the day it failed nothing happened.

    It seems surprisingly simple inside-just a few passives, four diodes, 3 MOSFETS, and the transformers. No ICs so it's not a "smart" ballast like some of the better designs. Having the transformers sitting on the PC board with only still air to conduct away the heat is asking for trouble unless the power dissipation is very low. I've seen some ballasts which use either pitch or potting epoxy to conduct the transformer heat to the case more efficiently.

    Evidently heat was the culprit here as udaman said. The fixture is in a dropped ceiling with about 6 inches of free air over it. The top of the fixture is only slightly warm except above where the ballast is. This part might be maybe 50°C. Given that these electronic ballasts are supposed to be more efficient I'm surprised at the temperature most of them operate at. Ballast factor for this ballast was .89, which means that the tubes were driven at roughly 26 watts each. Power input was 114 watts. This means about 10 watts was being dissipated in the rather small ballast case. Given the poor thermal path, no wonder it failed. I'm amazed it lasted as long as it did. I also wonder why these things don't do better in the power dissipation department. My cheap $8 shoplight from Home Depot dissipates maybe 3 watts in the ballast based on the slight temperature rise. Why can't a more expensive ballast like the one above do the same? I don't get it why most of the 120VAC electronic ballasts seem to be mediocre in the efficiency department. I slapped together a ballast a few months ago to drive a 40W tube from 12V and didn't even need to heat sink the MOSFETs. The hottest thing was the transformer which maybe dissipated 1.5W of heat. No reason you can't design a 4-tube ballast which dissipates 3 or 4 watts. This would solve the premature failure problem without potting. Except for the ballast, nothing in that fixture gets much above 35°C.

    Yes, heat is the enemy of electronics. I'm frequently disgusted when I open something up and find a low spec component when something twice as good would only cost a few cents more. Yes, I know that line that if you save 2 cents and make a million you've saved $20,000 but I'll gladly pay the extra few cents for peace of mind. Ditto for these ballasts. Except for some deals on eBay, these electronic ballasts are not exactly cheap. Figure $24 at Home Depot. I'd rather pay $25 for premium components and maybe potting so at least I know I don't have to worry about it. We did get a new ballast which allegedly was commercial-not because we looked, but because that was all they had. Will it be better? Only time will tell. It bothers me because the designer can cut power dissipation by 5 or 6 watts and design an inherently safer product, yet they choose not to in order to save a few cents. In fact, that seems to be the prevailing mentality these days. I hate cutting corners.

  8. #8
    Flashaholic* hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    Do you know if your ballast was on the same circuit as any of the kitchen appliances?

    I got tired of landfilling electronics a while back, and

    -- put whole-house surge protection in the breaker box (one black box in a circuit breaker slot on each side -- bought in Denver where they're sold commonly in home supply stores, apparently, because of their lightning storms -- I'd never seen one living on the East or West Coast in my life)

    -- Put spike catchers on all the electric motors in the house -- the cheapest 3-MOSFET surge protectors (little cube things with a window to check condition) on the plugs for:

    -- the dishwasher
    -- the clothes washer
    -- the vacuum cleaner
    -- the (gas, but electric motor) dryer

    In ten years, I've blown up the spike catcher on the clothes dryer plug twice, and had two Compact Fluorescents (screw-in type) fail in use, one of which tried to catch fire -- on different circuits than the appliances.

    Oh, and the computers all have surge protection as well as UPSs on them.

    My impression is that the major problems are happening when, after a power failure when nobody's home, power tries to come back on a wide area and everyone's refrigerator and freezer and other big motors try to come up to speed and there's either a prolonged brownout or else a series of on-off-on-off flickers from the whole local part of the grid. (I unplug the refrigerator when the power goes out, just to avoid that prolonged grunt and groan as it tries to come back on when the power's unreliable or low-voltage.)

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    According to a wiring diagram I made the kichen fixture is on the same circuit with mostly other lights and a few outlets in the living room and my bedroom. No heavy appliances. It wasn't always this way. Starting about fifteen years ago we had too many things on one circuit. I gradually added a few breakers to the breaker box and distributed the load more evenly. In fact, in the kitchen the counter top appliances are on their own circuit. The refrigerator, stove, and air conditioner are on another circuit. We've actually never had an electronics device fail on us due to a power surge. I have a digital clock from 1978 with a green vacuum fluorescent display which is working fine.

    I'm a strong believer in UPSes and surge protectors for electronics. Carpets are another big killer of electronics thanks to the static buildup but since I hate them I don't have any. Whole house surge protection is something I'm considering although it seems to me that power in the city is generally less prone to surges than in suburban or rural areas. When there is a surge, it is distributed among many more lines, and is hence less severe. Also, not being in open country means we get fewer lighting strikes to start with, and they generally go after taller buildings, not single family homes. Since I didn't see any blown active components, I'm going on the theory that heat killed the ballast. It did have that "burned out transformer" smell when I opened it. I agree though that these things should have better built in surge protection. That ballast looks like maybe it has a varistor and that's about it. Surges are what seems to account for most of the LED traffic signal failures. Maybe it accounts for a fair number of CFL ballast failures as well.

  10. #10
    Flashaholic* snakebite's Avatar
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    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    might want to check on a recall.
    iirc that brand has been recalled.

    [ QUOTE ]
    The_LED_Museum said:
    I had a CFL bulb blow up just today. I was sitting here at my computer, and a Fieldbreeze 18 watt CFL bulb blew up - literally!!! There were two loud pops, followed by a softer but still significantly loud pop, while this stinky, acrid smoke issued from the lamp base. I quickly extinguished the ceiling light fixture it was in (two receptacles) and removed the bad bulb. The base had that caracteristic "burnt electronics" odour.

    [/ QUOTE ]

  11. #11
    Flashaholic* yuandrew's Avatar
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    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    I think they have been recalled.

    http://www.execulink.com/~impact/fieldbreeze.htm

    Save up some money and get some better ones. Is there a Wal-Mart or a Home Depot nearby ?

    Speaking of Premature CFL failures, I had a GE "Electronic Biax" 13 watt CFL go out after a few months. It turned out that one of the electrode filiments had came loose. A quick tap on bulb with the power on and it worked again. It should last for a while if it dosen't get moved around a lot.

    The other CFL I had that broke was an older Magnetic Ballast GE Double Biax adaptor but it was because I kept knocking my lamp over (It makes the lamp a bit top heavy) I still have the ballast, just need a new "Bulb" part and I can use it again (In a ceiling fixture that won't fall over)

    Now, I've recently noticed that CFLs are all "one peice" as the electronics are cheaper. I still like the idea of just replacing a bulb and keeping a still good ballast however.


  12. #12

    Default Re: Premature electronic ballast failure

    [ QUOTE ]
    jtr1962 said:
    I was laughing hysterically at parts 1 to 3 of your post, udaman, although I think the inside jokes will be lost on just about everyone here. I'm still trying to figure out the significance of those two links in the grand scheme of things. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/thinking.gif[/img] I can only imagine what went through your mind when you saw my name and the thread title after reading my post in the other place. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/faint.gif[/img] [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/ooo.gif[/img]

    FS and SC with a male problem? I think you're on to something here, especially with SC. Seems like he's always going out of his way to brag about something about himself to perhaps cover up some other embarrassing deficiency. I just hope he's not interested in lights or he'll be pissed at both of us. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/happy23.gif[/img]

    Yes, small things are what I like. Small, delicate, and refined if you know what I mean. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/icon11.gif[/img] None of that course in your face stuff with bulges everywhere. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/thumbsdown.gif[/img] Anyway, back to the main topic since I think you're on to something here.


    I opened it up today to take a look. Here is a composite of the inside and the cover:

    It has that "burned out electronics" smell but none of the semiconductors on the board appear to be fried, unlike the Feit CFL ballast which blew both MOSFETs a few months ago. The black on the cap is just electrical tape of some sort. Most likely one of the transformers overheated because that is what the smell mostly reminds me of. Electrically, it's an open circuit. A day or two before it went, it had trouble starting the tubes. About half of the length of the tube would light up, and on the next try it would start. On the day it failed nothing happened.

    It seems surprisingly simple inside-just a few passives, four diodes, 3 MOSFETS, and the transformers. No ICs so it's not a "smart" ballast like some of the better designs. Having the transformers sitting on the PC board with only still air to conduct away the heat is asking for trouble unless the power dissipation is very low. I've seen some ballasts which use either pitch or potting epoxy to conduct the transformer heat to the case more efficiently.

    Evidently heat was the culprit here as udaman said. The fixture is in a dropped ceiling with about 6 inches of free air over it. The top of the fixture is only slightly warm except above where the ballast is. This part might be maybe 50°C. Given that these electronic ballasts are supposed to be more efficient I'm surprised at the temperature most of them operate at. Ballast factor for this ballast was .89, which means that the tubes were driven at roughly 26 watts each. Power input was 114 watts. This means about 10 watts was being dissipated in the rather small ballast case. Given the poor thermal path, no wonder it failed. I'm amazed it lasted as long as it did. I also wonder why these things don't do better in the power dissipation department. My cheap $8 shoplight from Home Depot dissipates maybe 3 watts in the ballast based on the slight temperature rise. Why can't a more expensive ballast like the one above do the same? I don't get it why most of the 120VAC electronic ballasts seem to be mediocre in the efficiency department. I slapped together a ballast a few months ago to drive a 40W tube from 12V and didn't even need to heat sink the MOSFETs. The hottest thing was the transformer which maybe dissipated 1.5W of heat. No reason you can't design a 4-tube ballast which dissipates 3 or 4 watts. This would solve the premature failure problem without potting. Except for the ballast, nothing in that fixture gets much above 35°C.

    Yes, heat is the enemy of electronics.
    / / /
    I hate cutting corners.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    hehe, Jtr '6-degrees of separation', you need very sharp wit and outstanding memory to keep up with all of my vague OT references. Cameron Richardson, that commercial...um, imagine reading FS (stud muffin of 'hours, days, even a week' LMAO), and SC's initial thread post; then watch the video on the link I provided and remember the lyrics of the Foghat classic rock song 'Slow ride'....it might come to you, the humor/irony of how both might have an embarrassment in that situation [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/grin.gif[/img]. Also related to Prof. Wiz (do search on his usrnm, exactly spelling, with search term 'decadence' or 'classic' to see his response to my other reference to another American TV humorous commercial he can't get in the EU , then it should all make sense.

    Little refined sexy/thin things...yep that's how I like them, do search on my one and only post to js's rechargeable SF M6-R (very long thread on CPF) and you'll get the idea and inspiration for the 'JA Special' [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img] . Or better yet do search on Ginseng's Ultimate EDC thread in Incandescent forum? with search term 'university', lovely tiny little things [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]. More fully explained on the 'side-effects' of 'Da Weather' thread shortly on the other forum.

    Back OT, I forgot mention another of the less than 1yr old CE 23w CFL was in base down, open fixture indoors and it too failed in the same point at the junction were the tube is affixed to the ballast base. If you look at the link you refer to regularly for full spectrum fluro's you will see in nice small print what you are not supposed to put the CFL's in. Yet CE has no such warnings on the packaging for the one's you buy at Home Depot. With the higher wattage CFL, you'll notice they all have the ballast with slots in the plastic enclosure for necessary cooling.
    http://www.fullspectrumsolutions.com...orescent.shtml
    "These lamps can not be used with dimmers,*in totally enclosed or recessed fixtures.
    Because these lamps operate 60% cooler you can use them in any open fixture that the lamp will fit.
    " Base down operation should be an added exclusion to all of these poorly designed, hot running CFL, IMHO.

    Since the electronics of dimmer switches in various inexpensive desktop lamps will fail after a certain number of hours of being exposed to the high heat of 100w incandescent bulbs (rated for 150w, hah!), I am wondering which would fail 1st. A dimmer switch itself, or one of these new CFL that are dimmable? On this site they even have a dimmable 5w CFL that they claim will get 25,000hr LOL. At only 5w, that maybe possible, but also look at just how minute the ballast/base of the bulb is!

    https://secure.tcinternet.net/buylig...icrobrite.html

    Still, I think I will try the 100w equivalent full spectrum, dimmable CFL listed on that site. Although the cost is the highest(so the components are failing at greatly reduced lifespans and you take into account energy expended to produce and dispose of the waste, how much are we really being 'green' anyway?, just because of bean counting, cost competitive influences?), the best energy saving to be had would be with a IR sensor, and the dimmable CFL's; so that the light is only on when people enter a room, assuming you could put up with the longish start-up to full-output of these CFL's.

    Yet, I think it matters not about which manufacturer or even what type of ballast. For the neighbor down the street; since the time I installed that American made metal enclosure, 100w HPS, with larger, less super inexpensive, older style 3-pin locking photo-eye; had an all plastic LOA 70w HPS flicker and then die, to be replaced by LOA 67w 'Fluorex' tech, work for just 3yrs?, then it died recently too, and they put up another LOA? plastic 70w HPS to replace that, LMAO! Some people have lots of money to spend, and not get anywhere near the useful lifespan of these energy efficient bulbs, HID or fluoros. Its simply a matter of false/deceitful advertsing (I'll bet the actual engineers are aware of the limitations), and using components that can only stand the heat if put in an open fixture burning with base up...and even at that, if you put your finger on the ballast by the tube, they are hot. Either they need more ventilation, or the parts need to be able to withstand higher heat levels.

    From the looks of that ballast (I should mention the 100w HPS outdoor area light I installed was not expensive, but not super inexpensive; and certainly not a costly 'commercial' grade fixture/light) in your picture, I see the one transformer, that is probably supplying voltage in the 4 tube arrangement with the label on it, the square 'frame' rails look like there is a burning mark at the 1 'o'clock to 5 'o'clock position??? I'm wondering (not knowing how ballast designs work) if the other 2 transformers are only used when you wire the ballast for the other tube configurations?

    Enough play time on this thread, the natives are getting ancy for my thread on cleaning contacts in the M*glites (not too many CPF members has the photographic accumen or equipment to get nice 1/2-way decent/sharp macro close-up shots), with some even doubting the effect of small amounts of resistence(in their minds) to maximum current flows with smaller, less than ideal wiring/contact points...hehe, uninformed non-electrical engineering types [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]

    BTW jtr, I'm surprised you have two 3-way CFL's in the main room. Those dinosaur/ badly designed, crappy 3-way sockets are a pain to maintain clean contacts for incandescent bulbs, and make CLF's almost useless for 3 levels of output, I hate them.

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