Project Garage Part II


It’s not rocket science to choose to spend now, save later. Overhead fluorescent lighting is the logical choice for most garages. They don’t produce a lot of unneeded heat, keep energy costs low, last longer, and the quality of light produced is better. Much like choosing a hotel, selecting a B&B (ballast and bulb) to complete your lighting is a matter of individual preferences. The ballast serves two purposes – starting the lamp and regulating the flow of current for operation. To start the lamp, small electrodes at the end of the ballast supply the cathode voltage (about 4 volts). A higher voltage, known as the arc voltage, is required to operate (about 200 volts). The ballast transforms the input line voltage (120 volts) to the required amounts. It also prevents the lamp from overdrawing the current and failing. A magnetic ballast, or “coil and core,” uses insulated aluminum or copper coils wound around a core of steel. Passing a current of electricity through a wire generates a magnetic field. Rapid changes in current direction create rapid changes in the magnetic fields. The magnetic fields and currents conflict with each other until the exact amount of current flows though the filaments to turn the bulb on. This conflict also causes the bulbs to occasionally flicker. An electronic ballast uses a high frequency inverter instead of coils and electromagnetic fields to operate. A small inductor controls the current as it cycles up and down to change the frequency of power and keep the bulb glowing bright all the time. The phosphors in the bulb never stop glowing so flicker is almost non-existent. Electronic ballasts are smaller, brighter, and run cooler and quieter.

Before and after
Why install better lighting in the garage?  It’s astonishing how much more light the fluorescent ballasts can produce over the typical incandescent bulb.  Look at how much lighter the rear half of this garage space is when compared to the front.

There are 3 types of ballast starting technology for magnetic or electronic ballasts. The first is an auxiliary starter which heats the ends of the fluorescent tube and strikes an arc, usually 1-2 seconds after turning the light on. Rapid start ballasts apply a low filament voltage to quick-heating cathodes to start the lamp. There is a tiny delay in lighting the bulb and they typically won’t light under 50 degrees Fahrenheit. For the impatient wrencher, instant start ballasts use a high voltage across the lamp of 4 times the magnitude of the normal operating voltage to light. They will light until 0 degrees Fahrenheit and are more energy efficient than a rapid start ballast, using 1.5 to 2 watts less per lamp. Unless used for long operating cycles (over 12 hours at a time), rapid start and instant start ballasts typically shorten lamp life because they preheat the cathodes.

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