Shop Light Upgrade & T12 Phase Out

Shop lighting upgrade: T5 vs T8 fluorescent vs LED


I have about a dozen 4-foot fluorescent shop lights in my basement and garage.  They’re all hanging from chains and plugged into ceiling-mounted electrical outlets that are controlled by wall-mounted switches.  They frequently have to be replaced because the cheap magnetic T12 ballasts in them go bad.  On my last trip to buy a replacement I learned something I didn’t know and you may not either.  T12 ballasts and some fluorescent bulbs are being phased out in the U.S. next year (2012) because of higher energy efficiency standards, although some exceptions are being made for residential use.

I don’t know if the residential exceptions will allow you to continue buying cheap ($10) shop light fixtures.   I won’t be sorry to see them go because I’m tired of replacing them every 2 to 4 years.   I’d already seen the video above and had decided that I was going to start repairing my shop lights with T8 electronic ballasts.  So I came home from Home Depot with an $18 replacement ballast, a box of ten 32 watt T8 “daylight” bulbs and a new $30 T8 shop light fixture in case my repair failed.

Repair and upgrade was not that difficult

It wasn’t hard to repair my old shop light by replacing its T12 ballast.  But I’m not going to describe how to do it because if you don’t do it right you can turn your shop light into an electrical or fire hazard.  If you want to learn how then do a search for “T12 to T8 conversion” (without the quotes) and you’ll find many helpful web pages and videos.  But I will give you this advice:

  • Make certain you use the proper size wire nuts so there’s no chance your new connections will come apart.  Vibrations and temperature changes can cause poor connections to become loose.
  • Your new ballast will have to be attached and grounded to your light fixture using sheet metal or self-tapping screws.  Make certain they won’t come loose and you scrape the paint off the ballast underneath your screws so they will make a good electrical connection.
  • Make certain your power cord’s ground wire is also properly attached to the fixture.
  • And make certain you unplug your light before you start working on it 🙂

T8  Advantages

  • A 32 watt T8 bulb is slightly brighter than a 40 watt T12 bulb of the same kind.  I’ve begun buying “”Daylight” bulbs because they are much brighter than “standard” fluorescent bulbs and they also seem to make colors appear more accurate.  And because they use less power T8 bulbs also produce less heat.  Which can be an advantage in air conditioned environments.
  • Florescent bulbs dim over time and a T8 bulb won’t lose as much of its brightness as a T12 bulb will.    A T12 bulb will lose about 20% of its initial brightness and a T8 will only lose about 10%.
  • T12 lamps can flicker, hum and sometimes create a stroboscopic effect because they operate at low frequencies (120 or 100 Hz).  T8 lamps won’t because their electronic ballasts operate at much higher frequencies (20,000 Hz).
  • T8 ballasts can work at much lower temperatures than most T12 ballasts.

T8 Disadvantages

The only disadvantage I’ve seen so far is cost.  I don’t remember there being much of a difference (if any) in cost between T12 and T8 bulbs.  But T8 light fixtures seem to cost at least twice as much as T12 fixtures.  [Might still be true at Home Depot but Lowes sells a really nice T8 shop light for $15.]  I’m also concerned about how long their ballasts will last.

4 thoughts on “Shop Light Upgrade & T12 Phase Out”

  1. Greetings, I recently went out & purchased the mentioned ballasts at the local box store after seeing Bens youtube vid & blog post (, but returned the pair of ballasts & bulbs after a bit of buyers remorse at the >$70 price tag to retrofit two T12 fixtures (I’ve got more than 8 to “fix”).

    I recently found the same ballasts selling on ebay for $<90 shipped for a quantity of 10, which should cover all my strobing/humming T12 magnetic fixtures. Lately the strobing is so severe that I'm not sure if I'm in the garage or at a concert, instant headache!

  2. When buying fixters or ballasts make sure you get the residental ones. If you use a raido in your shop/work area the industrial ballast will cause raido signal interferance and youll have poor reception if any at all.

  3. I was in Walmart last night and noticed the shop lights they were selling. A dual light “T12” was $11 and a “T8” was $16. That’s the cheapest price I’ve seen so far for a T8 shop light. They they were both made by Lights of America.

  4. All my florescent lighting down in the shop are the old T-12 lighting system. I went to my favorite large outfit as one was acting up and I wanted to replace it with another T12. The young man in the electrical shop informed me that all florescent lights are being replaced with the T8’s. There was a sale on over head lights with covers. All my lights are hard wired. The choice I have is to replace one side with all T8’s. I will end up with scrap metal which a friend will take. The florescent tubes will have to be taken to hazardous waste. There is no cost for this. The ballast will also have to be stripped out for hazardous waste. The wiring can be reclaimed. Since the T 8’s can be screwed to over head joist and the paint can be scraped for ground wires all that is necessary is to have the stress relievers hold the wiring which will also be salvaged from the old units, everything is straight forward and can be done within a few hours. Since the T8’s are on sale I have bought up enough to replace one side of the basement and not have to play with T12’s and its harmonics and flickering light anymore. I replaced enough T 12’s in these old units as well as our church. I was never so happy when they built a new church and found that every florescent light are T8’s and they have had no problems with them and are more energy efficient. Doc Ferguson


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