I'm working to fix our our basement - nothing top of the line / dream basement - just some nice enough upgrades relative to our 1970's wood paneled basement, to enjoy a few years before we sell the home.

Anyway, about 5 of my 12 fluorescent lights (2 in each panel) are broken / lit very dimly. I would assume the ballast. I don't have much desire to fix them AND pay for new fluorescent tubes, only to rip them out in the next 3-6 months to put in the recessed lights.

BUT, I do need a little more lighting down here so I can see when I'm tiling, painting, etc. Any ideas of how to get something going? Even if I have to buy it an can repurpose it later is fine.

  • Could I buy one of those LED type light sets that you usually hang in a garage for one of the areas that's totally out? (something like this from home depot?)
  • Should I buy the recessed lights and wire them temporarily without mounting them, just to get some light out of them?
  • OH, I have some bright white LED strips with all proper converters, etc. I could probably just stick those up until I'm ready to install proper lights?!
  • Other ideas?

Thanks in advance, here's a picture of a broken one is a picture of the current broken lights

  • Given that you already have something that should work temporarily, sure, use that, rather than spending more money. I'll also note that you may want to look at newer lights that look like a recessed trim, but mount right to a junction box, no recessed can needed - when you get to that point. For now, get use out of what you already own.
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 21, 2019 at 14:12
  • Thanks @Ecnerwal for the suggestion on the mount to the junction box - I'll have to check them out, because I'm leaving the drop ceiling, so I'll need to understand how those work. But yes, I thought of the LED flexible strips I already have sitting around as I was thinking of possible solutions. I want to spend minimal money on this temporary fix (unless I can re-purpose it, like a garage light, or something else)
    – estee0
    Sep 21, 2019 at 14:31
  • When one bulb is dim is it usually a bad bulb not the ballast. It is faster to replace both bulbs as it is not always obvious which bulb is bad. Sep 21, 2019 at 15:24

2 Answers 2


The option that I use for this type of thing is to add light with portable lighting fixtures. These are extremely handy for adding lots of light in a localized area where you want to perform some work. I use two types.

Halogen Work Light

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These output a tremendous amount of light. The wire cage on the front is there to protect from burns as the fixture will get quite hot in use.

LED Worklight

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These operate much cooler but also put out less light compared to the halogen type. I selected the LED light with an internal rechargable battery. I can use it plugged in but then can also use it in a portable manner without having to be near an electrical receptacle or dragging an extension cord. The battery operation also comes in extremely handy in cases where it is necessary to work in a dark area because you have had to cut the power at the service panel.

  • Oh - these are a really great idea! I could certainly use them later. That was kind of the idea, I don't want to spend money one something that will go away later (hence not fixing the current lights - even the tubes themselves are expensive, in my opinion). This would be awesome, I could always use lights like these, and the one that can become portable would be quite helpful at times! Awesome idea - thank you!
    – estee0
    Sep 21, 2019 at 14:29
  • 1
    You can get LED worklights as bright or brighter than the halogens, but they won't be as cheap - in both senses of cheap.
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 21, 2019 at 14:35

Chances are that it's the bulb, and not the ballast. It takes two good bulbs to get light. Swap bulbs around see if this eliminates the problem.

Bulbs are fairly cheap. You don't need fancy ones, just your basic 10,000 hour one.

Start with getting two new one bulbs. Put this pair in each fixture in turn. Write "B" on the white metal ballast cover if the new bulbs don't make it work.

Now with one of the working ones, put one new bulb it. Put each existing bulb in turn in the other slot. If they don't work, write "B" for bad on the bulb.

At the end of this you know which ballasts are bad and which bulbs are bad. You can choose to replace only bulbs in the good ballasts, or replace both. But now you know how many you need.

If you want shop lighting later, then going with the hanging LED shop fittings is likely the easiest. Put them in, setup your new lighting, pull them out.

With a hanging ceiling this will mean finding matching ceiling tiles? If they mismatch too much, bring them outside and give them a spray coat of whitewash or latex paint.

  • Thanks for all the advice, it's great! With the matching ceiling tiles at first I wanted to spray them all (with a paint sprayer), but then I looked at them closer, they're a pretty unique texture & I can't find them in a store to get enough replacements to fill in where all the fluorescents are to make room for the recessed cans. So, I think I'm just going to replace them all in the basement with the cheapest 2x4 tiles I can find at Home Depot :-/
    – estee0
    Sep 21, 2019 at 21:10
  • You could also do a pattern with 2 or 3 or random patterns. Spray them with a somewhat different colour -- pale blue, say -- so you have old ones painted blue, and new ones that are white. Suppose you have a room 12 tiles wide by 16 long. =12*16 - lights. Paint whatever number makes up a rectangle blue, and use new white ones for the outer edge. Sep 24, 2019 at 3:16
  • OH, that is a fantastic idea. These older tiles could be great to keep on the outside perhaps (where they're all cut to size already). The 12x16 you listed is almost right to what I have but reversed (12 long x 16 wide, with some corners and whatnot in there). I bought a 2-pack of the cheapest bulbs I could find ($7 at HD), did what you suggested and I now have two full panels lit (so one complete side of the basement in one area previously all burnt out, because two of four bulbs were bad).
    – estee0
    Sep 28, 2019 at 13:45

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