The Green Geek: Dimming Ballasts

The Green Geek: Dimming Ballasts

Jonathan B.
Dec 20, 2007

If you've got a few fluorescent strip lights around your home, office, or shop, there's a new way to save energy. For years, well-designed commercial projects have dimmed fluorescent lights according to how much daylight is coming through windows or skylights, but a simple solution has not be available at home.

That's all changed now with a new solution, the Axis Ballast. Unbelievably, it doesn't require extensive rewiring; all you have to do is swap an internal part of the light fixture.

If you've ever changed a fluorescent tube light, you may have noticed the ballast: it's the little black box inside the light fixture with wires coming out of it. Regardless of whether you've seen a ballast, you've almost definitely heard one: when they go bad, they start to create the infernal buzz that people associate with fluorescent lights. (More fairly, that buzz should be associated with poor maintenance.)

The Axis Ballast has an ambient light sensor that detects how much daylight is entering the room, then dims the fluorescent accordingly.

Strangely enough, early attempts to save energy using similar technology failed spectacularly: people noticed the lights switching off in the middle of the day and assumed there was something wrong with the sensor, so they "fixed" it by taping it over, ensuring the lights would always be on at full intensity. We don't have information on retail price, but devices like this usually take at least a couple of years to pay off.

We've blogged about occupancy sensors before, which turn lights off when you're not in a room, and the jury seems to be out. Do you think technology like this has a place in the home?

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