Introduction: DIY - Retrofitting Entertainment Center Lighting

This Instructable will show you how to replace the cheap incandescent lighting fixture with florescent using a $15 Under-Cabinet fixture and about $3 of hardware. While the included fixture was cheap, the long tubular bulbs were not!

We purchased a solid oak Entertainment System a few years ago and put up with the incandescent bulbs for about a year. The problem was that those 40W tube bulbs are extremely expensive ($6 each) and last about month of continuous operation. That was about $70 a year for each!

Our system was 2 pieces. The primary piece that has two lamps went into the bedroom and the smaller unit went into the living room to act as a curios cabinet. I did the retrofitting of the living room cabinet almost two years ago. The lamp is never turned off and has yet to burn out.

The bedroom cabinet has been without light for the last couple years. I decided, this would make a great Instructable.

I apologize in advance for some of the photos being jerky or out of focus. Half of this job was done either upside-down or through a mirror... Holding something in place with one hand, while adjusting and focusing the camera with the other hand and trying real hard not to breath... :)

Step 1: Gather Needed Supplies

The primary thing you'll need is an 18" GE Under-cabinet Florescent Lamp Fixture available for about $15 at RiteAid. If you can find it cheaper, go for it! I've found that buying this fixture is cheaper than the components that make it up.

You'll also need:
• 4 appropriate wood screws ( Free! Since two came with the lamp fixture above and another two are holding in the current fixture! )
• 2 small machine screws with matching nuts and washers. (Should be in your junk box)
• Steel strapping. The kind with holes in it. You can get this at most any Auto or Hardware Supply.
• Electrical Tape and/or Wire Caps.
• Duct Tape

• A reversible screwdriver. (I got this Stubby at the Auto Parts store. It's one of my more used tools!)
• A Magnetic Screwdriver with counter-sink attachment.
• Pliers and Diagonal Cutters (Mine's a combo unit. Also very useful.)
• A small mirror. Best if it's not glass!

• A power switch. You can use one of those power-cord inline switches and install it later. It only needs to be rated for 1A at 125-250V
• Glass shelves to replace the wood ones. With this much light, you'll want to really show off your contents!

Step 2: Disassemble Fixture

This was surprisingly simple! The whole unit is just snapped together. Before continuing, remove the defuser plastic. Then remove the lamp (tube) by twisting until the pins release on the ends.

Now remove the plasic cover. Using a flat screwdriver blade, just release each clip along one side while lifting cover. The whole cover lifts offs after the 5th clip.

Using the same screwdriver, release each of the two lamp sockets by prying them out past the plastic anchor.

Pry out the balast (looks like a transformer) from the clips holding it in.

Remove the wire clips from the switch and remove the switch by pressing the side anchors while pressing the switch through to the face of the cover. Once partially removed, flip the cover over and pry out the switch. We won't be using this switch, but it will work for any electrical project we might need a switch for in the future.

Step 3: A Quick Explanation

This is a good point to explain exactly how and why the florescent lamp is wired as it is. This should reduce confusion as to why the parts are laid out as they are.

A florescent bulb works by passing power through a murcury vapor, which creates UV light and reacts with the florescent coating inside the tube; Thus creating visible light.

The problem is that murcury isn't a vapor at room temperature. The starter (Neon bulb) acts as a switch. Since there is no mercury vapor when power is first applied, it's much easier for the current to pass through the neon bulb (see first picture). By doing so, the filiments at each end of the Lamp heat and vaporize the mercury. In this low current mode, the Ballast doesn't do much more than just pass the current through.

As soon as the mercury vaporizes (see second picture), it's very easy for the power to pass through the lamp, so it takes that route and the Neon Bulb is ignored. Now, since it's so easy for power to pass through mercury vapor, the Ballast acts like a current limiting resistor, slowing things down a bit.

Many newer florecent lamps use solid-state starters. In these cases, they're little more than simple time delayed switches.

For those magnet freaks out there... The answer is, "Yes." The Ballast is nothing more than an Electromagnet.

Step 4: Out With the Old...

This is the easy part! Just unscrew the old fixture and pull it out.

Okay... Not so easy as you're working almost upside-down and backward. It really helps to use a mirror propped on whatever's available to aid is seeing what's back there.

Don't forget to hold onto the screws. The rest might also find a use someday, so if you have a junk box, hide it there. Otherwise, toss it.

Step 5: Assemble Hardware

In the first cabinet, I used "L-brackets" that I had left over from another project. This time I decided to construct my own out of the steal strapping. This is where we need the proper sized screw, nut a washers to securely attach each lamp connector to the bracket.

The screw must fit the hole in the connector through to the back so it doesn't interfere with the lamp, once installed.

Use a washer on each side of the bracket and tighten the nut securely.

The pliers make bending the strapping very easy. Bend once only. If you mess up, break it off and try again. Why? Because breaking the strapping is also very easy. Just bend it back and forth a few times.

Initially, I made the brakets wrong. They were too short and angled wrong. I made some larger brackets and attached the off the sides of the connectors. This allows me to attach them by driving the screw upward, rather than at a right angle toward myself. Whew!

We also have to construct a special bracket to hold the ballast. Notice in the picture that I made it just a tiny bit short (the gap between the counter and bracket). This will give it a snugger fit.

Step 6: Measure Twice... Drill Once...

Now were going to install the fixture! All the screws are going in straight up. Holding the lamp in the connectors, I find that the pine blocks on the sides are just a little wide for the fixture. This is why I went back and remade the brackets larger. Now they'll fit!

The left connector/bracket is simply a visual line-up. Just mark the hole with a felt marker and tap the hole with the countersink attachment. Now we screw it in tight while holding the connector in place.

It helps to be a bit double-jointed!

Step 7: The Ballast

Next we mark the holes and tap for the ballast mount. Use the shorted screws for this since it's not on a pine extension block but directly into the oak cabinet top.

Use the same technique of marking the hole with a marker, tap the screw holes (make the hole shallow! We don't want to poke out the top!).

Note that most of this work is being done through a mirror (2nd image below.)

Step 8: Skip the Switch

Before we go one, (Since I forgot to do it before I started!) we need to connect the two wires where the switch was.

The easiest way to do this is to cut the connectors off, strip the wires about 1/3", twist together tightly (use the pliers!) and tape it with the electrical tape at least four tight layers.

Step 9: Now, the Right Side!

Now… The tricky part! fit the tube into the left connector, then the right connector. Hold it all in place and determine the correct mounting point for the right connector's bracket.

Be careful! That tube is very breakable!

Once the drill point is marked, carefully remove the tube and put it in a safe place.

Now we can go back and mount the connector. Make sure the screw is very tight! This has to hold the tube for a long time.

Step 10: Duct Tape!

Now that all the parts are bolted where they belong, push the power cord through the original hole and align the wires where they won't interfere. In places where the wires might hang too low, use the duct tape to hold them where you want them.

Now put the tube in and verify that no wires or components touch the tube.

Step 11: Apply the Power!

Now... The moment of truth. Plug the sucker in.

My wife thought it was cute to tell me it didn't light when I plugged it in.

It lit as it should and looks great!