Imminent Fluorescent Ballast Meltdown?

Any time I've been around a ballast that melted down, the situation has gone from undetectable to "clear the room" in a matter of minutes. If you know that smell, you know what I mean. But, for the past 2 weeks, I've been smelling just a hint of that aroma around my office and the hallway leading to it. The maintenance crew responds quickly, but nobody seems to notice it except me. We have the usual dropped ceilings - how hard is it to detect a ballast that might be heading toward BIG trouble? And, how dangerous is the effluent from a bad ballast, in terms of environmental health?
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

gone
leading
it
the
ballasts fail for a variety of reasons. You could always try a IR thermometer and see if one is hotter than the others. Unless your in a building constructed during the second world war or recently afterwards. No worries.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Ballast meltdown is a major cause of fires. someone should locate the problem, but actualy replace them all as they only have so much of a life.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

I guess that's why the building maintenance people arrive VERY quickly when someone notices that smell. I'm concerned because I seem to notice "wrong smells" before anyone else. Sometimes it causes problems:
A few summers ago, around 1:00 AM, I was awakened by smoke. LOTS of smoke. Looked like a blanket of fog covering the neighborhood. I went outside, but I didn't see flames lighting up the sky or the "fog". But, there was a slight breeze which I figured should've cleared the smoke if the source had been temporary. It didn't. Called the fire department. They were tasteful enough to arrive with lights, but not sirens at that early hour. They canvassed every property until they found the cause: Some guy had decided to BBQ a lot of chicken, in preparation for a picnic the next day. The FD found him asleep in the lounger next to the BBQ, with a tipped-over bottle of booze on the ground next to him. The chicken was pretty much ash, but there was still enough grease all over the inside of the BBQ to keep producing smoke for awhile. They figured it probably smelled like burning chicken for the first few minutes, but afterward, it just smelled like "burning unknown". The drunken chef said he'd begun cooking around 11:00.
I never lived THAT down with the neighbors. :-) The horrible chicken fire.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
The fumes can be rather toxic, but not to the degree that you will willingly breathe enough to hurt you without a lot of discomfort, in my experience. Very often you will hear a humming or buzzing coming from a ballast that is failing. If one's louder than the rest, that's likely the one failing. That said, sometimes they can buzz for a long, long time without failing. In my experience, I've never seen the "matter of minutes" you mentioned UNTIL they start to smoke. THEN they can get pretty obnoxious, yes! Btw, it's not unusual to hear a soft buzz from these ballasts, but it shouldn't be detectable more than a few feet away. The noise comes from the metal laminations inside the ballast (transformer) being magnetically pressed on at a 60 Hz rate. When a ballast starts to go and begins heating, the compound between the plates thins or melts out, and the buzzing just gets louder until it starts to fume. Any sign of a black (usually), hard, rubbery emission from ionside a ballast is a sign that it's overheating inside and will be failing in the near future.
Pop

situation has gone

minutes. If you know

weeks, I've been

the hallway leading

seems to notice it

is it to detect a

dangerous is the

health?
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
This may be a stupid question, but what part of the light is a ballast?

gone
leading
it
the
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
The ballast looks just like a transformer. For example, mine is about 4 inches wide and 12 inches long. In some light setups, the ballast would be in plain view, while in others you may have to find it behind a metal enclosure which acts as the fixture for the tubular lights. I have to take out my 96 inch bulbs, and then pop the metal cover off of the 102 inch long fixture, to get to the ballast.
Hope this description helps, let us know.........
--James--
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.