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?
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.
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.
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.
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.........
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