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andrew's avatar

How much do you know about track lighting?

Asked by andrew (16358points) November 26th, 2008

I inherited these low-voltage halogen track lights in my office. Recently, one strip of the fried through the wires connecting the transformer to the string of lights.

I want to fix them, but I’d like to get new transformers. When they’re not causing a fire hazard, they buzz like crazy—and I’m pretty sure it’s not because of the dimmers I have them hooked up to (I have high quality Lutrons attached).

Can I just upgrade the transformer? Do I need to re-do the entire track system?

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12 Answers

funkdaddy's avatar

I’ve got the same set you do and they definitely buzz when you dim them to a certain point, although I never really thought about the cause.

You mention you inherited them so it may help to know they were sold by Ikea a couple of years ago. Looking at their site, it looks like they offer an updated (or at least repackaged) transformer kit that may address the problem. Honestly I’m not even sure if it’s the same ‘specs’ as the old one, but the lights they have for it seem to be the same basic bulb.

One thing I noticed from the picture was that the “little screw connectors” (technical term for them) that tie the transformer to the two lines aren’t hanging naturally, so over time they’ll probably work their way around to the insulation there. That may have caused the wire to fry if it was hitting that resistance. I always try to let the heavy end of those just hang straight down so there’s no twisting for it to do. Just a possibility.

If you find a good solution, I’d love to hear about it. I find myself just leaving them on full blast rather than having it go all night, and they make a lot of heat that way.

buster's avatar

If your going to redo it put in recessed can lighting.

steelmarket's avatar

LED lighting is just making it into track lighting systems. LEDs will cure your heat problem.

IMHO, recessed cans are great for many situations, but they do not deliver the style of tracks.

bodyhead's avatar

I would re-do the entire system (except for the heads maybe). You shouldn’t really just replace a ‘piece’ of the track system unless you know what you’re doing. If the transformer when bad, there’s possibly damage within the track. It could have burned the wires out on the inside. If it didn’t, maybe it weakened the wires. You don’t want to jury rig a fix only to have a fire hazard later.

The most likely culprits of buzzing are the dimmers, the filaments of the actual bulbs or the transformer (it can actually buzz sometimes).

Of course, to get someone who knows what they are doing would probably cost you as much as a full replacement, thus my replacement suggestion.

steelmarket is right, Lighting companies are pushing the hell out of low voltage and LED lighting. It’s not crazy to think you could get a florescent or LED bulb that would last for 5 years or more.

If you do decide to replace only a piece of your track, you could probably get a spec sheet from ikea. Send them the model number and ask them for a ‘spec’ sheet or an ‘install’ sheet. You should be able to do this through email or by calling.

edit: One more thing, if you do redo it and put in recess cans, you can get ‘remodeler’ kits. You can get LED lights for your cans if you want to cut your electricity cost (as long as you’re willing to put a little more money in upfront).

Kinda like this

andrew's avatar

@bodyhead: It’s definitely the transformers that are buzzing (I can hear them). It’s not the bulbs since I did a swap test of them a while back. That’s a great point about the transformers damaging the track itself.

I’ll take a look into LED lighting, though since this is a work space I have a feeling the color temperature of the bulbs will be too cool for me.

I don’t think I’m going to do recessed lighting; I have remodelers all over the house, and after installing two ceiling fans I’m about done with opening up the ceiling and dealing with all that.

It would be nice, though, to get bulbs that are a little less temperature hot than the halogens, especially since it’s in a loft area which gets boiling hot in the summer.

andrew's avatar

Well, after doing a little bit of research, it seems like the LED lights come in a variety of color temps—but you can’t dim them (which makes sense). Now I just need to decide if I want to swap out the dimmer on the circuit.

bodyhead's avatar

For your information: They have made dimable fluorescents but in my opinion, they don’t work as well as their incandescent counterparts. I’m not aware of any dimmable LEDs but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them.

If you want some suggestions on color temp, my favorite is 35,000k. That’s what I get my florescents in but it should translate to LED because (I believe) they use the kelvin system for color temperature.

andrew's avatar

@bodyhead: How do you mean “not work as well?”

Edit: Seems like they have dimmable ones here. And of course, they’re super expensive.

bodyhead's avatar

For dimmable florescents: I mean that the technology doesn’t quite seem like it’s there yet. The dimmable range doesn’t seem as large. Sometimes to get them to turn on, you have to give it max power and then slowly scale it back until you hit the desired brightness. Sometimes they’ll just turn off for no reason. They just don’t seem as reliable as the incandescents.

As far as the LED-style trackhead lighting (or LED MR16) goes. You could always put a slightly lower wattage all down the track and have a larger brighter light (dimmable incandescent) that you hang down in the middle of the room. That would allow you to light the full space, still have some control over the brightness and lessen the heat while extending your energy efficient dollars.

Edit: I’ve only worked with dimmable fluorescent and not dimmable LED. (just so you know) I hate to tell you this, but the only way you are going to know if you’re happy with the dimmable LED or not is to buy one and decide if you like it. If you read that full page that you linked to, they do say:

Try one to see how it works in your fixture. If it’s right, order more. If not, return it to us. You risk only S&H costs.

bodyhead's avatar

I just talked to a couple lighting designers and they said that a lot of the LED track lights suffer from the 80/20 rule.

Basically what they are saying is it won’t get brighter then 80% or dimmer then 20%. That shouldn’t be a big deal but I just wanted to let you know. Make sure you get the proper diffusers so that you’re happy with the light that they put out.

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