How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 1194

I have heard that there is a substantial cost to starting a fluorescent light fixture. When entering and exiting a room frequently, is it better to leave a fluorescent light turned on, or to turn it off when leaving each time? — GEW
Whenever you turn on a fluorescent lamp, a small amount of metal is sputtered away from the electrodes at each end of the tube. These electrodes are what provide electric power to the gas discharge inside the lamp and sputtering is a process in which fast moving ions (electrically charged atoms) crash into a surface and knock atoms out of that surface. Because sputtering is most severe during start up, a typical fluorescent tube can only start a few thousand times before its electrodes begin to fail. To avoid the expense and hassle of having to replace the tube frequently, you shouldn't cycle the lamp more than once every ten minutes. If you will only be away for a minute or two, leave the lamp on. But if you will be away for more than about ten minutes, turn it off. Incidentally, the claim that a fluorescent lamp uses a fantastic amount of electric power during start-up is nonsense. It's just a myth.

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