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Should I Turn Off Fluorescent Light When Leaving A Room?

 

Short Answer: Turn them off if you will be gone for more than about 15 minutes.  But...

There are a few misconceptions about fluorescent lighting that keep too many people from turning lights off to save energy. The first misconception is that it takes more energy to start a fluorescent light than it takes to run it. The second misconception is that turning a fluorescent light off and on will wear it out right away. Like many of our myths about energy, there is a small amount of truth in the belief. (Special thanks to Steve Selkowitz of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs for the research on which this article was based.)

Misconception #1

It takes more energy to start a fluorescent that it does to run it, so leave the lights on all the time to save money on your electric bill.

Reality

When you turn on a fluorescent light bulb (correctly called a "lamp"), there is a very brief jump in current when the ballast charges the cathodes and causes the lamp to start. This inrush of current can be many times greater than the normal operating current of the lamp. However, the spike of current draw normally lasts no longer than 1/10th of a second, and draws the equivalent of about 5 seconds of normal operation. So, if you turn your fluorescent lamp off and on more frequently than every 5 seconds, you will use more power than normal. So, normal switching of fluorescent lamps has very, very, very little effect on a power bill.

Misconception #2

Turning fluorescent lamps off and on wears them out right away.

Reality

Electric lights have a published rating for expected life. This rating is in the hundreds of hours for many incandescent lights, and in the thousands of hours for most fluorescents. Fluorescent lights have a life rating based on how many hours they are left on every time they are turned on. This is usually referred to as "burn time", and for fluorescent lights the burn time is three hours.

Every time a fluorescent light is turned on, a tiny amount of the coating on the electrodes is burned off. Eventually, enough coating is burned off, and the lamp fails to start. Most full-size fluorescent lamps are rated to last 20,000 hours when left on for 3 hours every time they are turned on. This means that the lamp has roughly 6,667 starts available to use up. (20,000/3 = 6,667)

If you burn your fluorescent lamps shorter than 3 hours at any given time, you use your potential starts faster. If you "burn" them longer than 3 hours per start, you use up your starts more slowly. However, you are paying energy costs for the operating time of the lamps, and the most efficient lamp is the one that is not on when it is not needed. #

 

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