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Find out how much fluorescent light fixtures cost, how much you can save on bills and how to install them correctly and safely.
A fluorescent light (also known as fluorescent tube or lamp) is a glass tube with a low pressure mercury vapour inside. An electric current is allowed to pass through the tube which excites the electrons within the vapour. The excited gas produces ultraviolet light which in turn causes a phosphorescent coating on the inner surface of the tube to glow.
A fluorescent light has three main components.
The tube. A glass tube coated on the inside with a phosphorescent substance. The tube is filled with low pressure mercury vapour and an inert noble gas such as argon or neon. There are electrical terminals on each end of the tube allowing an electric current to pass through the gas.
The ballast. This is a small magnetic coil that automatically adjusts the level of current passing through the tube. First it allows a surge of current to pass through the tube when the starter opens and then it allows the current to continue flowing through the tube at the correct rate to ensure the tube continues to glow.
The starter. This is an automatic switch. As soon as it senses that the tube is glowing it keeps the circuit active. When you turn the circuit off, the starter closes and de-energises the circuit.
No matter how many tubes are within the light fixture, each tube requires one ballast and one starter to make it work.
Fluorescent lights convert electrical energy into visible light much more efficiently than older incandescent light bulbs. The fluorescent tubes are more costly to buy than incandescent light bulbs but the lower running costs quickly offset the higher initial outlay. A typical fluorescent lighting fixture produces between 50 to 100 lumens per Watt of power (a lumen is the SI measurement of light intensity). How this compares to other domestic light producing systems can be seen in the table below.
|Lighting system||Luminous Efficacy (Lumens/Watt)|
|Light emitting diode (LED)||Up to 172|
|Plasma display panel||TueTue/OctOct/20182018|
As you can see the only other lighting system which surpasses a fluorescent tube is the LED system. This technology, although more efficient, is very expensive when compared to other types. Advances in modern technology however are causing the retail price of LEDs to drop significantly compared to their cost just a few years ago.
A typical lifespan of a fluorescent light will last up to twenty times as long as an equivalent wattage incandescent light bulb. They are more efficient when continuously operated rather than when turned on for short periods of time.
Some fluorescent light manufacturers are now producing tubes with a life of 90,000 hours which rivals the lifespan of an LED light.
When compared to an incandescent light bulb, a fluorescent produces a softer, more diffuse light. Its light can be more evenly distributed and is without the point source glare of other lamps. For this reason, as well as its lower running costs, fluorescent lamps are favoured in offices.
Fluorescent tubes give off approximately 0.2 times the heat given off by an equivalent incandescent bulb. This therefore means there is less heat to remove by air conditioning units. This combined with the evenly distribute light means they are very suitable for use in office environments.
The fluorescent tubes are perfectly safe to use except when they become broken. Apart from the inherent danger from broken glass, as long as sensible precautions and suitable disposal procedures are taken they will continue to be safe.
Because they contain a small amount of mercury vapour, the bulbs when broken can contaminate the surrounding environment. Towards the end of its life, the phosphor coating on the glass probably contains about 99% of the mercury so there is more hazard from the glass than from the minute amount of spilled mercury. The US Environmental Protection Agency recommends the following steps to deal with broken tubes:
Fluorescent lamps flicker at a frequency of between 100 and 120 Hz. Normally this is unnoticeable but the frequency of flicker can cause people who are sensitive to light problems. Typical illnesses would be:
Although the fluorescent tubes give off ultraviolet radiation, a study has found that eight hours of sitting under fluorescent lights is approximately equivalent to one minute of exposure to sunlight.
The ultraviolet light emitted from fluorescent bulbs can fade the pigments used in painting (especially water colour pigments). UV light can also bleach the dyes in fabrics and some types of printing inks. Valuable works of art are now protected by having additional layers of glass or acrylic sheet between the lamp and the picture.
Older fluorescent tubes created radio noise when operated. Modern lamps contain suppressors which shield the noise from surrounding electrical appliances although this does add to the price of the system.
There are many different types of fluorescent light, each with its own specifications and uses. It might be worth saying a bit about those now and explaining what they are used for. Although not specifically used for domestic lighting purposes, they are, none the less, very useful.
Black light. Black lights are fluorescent lamps that provide UV light with a wavelength of approximately 360nm (one nanometre is one billionth of a metre. To give you an idea of scale, a sheet of paper is about 100,000nm thick and a strand of human DNA has a diameter of about 2.5nm ). Black lights are used to detect materials such as urine and some dyes that would otherwise be invisible to visible light. The black light causes fluorescence in these substances. Black lights also attract insects and are used in insect zapper traps.
Tanning lamp. The fluorescent lamps used in tanning beds (also known as sun beds) use a different phosphor mix and produce UVA and UVB light, both of which produce melanin and vitamin D in the human skin. Although the production of vitamin D is beneficial, too much tanning can cause sunburn and skin cancer (melanoma).
UVB medical lamps. These fluorescent lamps emit only UVB light. This is used to treat psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo and some other skin problems.
Grow lamps. These fluorescent lamps promote photosynthesis in green plants and photosynthetic bacteria. These tubes emit light in the red and blue ranges which is absorbed by the chlorophyll in green plants.
Infrared lamps. These fluorescent lamps produce heat radiation. Care must be taken when using infrared producing lights near other electronic equipment which use infrared remote controls, as they can mistake the emissions from the bulb for the remote control. Such appliances include televisions, radios, music players, mobile phones.
Bilirubin lamps. This lamp produces a blue light used in light therapy for jaundice. This light will penetrate the human skin and help break down excess bilirubin.
Germicidal lamp. These lamps produce light of 254nm. It has been found that light of this wavelength will kill most germs and ionise oxygen to produce ozone. When fitted with certain filters, the lamps are used by geologists to identify certain minerals by the colour of their fluorescence.
Electrodeless lamp. These fluorescent tubes do not contain electrodes; rather a current is induced within the gas column by means of electromagnetic induction using a magnetic field. They have been in commercial production since 1990.
Cold-cathode fluorescent lamp. Before the use of LED monitors and television sets, these lamps were used for backlighting of LCD screens.
Now let us move away from the specialist fluorescent lamps and talk about those that are available for domestic lighting use.
The older style fluorescent tubes were (and are) straight glass tubes connected to electrodes supplying domestic mains electricity. In recent times however, in response to customer demand, technology first became able to coil the tube into a circular spiral to produce a more compact tube. Now we have the ‘compact fluorescent lamp or CFL’ (also known as the energy saving light bulb). The CFL has been designed to replace the old fashioned incandescent light bulb and fit into its existing light fittings using either an ‘Edison fitting’ or a ‘Bayonet fitting’. The CFL is basically the same as a tube but the length of the tube has been folded and curved into the same space as an older incandescent light bulb. The ‘starter’ and ‘ballast’ are compressed into the base of the light bulb. CFLs were the first low energy light bulb to become affordable to normal domestic consumers, but even they are now being superseded by cheaper LED lights which are less hazardous to the environment and produce a brighter intensity of light.
Often domestic light systems require the use of dimmable switches to provide mood lighting. Unfortunately the normal fluorescent tube and the older CFLs cannot be used with a dimmer switch as the operation is ineffective and can shorten the working life of the tube. Dimmable CFLs are available but because of the additional circuitry within the CFL base, these bulbs are more expensive than non-dimmable ones.
Older fluorescent tubes and first generation CFLs took a few seconds to achieve full brightness. Newer CFLs (those made after 2009) light up and achieve maximum intensity almost immediately.
All domestic fluorescent lights are available as straight tubes, circular spiral tubes and as CFLs. All these can be found in all home improvement centres, specialist lighting stores and online along with a bewildering variety of fittings designed to show off the light from these bulbs to its fullest advantage. For specialist non-domestic illumination tubes mentioned earlier try online, medical supplies store and speciality gardening stores.
Light fixtures, also called luminaires, are designed to safely and attractively hold the light emitting tube or ‘bulb’. Light fixtures will typically consist of a fixture body and a socket to hold the bulb. Just a quick trip to your local home improvement centre will give you an idea of the many different styles and uses of luminaire that exist.
The different types of luminaires available are not all suitable for fluorescent lights as some require intense spotlight bulbs. Let’s just list the different types and move on from there.
These are light fixtures that are installed in a hole so the light emitting surface of the bulb is flush with the ceiling. Usually these use halogen or LED spotlights. They are often used in kitchens and bathrooms and are also used to highlight artwork and room features.
These luminaires hold a number of light fittings along a track so the position and angle of illumination can be varied as required. They are often used in kitchens and bathrooms where different areas of the room require pools of light. These are also used with halogen and LED bulbs although modern CFLs are now able to be fitted in these.
If a fluorescent strip light is contained within a trough or a container with the light illuminating upwards, downwards or any other direction then you will have indirect lighting. The illumination reflects off the ceiling or walls and provides a soft diffuse glow to the room’s atmosphere.
This is a single fixture that hangs from a specific point in the ceiling from a cord, chain or rigid rod. These are suitable for any type of bulb except for fluorescent strip lighting.
This fixture is designed specifically for a fluorescent tube light. It is a rigid box, slightly longer than and as wide as a fluorescent tube. It has recessed electrodes at either end into which the terminals on the tube fit.
Even if the luminaires presently available are not suitable for fluorescent tubes or CFLs they soon will be as the older types of bulb, incandescent and halogen become obsolete, the manufacturers will have to produce bulbs that fit within the fixtures.
When you browse through the racks of different types of light bulbs, you will find that each one is labelled with a number of Watts. You might assume that a bulb with a higher value Wattage is brighter than one with a lower value Wattage as a Watt is the measure of the amount of electrical power consumed by the bulb. This used to be the case when the only type of bulb we had available to buy was the incandescent bulb. Then it was obvious that a 100W bulb was brighter than a 40W bulb. You might be surprised to find out that the brightness of a bulb is actually dependent on its design rather than the power consumed. The measure of brightness of a bulb is actually measured in Lumens. You will find on the packaging of modern bulbs, particularly low energy ones, that the lumen value is given as well as an equivalent Wattage. This means that the low energy bulb will use say, 15W but produce the same intensity light as a 100W incandescent bulb. It is only the Lumen values that you can compare, not the Wattage.
If you need to change a lightbulb then look at the bulb holder and you should see instructions on the maximum allowable Wattage bulb to put in that fixture. It is very important that you follow these instructions otherwise the luminaire may overheat and start an electrical fire.
You can use fluorescent lights anywhere in the house with one exception. They are not recommended to be used externally. Because of this you will always find LED, halogen and incandescent lights in outside situations.
Many ways are available to control the level of lighting in your home. The most common way is to use the light switch. This is situated on the wall, usually just inside a door. If you have two or more doors into a room and a switch by each door, then you can have special switches installed that are able to control the light from any switch.
To produce mood lighting it is possible to have a dimmer switch installed. This switch provides a method of varying the power to the light fixture so any level of light is available from zero to maximum intensity. Because of the way fluorescent lights work, up until recently it was not possible to use dimmer switches with fluorescent bulbs. Advances in technology have now allowed both fluorescent tubes and CFLs to be used with dimmers.
Other methods of lighting control are motion sensor and timer lighting. As long as these applications are not used outside there is no reason why fluorescent light sources cannot be used.
As stated earlier an average fluorescent light contains three main components, each of them must be working properly for the tube to create light. The spare parts that are simple enough for a user to replace are:
The bulb (or tube). Ensure you replace the tube with one of the same wattage.
The starter. These are simple to replace and easy to buy. They are visible on the outside of the light fixture and just require a half turn to remove and replace. Ensure the new starter matches the correct wattage of the old one. Some light fittings however, have the starter built in. These starters cannot be replaced.
The ballast. This is the least likely to fail and the hardest to access so always leave this until you have exhausted all other options. If the other parts are all working ok, then the problem must be with the ballast. To replace the ballast you must:
You can fit one yourself on three conditions:
If you decide that your old fluorescent has started breaking down more regularly than it used to, then it is probably nearing the end of its life and needs replacing with a new one. Similarly if you have an old incandescent light fixture, it is about time you replaced it with a new one, so why not take the opportunity to cut your electricity bill as well and replace it with a fluorescent light fitting. It doesn’t have to be a long straight tube type fixture as they just aren’t that stylish. You can buy fluorescent light fixtures with the glass tube bent into all kinds of geometrical shapes or you can just buy a traditional fixture and substitute a CFL bulb into its standard fitting.
The first thing is to see what tools we will need.
The ease in fitting a light fixture will depend on how it is constructed, its style and where you intend to fit it. I cannot tell you how to fit every individual and unique style of fixture. What I can do is give you general instructions based on a generic light fixture and then leave it to you to sort it out yourself while reading the manufacturer’s instructions supplied with the fixture.
Now and again your lamp will stop working. It doesn’t matter which type of bulb you have, all types have a finite lifespan. There is no need to worry yourself about whether it will cost a lot to repair; there are a few preliminary steps you can do first to ascertain whether the problem is in the bulb or in the light fixture.
The first steps are to check the bulb and the electrical power.
Make sure the light switch is turned on. If you aren’t sure which way is ‘on’ or ‘off’, just flip the switch up and down a few times and see if the light comes on.
Look in the circuit breaker box or the fuse box to see whether the circuit has tripped out. Sometimes this can happen just by having a power surge and is no big deal. But, if you can’t keep the circuit closed it means that something more serious is happening. This is one of the times when you must call in a licensed professional electrician.
Inspect the light bulb. Make sure the light bulb is connected properly. There are two common types of light bulb connecting methods, Bayonet connectors and Edison Screw connectors. Depending on which country you live in will govern what the commonest type of light fitting is. Present day countries that predominantly use the ‘bayonet connector’ include:
All other countries predominantly use the Edison Screw connector which relies on a screw thread.
Note: Remember not to squeeze or hold the glass light bulb too tightly as the glass may break.
Remove the bulb and examine it carefully. If the bulb is one of the old incandescent ones then look for a broken filament or a dark stain on the inside of the glass. If you cannot see either then shake the bulb and try to hear a slight rattling sound. If any of these checks are positive then change the bulb. You may as well replace it with a fluorescent energy saving CFL.
If you have a fluorescent tube then it isn’t so easy to check.
If the suspect tube lights up in the different fixture then you have a problem with the ballast, starter or fixture itself. If the suspect does not light up then you have a blown tube.
If you have a CFL lightbulb then use these steps to check. There can be a few different symptoms if the CFL is suspected. First of all check the bulb:
Note: Remember not to hold the CFL bulb by the glass as this is fragile and may smash. Always hold it by the plastic body.
If you can repair your defective fluorescent light fixture yourself then you will be able to save a lot of money compared to buying a new fixture and hiring a licenced electrician. There are simple steps you can go through to ascertain which parts of the light fixture is faulty.
|Problem||Possible cause||Probable solution|
|Tube or CFL will not light.||Burned out tube.|
Tube not positioned correctly within its socket.
No power supply.
|Replace existing tube with new one of correct dimensions and Wattage.
If accessible, replace starter with new one of correct Wattage.
If accessible, replace ballast. Before replacing, consider the cost of new fixture compared to the hassle of fitting new ballast.
Remove and reseat tube in sockets.
Check power supply is working.
|Tubes glowing dimly.||Defective tube.|
|Replace tube with new one. Check size and Wattage are the same. If the tube has been flashing for a long time also consider replacing the starter.
Replace starter with one of correct Wattage and dimensions.
|Tube middle is lit while ends are dim or dark.||Wiring may be incorrect.|
Starter may be shorted out.
Tube may be burned out.
Replace starter ensuring Wattage and dimensions are correct.
Replace tube with one of correct Wattage and dimensions.
|Spiralling light or flickering.||Tube may be burned out.|
Defective or wrong specification starter.
Low voltage in ring main.
Wrong specification ballast.
|Replace with new tube of correct dimensions and Wattage.
Replace starter with one of correct dimensions and Wattage.
Check voltage. It must be within 10% of the required voltage to light the tube.
Replace ballast with one of correct specifications.
|Tube flashes on and off repeatedly.||Defective tube.|
|Replace tube and starter with ones of correct specifications.
Replace starter with one of correct specifications.
Remember that if you are unsure how to repair the light fixture then you will have to hire a licensed electrician.
If you are unable to replace or repair your faulty light fixture yourself, then you will have to hire a professional licensed electrician to do it for you. Hiring an electrician is an important decision you have to make. Not only will it cost you money, but you are also allowing a complete stranger into your home and entrusting your electrical circuits, and potentially you and your family’s future wellbeing, on his skills and experience. Remember that if you choose someone who doesn’t know what they are doing, you can be chancing damage to your home and possibly even something serious like a house fire.
Look online and in the local directories to find the names and contact details of local electrical contractors. You should request quotations from about three or four contractors to ensure you receive the most cost effective bid. Don’t always go for the cheapest bid as other factors are relevant such as length of experience and trading history, qualifications, and local reputation.
To aid you in your choice you should ask the following questions:
Education. Reputable companies will provide up-to-date training courses for their staff and give them the opportunity to improve their skillset. They will also give them the opportunity to stay current with the National Electrical Code which is updated every three years.
Permits. Permits and inspections are normally required when replacing or upgrading the electrical equipment in your home. Some small repairs and replacements are exempt so check with your local permit issuing authority to see what the requirements are and if your proposed alterations need a permit. If you do then the cost of a permit will be included in the electrician’s quotation.
Licensing. Check the electrician’s licence is current and is applicable to do the work you require.
Insurance. Check the contractor has the appropriate insurance required of him. He should have general liability and workers’ compensation cover. Make sure these policies will be in force during the period he will be working for you.
Specialisation. Different companies specialise in different aspects of electrical work. Check that their specialisation is applicable to the work you need doing.
Who will be doing the work? Find out who will be doing the work. It is common practice among disreputable companies for them to send unqualified workers onto jobs without adequate supervision. Make sure the trainees on your job are supervised and make sure any subcontractors are covered on the insurance as well.
Warranty. Good contractors will offer a warranty on parts and labour, so make sure yours does and is willing to back up their work.
Unless you know exactly what you are doing it is always best to leave the installation of new lights to the professional, especially if you require the domestic ring main to be extended or upgraded to accommodate the extra light fixtures.
Factors which affect the cost to install new light fixtures include:
|Minimum||Maximum||National Average||Average range|
|Cost to install a new light fixture||$55||$2,000||$460||$180 to $780|
|Updated lighting throughout the house||$760 to $1,110||Including adding new wiring as needed|
|Single light fixture installation||$45 to $120||Including adding new wiring as needed|
|Cost to hire local electrician||$55||$900||$300||$180 to $310|
The most significant factor affecting the cost of installing a new light fixture is the cost of the fixture itself. Usually the simpler the design, the more affordable it should be. New light fixtures can be bought from home improvement centres, specialist lighting stores, cut-price warehouses and online. Whichever style or however much they cost to buy, all light fixtures should comply with state and national electrical codes and regulations.
Sometimes you might see attractive light fixtures at garage and yard sales. I would advise you not to buy these as there is no guarantee how old they are, whether they are in code or whether they are damaged. Each of these factors may potentially cause an electrical fault and house fire so you must only choose fixtures from recognised and reputable traders.
The following prices are for example only. There are so many different fixtures and bulbs available that it would be unfeasible to list them all.
|4ft x 2 light fixture strip light||$18 to $150||Various designs and finishes|
|24” replacement tubes||$25 for 6||1400 lm, 17W|
|4ft replacement tube||$35 for 10||40W|
|Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL)||$30 for 10||13W (60W equivalent). Edison screw connector|
Costs to repair your faulty fluorescent light fixture can vary considerably depending on whether it is just a matter of replacing the tube or starter or whether it is the ballast that needs replacing or more. Whatever is wrong with the light fixture, you need to have it repaired as quickly as possible before more damage occurs. At some point in the repair sequence, you should decide whether it is worth carrying on with the repair or whether you should cut your losses and buy a replacement light fixture. That choice will be up to you but you should remember that technology is always improving and fluorescent lights of ten years ago are primitive compared to today’s components. Today we have longer working life and fewer problems needing repair so consider the option carefully. Factors affecting the cost of repair include:
|Minimum||Maximum||National Average||Average Range|
|Cost to repair a light fixture||$55||$600||$180||$120 to £270|
|Cost to replace a broken bulb||$70 to $150||Includes consultation, replacement & minimum charge.|
|Cost to repair wiring||$85 to $170|
If a licensed electrical contractor is doing the work then you can be sure that he knows the safety codes regarding electricity. If you are replacing fixtures or changing fluorescent tubes and starters yourself, then the following are just some of the more obvious safety codes you should comply with.
Today we talked about the cost to repair, replace and install fluorescent light fixtures. So we could do this competently and safely we had to understand a bit about how they work and the different kinds available. We saw how the brightness intensity of a fluorescent light compares with other types of lamp. We also talked a bit about the health and safety hazards of using a fluorescent tube.
Fluorescent lamps are more expensive to buy than incandescent light bulbs but the lower running costs make these more cost effective than other types of lamp. The newer LED lights cost even more to buy but are by far the cheapest to run.
I hope this article has given you enough information to know what you are doing when you have a faulty light fixture and I hope you feel confident to have a go yourself. If not then it is ok to call in an electrician who will be glad to do the job for you, but no matter what happens, I would always advise you to check the bulb and starter yourself.