Fluorescents & Wits End...

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by steamhead, Sep 17, 2006.

  1. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member


    Some of you may recall a thread where I asked for advice on fluorescent lighting for the layout. Well, the time came to install the fixtures. So last weekend I go to the local HD and get a couple of 4' single lamp fixtures, and all the wherewithal to install them. I work all day assembling them, installing and wiring. Come Sunday I do the final connections to the light switch, pop in a couple of lamps, turn the switch on and....No go. Hmmmm. I turn the circuit breaker off, check all my wiring with a voltmeter, connections, etc. All is good, so - back goes the juice and....More of same. Aha!!! Maybe the lamps that I'm using are no good (not used, but purchased a couple of years ago for the kitchen fixtures). Run to HD buy a couple of NEW lamps, pop them in....You know by now. As I'm about to tear my hair out, I resort to the ol' "knock'em around a bit" and...LIGHT!!!! Well that's good. I turn the switch off, back on and....

    OK, These fixtures aren't worth their weight in ... So I take them down, go to HD, exchange them for two other ones, assemble and TEST them before installing. Same result. OK. Back to HD, retun them and walk out, thinking these Chinese fixtures may be a bargain, but I like the stuff I buy to actually work. So I give up on HD and go to a local hardware store. Buy a couple of better looking fixtures, get home, assemble one and test it...!!! Darkness reigns. OK, Let's try a lamp that is actually working this very minute...Go to the kitchen, pull one off and insert it in the new fixture....I give up.

    Am I doing something wrong??? Is there a magic word I don't know about?? I've noticed that the tabs in the lamp holders aren't really "springy", and may not be making good contact. But in FIVE units???

    Any ideas, hints, suggestions, would be most appreciated....

    Weeping in Brownsville...Gus (LC&P).:cry:
  2. Thoroughbreed

    Thoroughbreed Member

    With the switch on, are you getting 110 inside the fixtures? Check the wiring to the ballasts and make sure their wired up, 4 wires typically per lamp on 4 footers. I have seen kits that weren't wired up inside, so that they can be "professionally" installed.:D
  3. jim currie

    jim currie Active Member

    it pays to buy higher priced fixtures i found:( went to one of the big box stores and bought 2 8 ft hi intenesty ones went home put them up and one burned out on first time applied power took down went back to the store 25mi drive got relacment put it up both worked for 3 days then one burned out again got one more replacment put it up withen 2 months both had burned out :( gave up went to a supply house got two that cost 4 times the box store ones but 3 years later there still working.:)
  4. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    One of my ongoing frustrations is with the lamps that use two little pins at each end. I think they are called "rapid start" as opposed to "instant on." I much prefer the instant on type and converted one fixture in the kitchen about 4-5 years ago. The instant on bulbs have one pin about 1/4 inch in diameter in each end. The bulbs I put in 4-5 years ago finally burned out. Went to the local Home Depot, Lowes, any other hardware store I could think of, and found nobody had anything smaller than 8 footers in the instant on type. I changed the fixtures in the kitchen over to a large incandescent type with a lot of room rof heat disapation and installed the screw in florescents. I don't think the rapid start tubes are worth anything. If I were lighting a layout, I would wire in incandescent fixtures with open reflectors and install the screw in replacement flourescents.
  5. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    I bought a couple of wrap-around double light fixtures, also from HD. Spent more money than those cheapy shop lights, but I wanted a bit of class over my layout. I wired them up and they fired up for a few seconds, flickered a bit then went out. Turned off the switch, checked my wiring, tried it again and got the same thing, they'd come on for a while, flicker for a while and go out. Changed bulbs, no difference. I got really desperate and actually read the little paper that came with the fixture just to see if I overlooked something. Yeah, I did. The instruction sheet said to leave the fixture on for as long as 48 hour for the dumb things to "break in".:curse: :curse: I've installed many, many flourecent fixtures, never have I had to break in any of them. They either worked or they didn't. Faced with the prospect of unwiring, taking down, packing them back up and trotting back to HD, I did what they said. Over a period of two days, they turn on, flicker and go out for a while, turn back on by themselves steady then flicker for a while and go out again. After a while they stayed on steady longer and longer and after two days, I haven't had a problem with them since.:D

    Stupid story, but true.:cry: :cry:

    The point is, if you know you're getting power to them, and you can check the bulbs in another fixture so you know they're good, turn them on and leave them for a while and see if they don't have "break in" period...:rolleyes: :rolleyes:
  6. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    Do WHAT!?:rolleyes:

    In my line of work, I've installed several hundred and NEVER had to break them in. Must be some new Congressionally mandated enviromentally friendly tree hugger thing...
  7. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    This all sounds pretty strange. I have 16 4' double tube fixtures in my layout room, all of them bought used, at about $5.00 a piece. These all use the two pin type tubes and are on two different circuits, and I've had no problem with any of them. I have used tubes (colour balanced for photography) that were much harder to start than regular "cool white" tubes, and I eventually just left them on 24 hours a day. Another problem can be caused by cold air temperatures: the tubes either refuse to light, or, when they do, the light output is very low until the tube warms up. I've been told that if you turn on a fluorescent light, then you should leave it on for at least a half-hour or so, otherwise, you shorten the service life of the tube and/or it becomes harder to start next time. Another tip if a tube is reluctant to light is to lightly grasp it near one end (while it's in the fixture and the power is on), then slide your fingers the length of the tube, several times, if necessary: this sounds kinda goofy (or perverse:D ), but it does work.

  8. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    That's a fact, I never heard of this before either, and I hope to never hear of it again.:rolleyes: I'm reading the instruction sheet before I put them up. I bought three other ones since then (different brand) to put in the garage, and they didn't have a break-in period.

    If those tree huggers and congress would pay attention, I wasted some 8,000 watts of power just to break them in. Not a lot of energy, but multiply that times the number of fixtures that Home Depot sells and you can save a forest by making them so they light from the get-go.
  9. zedob

    zedob Member

    Sometimes they crank on when I just barely touch them. Hardly enough to jostle the contacts. I've noticed that if you clean the dust off of the tubes they will work better(other than the obvious increase in light intensity after the dust is removed) and always wondered if the tubes build up a charge on the outside that needs to be discharged every so often. :confused: Just speculating.

    I bought some of the T8 fixtures ($8.00) from the HD a few months ago and am quite happy with thier operation. No break-in period.:thumb:

    I've used the 18" under cabinet units for my previous shelf layout and was happy with their lighting ability, but as everyone who has a kithchen knows, they get harder to start each time.
  10. Gil Finn

    Gil Finn Active Member

    Get a electrical from a union contractor before you burn your house down.

    Besides those will belack you layout out in no time at all.

  11. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

    The electrician part I understand. But "belack"...???

    Gus (LC&P).
  12. jefelectric

    jefelectric Member


    Do you have the metal housing of the fixure GROUNDED? In order for a rapid start fixture to work properly the metal housing must be securely grounded. Check it out, I have a feeling this may be your problem.

    Re: The breakin comment. The only breakin that I know of is this. When first started sometimes a lamp will barber-pole for a time, this will stop after some run time.
  13. hooknlad

    hooknlad Member

    I'm in agreement with John, believe it or not, those little green wires in the actual fixture means alot. All of the $5 fixtures that i have installed, in all temperatures have worked like a charm... Did you twist the lamp into the "tombstone" on the fixture? Another situation which you may have, if you have a 2 - tube installation, there is a red wired tombstone, a blue wired tombstone, and 2 yellow wired tombstones. The red and blue go to one side of the fixture and the yellows go on the other end. They act as the " return " for the red and blue... I have seen this alot. If you have not installed these thing in awhile, you forget and discard the instructions.. It happens all the time.. Hope this helped..
    I have never heard of a breakin period as well, Installed literally thousands in my lifetime..
  14. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Heard of it only once myself. I wish I had saved those instructions, I'd post them so you could avoid buying that brand. I wish I had read them first too,:curse: they'd have gone back, but I already had them up and wired.

    And yeah, they did exactly what they said they would do and for close to the time they said they would. The last time I heard of a break-in period for anything electronic it was for a vacuum tube.:rolleyes: :rolleyes:
  15. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member


    Thanks for all your input. Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. The lamps do light up, but only after some "jostling" of the tube in the fixture. Once it comes on, it'll stay lit. (I left one of them on overnight to try the "burn-in" option...No change). Once lit, I figure they'll work next time. So I turn it off. Immediately turn it on...No work. Some more "jostling" and it comes on. The fixtures (all single lamp) are grounded. This leads me to believe (wrongly, perhaps) that the contacts in the "tombstone" (very appropriately named) are not right. But I find it hard to believe that all 5 fixtures I've tested would show the same problem.
    Any more ideas?? Thanks again.

    Gus (LC&P).
  16. hooknlad

    hooknlad Member

    Perhaps the wires aren't in the " tombstones" properly - if you only got the fixture for $5 , then the third world country would probably get less than $0.05 a case of fixtures to install.. One thing about the instructions that MUST be adhered to. If the fixture comes with chain and states that the fixture must be hung, then so be it.. THe ballast needs air to dissipate the heat of this $0.25 fixture... Also, be very very very very careful using any type of meter to measure the voltage at the " tombstones" - If you notice there are NO voltage ratings of these lamps, therefore, the lamp requires alot more than 120 volts to vaporize the mercury inside of the tube, so be very careful.... Good luck...
  17. jefelectric

    jefelectric Member


    Don't want to beat a dead horse, but are you sure they are grounded. Connecting the ground wire and being grounded are not always the same thing. Are you sure the ground wire you are connecting is grounded? Check from the hot wire to ground and make sure you have 120 volts with a volt meter.

    When you touch the lamps to jiggle them your hand can provide the ground field that the lamp needs to light. Usually somewhere on the ballast and/or fixture will be a statement to the effect that the lamp must be within 1" of a grounded surface for proper operation.

    Here is a typical wiring diagram for a standard one lamp ballast.


    If you feel confident in doing some voltage measuring when the lamp is out of the fixture, you should have aprox. 6 bolts between the two red wires and the same between the two blue wires. Do not try to measure the voltage from on socket to the other because that can be rather high when the circuit is open. If you get the 6 volts at both ends the lamp should light as that is what starts the lamp.
  18. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

    "...and there was light..."


    My hat's off to you, sir. May your life be blessed with all the love and bounty on Earth. Men will sing your praises 'till the end of days....!!!!

    OK. Your comment about the lamp being within 1" of a grounded surface rang a bell. The ballast does indeed say that (actually mine say 1/2"), and I was testing WITHOUT the top cover!!!! The top cover is the ground it needs...!!! I placed the cover on and --- There was light !!! ---

    Many thanks to you, and to all who chipped in...!!!

    Maybe now I can finish the lighting project and get on with the train...!!!:thumb:

    Gus (LC&P).
  19. jefelectric

    jefelectric Member

    Glad I could help. :)
  20. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Glad to see the problem solved.:thumb: Can anybody out there clarify something for me, please? If I have a four-foot fluorescent fixture, with a single tube, does the 40 watt rating of the tube refer to the power it takes to run the light, or to the power that it takes to start the light? I was under the impression that it takes more power to start these lights than it does to run them, so when I'm in and out of the layout room throughout the day, I usually leave the lights on until I'm done for the day.


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