How to Fix that Fluorescent Flicker

No question about it––today is the day of the fluorescent. The incandescent bulb has all but been legislated out of existence. LED lights are popular, but pricey. So it seems more and more homes and apartments have fluorescent fixtures everywhere: kitchens, bathrooms, work rooms, even bedrooms.

But then one day it happens.  The flicker shows up––that, annoying strobing. So what’s that all about?

How Fluorescents Work

Well, the thing to remember is fluorescent lights are nothing but gas-filled tubes. The fluorescent gas is  a combination of low pressure mercury vapour and inert gases. When exposed to the electric current this gas is “excited” and produces a kind of greenish light. Ballasts send pulses of electricity throughout the gas. These pulses turn the light on and off at a very fast rate, usually unnoticed by the naked eye. However, some individuals have a sensitivity to this normal, fast-paced flickering. For sensitive people like this, migraines, headaches, eye strain and other physical problems occur. This problem may be overcomed by utilizing lights with electronic ballasts, rather than magnetic ballasts.  Or you can simply replace the tubes more often. The older the bulb the more obvious the flicker.

Check the Fixture

Older fluorescent fixtures use a “starter” to fire up the gas in the tubes. When the starter doesn’t work, the light just flickers, never truly fully lit. In most fluorescent fixtures, you can remove the bulb and then remove the starter. It’s a round plug that sticks out through a hole in the housing. Check to see if the starter is properly seated in the housing. If it is, then it has probably become defective and needs to be replaced. Take the old starter to a hardware store or home center and buy a replacement with the same amp rating. Then plug it in and let there be (constant) light. Or, if all else fails, simply replace the entire fixture with a newer self-starting model.

Fluorescent lights are a long lasting, economical and energy light bulb alternative. But like everything, they take some getting use to.