flourescent light problem

I have flourescent lights in my kitchen. There are three units within the recessed ceiling with a plastic cover over the entire thing. There are two switches, one on each side of the kitchen to turn on the lights.
These lights sometimes take a long time (minutes) to turn on when either switch is used. I haven't been able to narrow it down to the switches as being the culprit so I must assume the ballast is the cause.
Can anyone offer any advice on how to troubleshoot any further and where to find the ballast? Does each flourescent unit have its own ballast or can there be one for the whole system? Why would all three be affected if there are separate ballasts? I'm still suspicious of the wiring myself.
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fluorescent fixtures can be affected if they're not grounded. There is usually one ballast per every two lamps. A two lamp fixture has one ballast and a four lamp fixture would have two ballasts. This does not hold true for electronically ballasted fluorescent fixtures though. As the lamps, and ballasts get old, it becomes more difficult for the lamps to light. Loose sockets and lamps not inserted properly will also cause problems

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I would start by making sure you have a good ground.
Are the lamps old. Are the ends blackened?
--
Joseph Meehan

Dia \'s Muire duit
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Why do you suspect the wiring? Do you think the wire has a kink and the electricity is having a hard time passing through it? It does not work like a garden hose. I've replaced hundreds of tubes, many ballasts, and have never had a wiring issue.
I suspect the ballast. It is usually under a metal housing on the fixture. It may be cheaper to replace the fixture than to buy a replacement part. It will also have a nice bright cover instead of yellowed plastic if yours is some years old. Check before you buy.
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If 3 fixtures are all going bad, I would more suspect:
1. The lamps ("bulbs") are going bad, probably as a result from normal death from some combination of operating hours and number of starts.
Look for "bulbs" blackened at one end (less frequently both ends). And in many fixtures, one "bulb" going bad can impair another (from them sharing a ballast).
2. Search for lack of proper grounding and "hot-neutral reverse". Normally, it is specified for the "bulbs" to be within half an inch of grounded sheet metal. This affects electric field distribution within a "bulb" that is trying to start. Lamps/"bulbs" may tolerate lack of proper grounding for a while and can get cranky after something like a few thousand operating hours or a change or two of seasons.
Same story for hot/neutral reverse.
3. If all else fails - try cleaning the bulbs. Sometimes, expecially in coastal areas, the bulbs can get a thin film of salty dust, and when the relative humidity gets past something like 60 or 75 percent or whatever this dusty film can get conductive enough to screw up the electric field distribution within a "bulb" that is trying to start.
4. More remote possibility - the ballast was replaced with one that has a different wiring diagram from that on the replaced ballast and there is a minor wiring error that is mild enough to sometimes be tolerated (such as when bulbs are in newer condition).
5. Another less-common one - old rapid start ballast "eats bulbs". There is a less-common failure mode of many older rapid start ballasts whose main symptom is that lamps/"bulbs" last only a couple thousand or a few thousand operating hours. However, it is very unlikely that 3 fixtures out of 3 will go from "good" to "bad" in just a year or two for this reason. If you get sufficient evidence that this is the problem, replace the offending ballasts or get new fixtures.
6. One thing to watch for - mismatch between lamp ("bulb") and ballast. For one thing, there is quite a variety of 4-foot fluorescents, even at least 3 wattages of T12 (1.5 ich diameter) ones with 2 pins at each end. Know what the fixture is supposed to take, and in case of any doubt read the ballast label. Incorrect lamps/"bulbs" have a high chance of reduced life, and in some cases a mismatch is hard on the ballast (especially T12 4-footer of 25 or 34 or 35 watts or "energy saver" used with a ballast rated for 40 watt T12 but not lower wattages of T12).
7. Check if the ballast is one of those "residential grade" ones that I like to call "stool specimens". Those are widely regarded as giving less than full light output and sometimes regarded as prone to making lamps/"bulbs" die sooner than they should, especially if the "bulbs" are T12 ones of 34, 35 or 40 watts as opposed to the 25 watt ones made for such atrocities of cheap fixtures. And I suspect that 34 and 35 watt ones will fare worse than the "more normal" 40 watt ones with these ballasts because 34 watt T12 wants more current to run well. Best way to tell - the usual "stool specimen" "residential grade" balllast for 2 4-footers is in a package something like 1.5 inches less long than "The Real Thing". Get to know what both look like! Also, it is my impression that the ballast is not as good when it comes in a cheap "shop light" fixture that is specified to be hung by chains and not to be flush-mounted on a ceiling or along a beam.
8. 34 watt T12 fluorescents sometimes just don't do well (especially in colder areas) by just being "generally crankier" than the true-40-watt ones. This is not true of 32 watt T8 (1 inch diameter), which requires a different ballast anyway (at least generally when the ballasts are of brands that have been more held in higher regard since T8 started to get popular).
- Don Klipstein ( snipped-for-privacy@misty.com)
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wrote:

I had a similar problem with flourescents in my kitchen. I switched to incandescent and it's been great since.
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serebel wrote:

Great idea, but you missed a step ;-) I've replaced all of our T8-T12'w with 1 to 4 std screw-in lamp bases (aka incandescent) then just used cfl's. Total cost less than a single replacement circline bulb. Easy to change, all the advantages of cfl's, can adjust wattage as needed, and we're ready for LED lamps in the future. Now adding a pull chain switch for Hi/Lo. Need to look for a 4 wire pull chain, off(optional)-1lamp-2lamps-3lamps ;-) Someone needs to make a "three-way" Y adapter to hold two cfls, think of the flexibility.
-larry / dallas
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