Sunday, February 20, 2011

Energy savings mean fire?


Have you noticed lately that you tend to get a lot of electrical condition or smoke in basement calls and it seems to be coming from Fluorescent Light fixtures.
There is actually a reason behind these. And it is not the fact that the fixtures are getting old and deteriorating.
In the late 1990,s the Environmental protection Agency in an effort to conserve natural
Resources and cut down on pollutants, set up new guidelines for manufacturers to follow
Which produced more energy efficient Light bulbs and ballasts which fire on and light them. The only problem being is that many of the older fixtures will not properly operate and many do not tolerate these bulbs particularly the old original style fluorescent lights that besides having a ballast also have a separate starter unit also known as preheat fixtures.
They in many cases do not put out the higher voltages needed approx 650 volts AC to properly ignite the fluorescent bulbs and all too often fire is the result because ballasts start to overheat.
The standard older Rapid start fixtures in most cases will allow the bulbs to come on but they will not be as bright as the units designed for the modern bulbs and ballasts which in its self wastes energy and the ballasts also can overheat .
The other problem is that certain high efficiency type fluorescent bulbs require exact matching ballast such as T8 and T5 fixtures again wrong bulb to ballast and a fire can result. The other major reason so many lights burn up and do not shut off as designed is because the fixtures are required to be grounded. No ground and a ballast when it goes bad has its internal wiring make contact with the outside metal case which can then send the power thru out the structure. I see this problem all the time a home owner brings home some fluorescent lights they were replacing at were he works and wires them up using under sized lamp cord and no ground and bingo we get called 6 months down the road for a smoke condition. This became painfully clear to one of my former clients who had an outside sign which uses the higher voltage output fluorescent lights which are designed for cold temps Aprox 850 volts AC short out and his metal roof became fully electrified because the fixtures were not properly grounded despite the fact the ballasts have very clear markings requiring grounding.
And an even bigger problem is the cheap shop lights you see being sold every where
Again in most cases they also need a certain bulb the high efficiency bulbs will not work properly and can cause a fire.
So if you have older lights what can you do.
1- determine from the ballast or fixture label the exact bulb needed
2- If bulbs are not easily available consider retrofitting fixtures with the newer ballasts which can be done for $15-25
3- Replace the old fixtures with new ones.

Unfortunately one of the other major hazards of dealing with burned out fluorescent
Light fixtures is the fact you now have a hazardous waste problem on your hands
Due to the fact many of the older fluorescent lights contained PCB’s
Fire fighters should take appropriate precautions when handling older fixtures which are leaking there black tar like insulation fluid.
By having on gloves and bagging fixture if possible. for proper disposal.

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