The flourescent lights in one end my basement have not worked since I moved in last December. I prefer incandescent lighting, so I wasn't concerned about it. A few days ago, one of the fixtures started making a strange "chirping" noise. It sounds like a smoke detector battery signal, but it is definitely coming from the light fixture. There are two fixtures on one switch; the second fixture isn't making any noise.
If you are not using the fixtures, and they are not working, turn them off. Otherwise the ballasts are constantly trying to start the tubes and wasting a lot of energy (like $20-30 a year worth per fixture). I've also seen old ballasts overheat and ooze tar all over the inside of the fixture. If the fixture is warm to the touch, it's not off. I respectfully disagree with RedGrittyBrick; removing the starter (a metal can the size of a pill bottle, many fixtures don't have one) won't entirely shut off the ballast. Find the "off" switch.
Fluorescents are good for making a LOT of light. One dual 40W fixture is equivalent to about 400 W of incandescent (seven 60W bulbs). If you wonder why on earth such office-intensity lighting would exist in a home which is meant to be a comfortable and relaxing space, it's for workspace lighting, for those of us with hobbies that involve making stuff, tinkering, sewing, fixing motorcycles, etc.
You'll like fluorescents a lot more if you do two things: a) replace the ballast with a modern electronic type that is silent and doesn't flicker... and b) get some warm-white tubes (2700-3500 degree Kelvin, lower is warmer) with high CRI such as 90 or even 98. Wonderful light. Alternately, you could replace with LED "tubes" and bypass the ballast entirely, but those tend to be cheaply built, and the best CRI's are still found in real fluorescent tubes.