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Many fluorescent tube guides recommend replacing the bimetallic strip starter every time the tube is replaced; however, no one seems to provide a specific reason why it needs replacing. Presumably you could keep using the starter and only replace it when it no longer lights the tube – but perhaps there's a good reason why you shouldn't use an old starter with a new tube?

I'm specifically asking about home use where I can immediately stop using the light when it fails. In locations like shops and warehouses where a failed light may not be immediately noticed or fixed, a short-circuited starter would deteriorate the tube filaments and could even be a fire hazard, so preventive replacement may be warranted.

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Modern electronic ballast technology (T8, T5) doesn't use starters. I associate starters with old, inefficient magnetic ballast installations. I haven't had to replace a starter in years because they have not been used in any of the newer buildings I've worked in.

My preference would be to convert any T12 installation with magnetic ballast and starter to T8 tubes with electronic ballast. The tubes run brighter and consume less energy, and since the ballasts use far less copper, they can be obtained in the $10-18 range.

Flickering lamps on magnetic ballasts can overheat the ballast, so it's pretty cheap insurance to replace the starter and both lamps so you don't burn out a heavy copper-wound magnetic ballast which in the day was quite expensive to replace.

Another reason is that failing starters can cause premature tube failure which kind of negates the reason for replacing the tubes. Filaments in the ends of the tubes stay on too long causing excess sputtering which turns the tube end black from the metal deposit and early filament burnout causing the tube to not light. Starters have two failure modes, the bimetal gets weak and delays opening keeping the filaments on too long, the contacts burn and the filaments don't light up during the starting phase.

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  • Hmm, I guess it's a regional thing; I know magnetic ballast installations from the early 2000s (Europe). Ours are from the early 1980s. We already replaced a T8 magnetic fixture with a T5 electric one in the kitchen, but the bathroom fixture (590mm T8) would require more extensive work (it's integrated in the cupboard), which is not going to happen as this apartment is rented. Why can failing starters cause premature tube failure?
    – ntoskrnl
    Jan 9 '16 at 20:18
  • Filaments in the ends of the tubes stay on too long causing excess sputtering which turns the tube end black from the metal deposit and early filament burnout causing the tube to not light. Starters have two failure modes, the bimetal gets weak and delays opening keeping the filaments on too long, the contacts burn and the filaments don't light up during the starting phase. Jan 9 '16 at 20:29
  • Aha, that answers my original question. Could you add that information to your answer and I will accept it?
    – ntoskrnl
    Jan 9 '16 at 20:32
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I believe it's the same concept, that it'll go unnoticed. Not everyone notices every instance that happens in their own home, sadly. Whether or not people do what's said to be safe, it's at least worth knowing of.

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