If you have fluorescent tubes or plug-and-play LED tube lights in your office, warehouse, or building, you rely on the ballast to keep things going properly. You may be aware that the ballast is a crucial component of the fixture, but do you understand why or how it functions? Continue reading to find out what ballast is and what it does.
- 1 What is the Point of Using a Electronic Ballast?
- 2 How Do Light Ballasts Work?
- 3 What Types of Lights Need Ballasts?
- 4 Different Types of Lighting Ballasts Are Available?
- 5 Why Do LED Lights Need A Ballast?
- 6 When Should I Replace My Ballast?
- 7 How to Replace Or Remove A Light Ballast
- 8 How To Change A Fluorescent Light Ballast?
- 9 Conclusion
What is the Point of Using a Electronic Ballast?
Regardless of how a lighting ballast operates (electronic or otherwise), they all fulfill the same basic and vital functions. A lighting ballast’s main function is to regulate the line voltage and current delivered to a light bulb during its many stages of operation.
Because electronic ballasts don’t keep voltage and current constant all of the time, we specified “phases of operation.” Ballasts, for example, give a greater starter voltage to cause some lights to light up. The voltage may decrease to operational levels after the light has lit up and attained its peak brightness, at which point the current delivered can be constant.
Because some lamps, such as fluorescent and HID (high-intensity discharge) lamps, can only operate properly within a certain range of provided power, current control is necessary. For example, if some lights were operated without a ballast, they would rapidly drain power until they burned out since there was nothing in the circuit to prevent them from overdrawing.
In essence, and without getting too bogged down in the technical intricacies, the fact that a ballast regulates current and voltage allows the lamp in question to start up quickly and reach and maintain its advertised brightness. The current provided to the lamp is then kept constant, ensuring that the light output remains consistent and does not flicker or dim excessively.
Ballasts help to assure not just efficient operation and continuous light output, but also extended lamp life. Without a ballast, a light would draw too much power, overheating and causing damage. The lamp would nearly always burn out, but lights with the proper protection from well-suited ballasts have a longer lamp life, more efficient operation, and more consistent performance.
How Do Light Ballasts Work?
Consider a light ballast as a two-job component in a series of in-fixture lighting connectors for a simplified explanation of how it operates. When we wish to arc the light and turn it on, it delivers a boost, then reduces the initial high current flow to a more manageable amount once the light is turned on. In some ways, it works in the same way that a car’s engine does during ignition and subsequent idling.
The ballast’s first and most crucial function is to guarantee that enough electricity is supplied upon turning on the luminaire to start it up. Allowing mains voltage to provide this first ‘boost’ once the user flips a switch allows enough current to leap across and complete an arc between the two electrodes in the lamp, resulting in light.
The second and equally important function of a ballast is to regulate current after the switch-on phase. The lamp does not draw the full available voltage from mains power for the duration of its operation. Although different bulb types require a burst of electrical electricity to turn on, allowing them to continue drawing this level of power from the wall for an extended period would cause them to overheat and cause catastrophic harm.
Without a ballast as part of the circuitry, the bulb would either burn out or shatter nearly instantly or, in the best-case situation, have a dramatically decreased lifespan.
What Types of Lights Need Ballasts?
If you’ve ever replaced an indoor incandescent lamp, you’ve surely observed that there are no additional procedures. Simply purchase a light that matches the socket’s voltage and wattage specs, screw it in, and you’re ready to go. You don’t need to make any more extensive changes. Two types of lights require ballasts: fluorescent bulbs and HID (high-intensity discharge) lamps.
Fluorescent lamps work on the simple but fascinating principle of fluorescence. When a material (known as a fluorescent) is exposed to ultraviolet radiation, it glows with visible light. Fluorescent lights have fluorescent materials on the inside surfaces, such as phosphor powder, which illuminates when the inner tube is exposed to UV radiation. This complex chain of events is significantly more complicated than the basic electroluminescence of incandescent and halogen bulbs, necessitating the use of a ballast.
You may have observed that CFLs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs, which were created to give a cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternative to incandescent light bulbs, do not appear to require a ballast. Most CFLs are plug-and-play replacements for incandescent lights, which appears to be the case. Looks, on the other hand, can deceive. CFLs are designed with ballasts; they do require one, but they already have one.
Ballast is also required for HID lamps, though ballast operation varies depending on the kind of bulb. Furthermore, certain HID lights may include built-in ballasts, and it’s crucial to keep in mind that some HID bulbs may only be used in specified fixtures and must be orientated correctly.
Different Types of Lighting Ballasts Are Available?
There are many different types of lighting ballasts on the market. These components range from basic resistors, capacitors, and inductors when wired in line to a far more complex piece of circuitry that can control adjustable voltage and current, giving some HID and fluorescent luminaires fully customizable dimming capabilities.
We’ll go through some of the various types of light ballasts on the market and which ones you’ll need for which lighting configurations in the sections below.
Standard Lighting Ballasts
Standard light ballasts allow the luminaire and its power circuit to operate in a basic, safe, and consistent manner at reduced power draw levels, both at switch-on and throughout prolonged use. Simple ballasts, such as those used in some LED or neon lamps, act solely as a resistor, limiting the amount of current passing through the circuit of the light.
Fluorescent Lighting Ballasts
When a lighting circuit uses gas discharge to power luminaires, as the kinds used to power many fluorescent light ballasts in the workplace, the luminaires to which it is linked require significantly more power to operate. The ballast may operate as a reactance element on the internal circuit in these circuits.
This is necessary to allow for the voltage drop across a completed circuit without creating a runaway increase in flowing current, which would quickly harm the lamp or the power supply that supplies it.
LED Light Ballasts
LED light circuitry (and its related driver) is typically simple due to the LED lamp’s low power draw, which is only a basic resistor to govern the flow of mains electricity through its circuitry. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to ballasts with LEDs, especially if you’re upgrading by retrofitting LEDs into an old fixture or system.
Why Do LED Lights Need A Ballast?
LED lamps are often chosen for their higher quality and consistency of light production – as well as their exceptional economy when it comes to long-term running expenses – whether they’re used in industrial settings, as grow lights, around the home, or anywhere else. They’re becoming increasingly popular as downlights and display lighting alternatives.
The lamps themselves are sometimes more expensive than many other types of lighting; however, this is usually immediately offset by their substantially greater operational efficiency.
LED lights don’t require a ballast because of their low power consumption, but if you want to replace your old fluorescent or HID lamps with LEDs, you’ll probably want to plug LED bulbs directly into the existing fittings. In this instance, you have a few options, the most basic of which is usually a ‘plug-and-play format.
LEDs employ a similar but different piece of circuitry called a driver rather than a ballast; however, some compatible LED variants are designed to work with current ballast technology found in most fluorescent or HID fittings.
All ballasts will eventually break, and you’ll have to replace an LED lighting ballast for bulbs that don’t truly need one. A non-ballast-compatible LED bulb, on the other hand, wouldn’t work unless the ballast was completely removed and the suitable driver system was installed, which would normally necessitate significantly rearranging or replacing the existing fixture.
Although plug-and-play LEDs are more expensive, the somewhat higher cost of the lamps is still less expensive than having the entire fixture changed or replaced. Other possibilities include hybrid or linear LEDs, which can be line-wired to mains voltage and/or fitted with a driver after working with an existing ballast until it breaks.
Although non-ballast-compatible LED bulbs are usually less expensive initially, installing them and the hardwiring they need can be dangerous for anyone who isn’t an electrician because the sockets will transmit live mains power if the ballast is bypassed.
For most retrofit jobs, it’s far easier to go with the slightly more expensive ballast-compatible LED bulbs. Then just replace ballasts as needed, and enjoy the ease and safety of upgrading your system with a direct like-for-like light swap.
When Should I Replace My Ballast?
Though ballast replacement isn’t common, it’s expected to see some deterioration in the effectiveness of a fixture’s ballast after roughly three years. They usually fail in stages, so the lights go from a few minor difficulties with full light output to complete failure to light. Because all ballasts fail at some point, it’s critical to recognize the warning indications. It may be time to service your fixture if your lights are dull, buzzing, flashing fast, or changing color.
How to Replace Or Remove A Light Ballast
Although replacing a fluorescent or HID lighting ballast isn’t difficult, it’s best left to a competent professional unless you’re confident in your knowledge of electrical circuits. Depending on the type of lamp you have installed, you’ll need to take the following procedures to replace the ballast in your light fixture.
How To Change A Fluorescent Light Ballast?
If you can, cut off the mains power and/or unhook the fixture from the mains circuit before adding wire or replacing a fluorescent light ballast.
Next, if there is a diffuser plate covering the lamps, remove it. After that, take out the lamp itself.
Locate and remove the ballast cover once you’ve gained access to it. Ballast covers vary greatly in design and attaching method from manufacturer to manufacturer. (If you have any questions regarding how to detach and reattach your chosen brand’s ballast covers, you can always contact customer service.)
Remove the ballast cover and, if the wires running into it unhook, disconnect them. You might want to picture or write down which wire goes where so that reattachment is easy later. If the wires don’t unclip, as may be the case with some older ballast types, you’ll need to cut through all wiring attached directly to the ballast with side-cut pliers or snips, leaving a few inches spare. It’s usually a good idea to use a non-contact voltage tester to double-check that the power to the fixture is turned off before touching any wires.
Unscrew the ballast itself by loosening and removing the nuts keeping it in place while supporting it with your free hand to prevent it from tumbling once it’s loose enough.
When looking for a replacement, it’s a good idea to have the old fluorescent light ballast close at hand to ensure you acquire a compatible make and model.
You’ll need to reverse the steps above to install the new fluorescent ballast once you’ve found a suitable replacement. If the wiring to the ballast was cut during removal, a short portion of the wires’ insulating casing would need to be stripped to allow for reconnection.
When all of the preceding processes have been completed in reverse order, and the ballast is fully fitted, turn the mains power back on. If there’s a problem, make sure the power is turned off (or the fixture is unplugged from the circuit) before trying to fix it.
Make sure to dispose of old ballasts properly; they can contain toxins that are harmful to both you and the environment if discarded in the wrong place. Call your local municipality, tip, or hazardous waste disposal helpline if you’re unsure where to dispose of them.
Overall, a fluorescent tube works by causing mercury gas to emit ultraviolet (UV) light with electricity. The phosphor powder coating inside the tube lights up when UV light (invisible to the naked eye) interacts with it, providing the light we see and use in our homes.
However, we must exercise control over electricity anytime we use it; otherwise, we risk ruining the gadget and perhaps placing ourselves in danger. Ballast is used to control the amount of current that flows through fluorescent lights.
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