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What are the Different Types of Ballasts?

Have you ever heard the statement “a buzz from a light bulb”? If your answer is yes, you are indeed wrong! The buzzing sound is not from the bulb, but the ballast. This post digs deeper into the topic to bring out the different types of ballasts you should know.


A Closer Look at Magnetic and Electronic Ballasts


There are two types of lamps that operate using ballast: the fluorescent and HID. In the fluorescent category, the two categories are electronic and magnetic ballast.


Magnetic ballasts represent the older ballast technology. Fluorescent lamps that use the magnetic ballasts include 2-pin CFLs and T12 linear fluorescents.


Electronic ballast is more advanced than the magnetic model. It makes it possible to generate multiple frequencies of electricity without requiring alteration of the voltage. This helps to remove any buzzing or flickering.


From the above definitions, it is clear that the buzzing you hear from lamps is caused by magnetic ballasts because they regulate electricity incrementally.


The procedure for swapping magnetic ballasts for electronic ballasts is indeed simplistic. This is considered the path that the lighting industry is following. Therefore, why not swap the ballasts right away? Here are the main types of electronic fluorescent ballasts:


Rapid Start Ballast


This ballast works like a preheated oven. Think of it like an oven that is always preheated so that you are able to bake cakes any moment. With the rapid start ballast, the same principle applies. When you turn the light switch on, the lamp stays ready to light at any given time. Though impressive, the rapid start ballast lamps are not without a few drawbacks.

  • They are not energy efficient.
  • When a lamp is paired with rapid start ballast, it will not turn on reliably in climates lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This means they might be less effective in freezer rooms and colder climates.


Instant Start Ballast


These lamps do not require preheating. Instead, they use a high amount of voltage on the lamp when you switch them on. They use 1.5-2 watts less for every lamp compared to the rapid start ballast lamps.  Besides, they can start even when the temperatures are very low.


Programmed Start Ballasts


It feels great to walk into a room and lamps turn on automatically. Programmed start ballasts are paired with motion sensors so that they go automatically when you enter into the house. This way, it is possible to maximize the lamp starting cycles and enjoy high energy efficiency.


Programmed start ballasts are considered a great option if you have a kitchen/ bathroom or other areas that have multiple on-off cycles in the course of the day. They also work well in areas with very low temperatures.


Pulse Start and Probe Start HID Ballast Types


These are the two types of ballasts in the HID category.


Probe Start Ballasts


These are the older version and are not very easy on the HID lamps because electrons jump across an arc tube in between two operating electrodes. When you start the lamp, the starting probe electrode is cleared from the circuit.


The main issue with this form of starting is that it requires a long time to warm the lamps and bring them to full brightness.


Pulse Start Ballasts


This category of ballast uses a high voltage igniter that operates alongside the ballast. Lamps using this type of ballast have a longer lifespan and their lumens do not ebb out fast. They are also more energy efficient compared to the probe start ballast lamps.


Emergency Ballasts


Emergency ballasts are in a different category altogether. Indeed, they include all the above start ballasts and help to power lamps at lower brightness levels for up to 1½ hours. Notably, the emergency ballasts recharge themselves after every use. If you want to purchase emergency ballasts, it is important to ensure that you are selecting the right one. Here are the considerations to factor:

  1. The type of lamp to be powered.
  2. The number of lamps to be powered.
  3. The length of time they will be powering the lamps.
  4. Constraints considerations for the fixture.


When you decide to buy start ballasts, it is important to understand your system and set the right goals. The above guide provides you with comprehensive insights to help you understand them more and pick the ideal option.