First off - what’s a ballast? Well, my friend, that’s a great question. Let’s use a very basic analogy: Imagine you are super thirsty, nay...parched, and you come to a drinking fountain. There’s no spigot and the water just blasts you in the face. Maybe you get a little bit of what you need and it keeps on coming but not at a very usable level.
The water fountain spigot kind of acts like a ballast in this situation. A ballast regulates the current that’s coming at a lamp. It gives an initial burst just to get things going, then it makes sure the electric current is controlled and steady. Not getting the lamp’s shoes all wet.
There are two types of ballasts we deal with - magnetic and electronic. The difference is the mechanism they use to transform the incoming voltage.
- Magnetic ballasts - heavier than bad news on a rainy day. Average 3.5 lbs. These bad boys are also why you associate a “humming” noise with fluorescent lights - they have a transformer consisting of a magnetic core and wire wrapped around it.
- Electronic ballasts - use solid state circuitry to operate - no hum. Lighter and more efficient, they have been encouraged by energy efficient legislation dating back to the late 80s.
Alright so now that we know fluorescent lamps are like toddlers that need their food blended before they can eat it, what about LED lamps?
“LEDs are from the future! Surely they don’t need an archaic metaphoric blender!”, you say. Slow down there, Charlie. It depends on what type of lamp you got. Philips, for example, has designed a tube that is compatible with an existing electronic ballast. Cue buzzword plug-and-play. Super cost effective because it brings down the labor cost of changing the fixture. If you don’t have tubes that are compatible, then you will need an LED driver.
So, the moral of the story, kids....you’re going to need some way to control the current coming into your LED tube. It all depends on the type of tube ya got.
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