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What Is a Light Ballast?

Published by Asbury Electric

How does a fluorescent light work? If you’ve ever pondered this question, maybe you’ve noticed a small box that connects the tube, and you can find it hidden within the fixture. That’s a light ballast. It’s a standard device that your fluorescent light bulbs depend on to ignite the light.  

But that doesn’t necessarily answer the question, “what is a light ballast?” Learning about something isn’t just about what it looks like on the outside but also about how it works. What does a light ballast do, exactly? And why are ballasts necessary for homeowners in Gloucester, VA?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term light ballast or just new to electrical information and jargon, we’re happy to shed light on the topic. We’ve constructed a crash course in everything you need to know about light ballasts and what action to take when you need lighting repair.  

What Is a Light Ballast? How It Works

Light ballasts are experts at controlling the current in the light circuit. For example, in fluorescent bulbs, the ballast is a failsafe in ensuring the voltage doesn’t skyrocket, which can cause bulbs to burn out prematurely.

Flip the switch on your fluorescent bulb, and you’ll notice it puts out a discharge of electricity. The ballast will keep that electrical current in check, ensuring your bulb doesn’t overheat almost immediately, rendering the bulb useless. Your ballast will distribute energy safely and adequately, keeping your fixture working at its best.

Certain kinds of ballasts can also adjust to their environments. These ballasts can vary their output to dim or save on energy costs. Their purpose is electrical efficiency, and they serve their purpose quite well!

Having a healthy ballast is an integral part of your home’s ambiance, and a healthy electrical system is paramount to a safe living space. Because of the power source of the ballast, any sort of DIY with electrical can be dangerous. 

Both newer and older models can require professional installation if you aren’t sure what you’re doing. No matter if you’re dealing with a ballast from the past or going ballast to the future, contact an electrician to help with lighting repairs.

Types of Ballasts

Not all ballasts are created equal. When the time comes to replace your ballast, you’ll want to make sure you’re grabbing the right one for you.

Residential vs. Commercial Ballasts

Fluorescent lights might not be the norm in all homes, but they are common in places like office buildings or public spaces. Ballasts used in commercial spaces tend to see more use, as fluorescent lighting is much more energy-efficient and can save companies money on utility bills. 

However, fluorescent lights do tend to give off a more industrial feel because of the coloring of the lights. Fluorescent lights also tend to be more expensive upfront than your typical bulb. They even contain mercury, which means the bulbs have to be disposed of carefully, meaning they’re less convenient when compared to more conventional options.

Fluorescent light bulbs tend to use less energy, meaning they also generate a lot less heat. This fact isn’t necessarily appealing to your average homeowner, but it can increase fire safety at a place of business since the fluorescents keep nice and cool.

While residential and commercial ballasts are usually the same, commercial fluorescent lights will tend to be a bit larger, so you’ll want to ensure you have the correct size ballast for the tubes. You can often find them throughout the place of business instead of homes where you might only find one in your garage or basement.

If you’re considering your need for commercial installation of new ballasts, we recommend that you have the work done by an industry professional. For reassurance that the work is up to code and there are no fire hazards, have your nearby electrician from Asbury Electric take care of any installation or repair work your electrical may need.

Magnetic Ballasts

Magnetic ballasts are incredibly common and will work with both high-intensity discharge lighting as well as fluorescent lighting. They’ve been around a lot longer than their electronic counterparts, but magnetic ballasts tend to buzz or flutter more frequently.

Electronic Ballasts

Electronic ballasts are a much newer option for lighting; they have a modern design and can usually replace older magnetic ballasts. Because they fluctuate frequencies, they’ll only make noise or flash if they’re having issues.

Regardless of the ballast you choose, it’s best to have a professional on hand to take care of your ballast installation.

Dimmable Ballasts

A dimmable ballast can allow you to manipulate the light in your home or business even further. The ballast will operate at a specific efficiency to meet the proper conditions, saving money and enabling you more control over the light and ambiance.

When It’s Time to Replace Your Light Ballast

While the design of many ballasts ensures they can work for nearly 20 years before they need replacing, multiple elements could end up hindering the efficiency of your ballasts. Cold air in basements or garages and lower quality bulbs can cause flickering or humming. These are signs it could be time to call a nearby electrician for some support. 

Some other signs it might be time for a new ballast include:

  • No light at all from any bulbs
  • Strobing from irregular currents
  • Changing colors

You’ll also want to replace your ballast if it burns out very quickly every time you replace a bulb. That’s usually an excellent sign that your issue isn’t with the bulbs but with your ballast. 

Testing Your Ballasts

Testing your ballasts when you’re having issues can be a great way to save you from having to purchase new bulbs frequently. Most of the time, if you’re having a problem with your ballast or electrical, it’ll be painfully obvious. But if you feel you’re still in the dark, you can do some quick investigation of your ballasts.

If you’re unsure if you need a new ballast, you can always give it a quick test to make sure. Check your ballast for any signs of burning or leaking oil. This damage occurs when the internal components have worn down over time due to higher-than-average temperatures. Any burning signs are definite visuals telling you to replace them today. You’ll also want to check for moisture or water damage, as well as swollen or bulging casing, both of which can be the culprit when it comes to a fried device.  

If there might not be any evident signs that you’re having issues, you’ll still want to have an electrician take a look if you’re having routine maintenance done on your electrical. By mitigating any future problems with your ballasts, you can save yourself from having to replace the ballasts entirely or another call to an electrician. Get some help from Asbury Electric for all of your electrical needs. 

If you need to purchase a new ballast, you can pick it up at your local home improvement store, and it usually won’t break the bank. As long as you have the correct ballast to suit your needs, a professional electrician can handle the replacement swiftly. 

Asbury Electric Can Be There in a Flash

If you require help with your ballasts or other lighting repair and search for a nearby electricianAsbury Electric can lighten up your day with our top-notch electrical services! 

We dedicate our days to keeping the Gloucester, VA, area as bright as can be! Call us today with your ballast-related questions and schedule your service with one of our professionals.

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