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Ballasts & Drivers

What is a ballast?

We like to think of the ballast as the heart of a light fixture. The ballast controls, regulates, and stabilizes the light bulb’s output, like a heart regulates blood flow to the rest of your body.

If you want to get more technical, a ballast is a device used with an electric discharge light bulb to obtain necessary circuit conditions (voltage, current, and waveform) for starting and operation. That’s a mouth full.

How do ballasts work?

The ballast usually sits above the light bulb in a light fixture. Through a series of steps, the ballast sends the electrical current to the sockets, which is where the light bulb sits.

Older ballasts rely on a capacitator to help regulate the system, but newer ballasts do not. Older ballasts also use more energy than newer types commonly sold today.

Modern ballasts incorporate many features that result in incredible economic savings, along with environmental benefits and easier compliance with power reduction codes and energy efficiency requirements. (We’re looking at you, Title 24 in California.)

Ballasts do not necessarily impact dimmability, but if you’re looking to dim your fluorescent light bulbs, make sure you buy a ballast that says it’s dimmable.

Which light bulbs use a ballast?

Not every light bulb uses a ballast, but all fluorescent and HID light sources require one. 

Both fluorescent and HID light bulbs use two types of ballasts: magnetic and electronic. Magnetic is the older type of technology. Electronic is the newer type.

Aside from those types, you have different options for fluorescents and HIDs. We talk more about the different types of ballasts here (link).

If you have a CFL (compact fluorescent lamp), the ballast may be incorporated into the light bulb.

This probably has you thinking, what happens to the ballast if I upgrade to LED? We’ve discussed your replacement options for linear fluorescents (link) and HIDs (link) on our blog.

What’s the difference between a ballast and a driver?

A ballast gives the power supply for fluorescent and HID light bulbs. A driver delivers the power supply to LED light bulbs. Almost every LED light bulb requires a driver to operate.

A driver is similar to a ballast in that it regulates the lighting fixture, and it keeps the electrical current consistent. It can also look very similar to a ballast.

This can get a little confusing because some LED light bulbs have a built-in driver and are also compatible with the ballast that used to operate fluorescent or HID light bulbs. If you have questions on this, we’re happy to help.

How does a driver work?

You might be thinking, I just used an LED light bulb, I didn’t install a driver, and it still works. That’s because the driver can be internal (built into the light bulb) or external (built into the fixture).

An internal LED driver is typically found in an LED light bulb that you would use at your house.

An external LED driver is more commonly used in commercial lighting. Because they are not part of the light bulb, you will have to replace them at some point. 

One final note on LED drivers. When it comes to dimming LED light bulbs, make sure your driver (or the whole bulb if the driver is built in) says it’s dimmer compatible. You’ll also want to note the specific dimmers that the LED is compatible with to ensure you don’t run into issues like flickering or strobing.

Questions about ballasts vs. drivers

If you have questions about ballasts and drivers, please do not hesitate to contact us. You can call us, send us a message, or use the chat in the bottom right corner of your screen. Regency Lighting has been a national lighting distributor since 1983. We have seven distribution centers around the country ready to serve you and your lighting needs.

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