What Turns You On? A Guide To Fluorescent Ballasts

Fluorescent Ballast
Replacing old fluorescent ballasts? Adding new ones? The array of fluorescent ballasts is more diverse than ever before, so you’ve got to know exactly what you’re looking for. Whether you want to reduce the noise and flickering of your lights, prolong their rated lives, or save as much energy as you can, there’s a ballast out there for you.

But first, some fundamentals:

What is a fluorescent ballast?

It’s an electrical device used to power many kinds of fluorescent lights. The ballast supplies the right voltage to start and run the lights, and controls the current during operation. The right ballast should allow your lights to turn on quickly, and prevent annoying flickering or humming.

Which is the right ballast? (Magnetic vs. Electronic)

There’s an easy answer to this one. The U.S. Department of Energy phased out most magnetic fluorescent ballasts back in 2010. Electronic ballasts are more efficient and function in a more reliable way.

Let’s compare:

Magnetic ballasts: These use a core made of laminated steel plates, wrapped in a copper coil to regulate the lamp’s voltage by magnetic inductance. While magnetic ballasts are less expensive, they’re also less efficient, noisier, and heavier than electronic ballasts. Magnetic ballasts also don’t alter the frequency of electricity supplied to the lamps, so you can expect the lights they control to flicker.

Electronic ballasts: To function, these replace the older magnetic core with electronic components that increase the standard operating frequency of electricity from 60 cycles per second to about 20,000, or 20+ kHz. This reduces that pesky flickering that causes headaches and eyestrain. Compared to magnetic ballasts, electronic ones are lighter, quieter, more efficient, and they produce less heat. (more…)

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The Difference Between LEDs and CFLs: The Future

What is the future of LEDs and CFLs
This is the concluding post in a series exploring the differences between LEDs and CFLs. To read the entire series, click here.

We’ve spent the last several weeks figuring out all the ways LEDs and CFLs are different. We’ve learned practical facts about each light source, like LEDs have longer rated lives, CFLs contain mercury, LEDs are more durable, and CFLs emit omnidirectional light (to name a few). All this makes for an excellent understanding of the current state of lighting technology.

Today, LEDs and CFLs are still rivals on the market. But will it always be like this?

The development and improvement of LED technology is still taking place, while the CFL’s technological development has reached an endpoint. It’s really thanks to LEDs that we’re in the midst of a very dynamic lighting revolution.

Since CFLs are already completely developed as a viable lighting technology, many lighting specialists think of them as the bridge between old incandescent lights and innovative LED lights. They’re an effective, efficient bridge, but a bridge nonetheless. We don’t expect CFLs to be popular forever. (more…)

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The Difference Between LEDs and CFLs: Durability

mid section of a person with hard hat and tool belt
Do you know what makes an LED different from a CFL? In this blog series, we’re explaining just that!

We all know incandescent light bulbs are delicate. You break that filament, and it’s lights out (literally). It’s easy to understand why our basic incandescent lights are so fragile – we can see and understand the simple internal structure at a glance. But, when it comes to understanding the capabilities of LEDs and CFLs, the answers aren’t as straightforward. Both light sources use more complex systems to generate light, but does this make them any less breakable?

It’s time to dive a little deeper.


Since LEDs don’t use a filament, they can easily withstand almost any kind of jarring vibration. When you’re rough on LEDs, transporting them from place to place while in use, or keeping them in jolt-prone spots (like in and around elevators), you don’t have to worry about easily breaking or damaging them. (more…)

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The Difference Between LEDs and CFLs: Glass Envelope

LED Reflector Lamp
If you’re deciding which light source to use for your next project, look no further! In this blog series, we’re going in-depth to explore the differences between LEDs and CFLs, so you can make the best decision. In this post, we’re talking about structure…

LEDs and CFLs are built very differently.

LED light bulbs use glass or plastic envelopes of almost any thickness. They’re built to last, even in the most demanding circumstances. CFLs, on the other hand, have a daintier construction. If you drop one, the thinner glass envelope could easily break. This can be a problem, especially because CFLs contain trace amounts of mercury that will be released when the light bulb shatters.

To prevent CFLs from cracking so easily, some manufacturers have begun encasing CFLs in silicone coatings, so even if the glass breaks the shards and mercury will stay within the silicone, not allowed to get into your environment. The CFL’s traditional spiral is covered by a more conventionally shaped envelope like this: (more…)

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The Difference Between LEDs and CFLs: Infrared and UV Radiation

dark sunglasses
We won’t rest until we’ve explored every way LEDs and CFLs differ! This post is part of a series doing just that. So far we’ve covered everything from the basics, like rated-life and energy-efficiency to more complex topics, like how each source performs in cold temperatures. Click here to explore the entire series.

Radiation. We’re talking about lights here, so the topic was bound to come up sooner or later.

Infrared Radiation (IR)

First of all, it’s a myth that LEDs don’t generate heat. All light sources generate some heat, and LEDs are no exception. Excessive heat can damage an LED or lessen its rated life – so it’s essential that LEDs have well designed “heat sinks” to dissipate the heat generated in the rear of the LED.

This myth may have originated from the very true fact that LEDs don’t emit infrared radiation in the same direction as the emitted light, unlike other light sources.

A CFL, on the other hand, does emit IR and can get very hot to the touch. (more…)

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The Difference Between LEDs and CFLs: Directionality

Directional LED Display Light
This post is part of a series exploring how LEDs and CFLs differ. Click here to browse the entire series.

LEDs and CFLs aren’t always suited for the same applications, because they emit light differently. LEDs are made to emit light in one general direction, while CFLs are omnidirectional, emitting light in all directions, just like incandescent light bulbs.

The LED’s directional light beam is very convenient for many applications because there’s little to no wasted light emitted away from the area you want to illuminate. However, this can get problematic when you replace an omnidirectional light source with a directional LED.

Directional LEDs are perfect for task lighting, display lighting, focused accent lighting, and even for use in recessed cans. Omnidirectional CFLs will work better for decorative lights, like table lamps, chandeliers, and ceiling fans, when you need even light coming from all sides of the light bulb.  (more…)

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