Ballasts & Starters
Ballasts, Starters and Low Voltage Lighting Transformers Guide
Lighting fixtures form an integral part of every household. As a norm, most lighting fixtures use a standard 120V or 240V AC supply depending on the region. However, there are also a number of lighting fixtures that make use of special purpose accessories such as ballast and starters so as to be able to function properly. The following is an in-depth overview of these accessories.
Types of Lighting Accessories
When it comes to special purpose lighting accessories, fluorescent tubes and HID lamps are some of the most common fixtures that make use of these accessories. There are basically 3 major types of special purpose lighting accessories commonly used within lighting fixtures:
- Low voltage transformers
Ballast is perhaps one of the most common special purpose accessories being used for most lighting systems with some of the lighting fixtures that make use of ballast being fluorescent lights, HID lamps and CFLs.
Ballast are usually divided into two major groups: electronic ballasts and magnetic ballasts. Conventional ballasts were magnetic in nature but over time are being increasingly phased out by the electric ballast, which has become a favorite for many due to the numerous advantages they have over magnetic ballasts.
Magnetic ballasts are most commonly associated with flickering lights and a buzzing sound during lighting and as such, are considered as being somehow inferior to electronic ballasts, which do not produce any sound or flickering when in operation.
However, this does not necessarily mean that magnetic ballasts have no application in the modern lighting world. There are a number of lighting systems such as T12 linear fluorescent and 2 pin CFLs that make use of magnetic ballasts. 4 pin CFLs and T8 fluorescent tubes also on the other hand make use of electronic ballasts.
Magnetic ballasts can be either capacitive or inductive in nature with the capacitive having the advantage of being much more long lasting but it tends to reduce the lifespan of a fluorescent tube. Inductive ballasts though not as long lasting as the capacitive ones have got better efficiency and control.
Ballast Starting Technology for Fluorescent Tubes
Fluorescent ballasts make use of 3 different technologies during startup: instant starting, rapid starting and programmed starting.
Rapid Start Ballast Systems
Rapid start ballasts make use of a preheating method whereby the ballast is continuously preheated so that when the light is switched on at any given moment, it comes on instantaneously. Rapid start ballast usually don't flicker and having the lights come on instantaneously is considered as an advantage in some locations such as outdoors settings.
However, the constant preheating associated with rapid start ballast also has some disadvantages. For starters it makes this system less energy efficient and somehow unreliable when used in environments with low temperatures.
Instant Start Ballasts
Instant start ballasts usually don't use a preheating technique but instead send very high voltages across the lamp when the lamp is turned on. They have the advantage of starting reliably even in environments with extremely low temperatures. As such, they are considered as being best for use in outdoor settings.
Programmed Start Ballasts
Programmed start ballasts are another common alternative when it comes to ballast systems. As a norm, programmed ballasts mode of operation is usually dependent on a motion sensor. When the sensor detects motion, it automatically energizes the ballast, which in turn switches on the light. Programmed ballast can tolerate low temperatures and as such can be used in both outdoor and indoor settings. When used within an indoor setting, they are most commonly installed within the bathroom and in corridors.
Ballast Starting Technology for HID Lamps
HID lamps only have 2 types of ballast starting technologies: pulse start and probe start.
Probe Start Ballast Systems
Probe start ballasts are the conventional starting technique for HID lamps. With probe start, a starting probe within the HID lamp is used for starting the lamp after which the probe is cut out from the circuit once the lamp has been successfully lit.
This ballast system has a few drawbacks associated with it. For starters, the lamp takes quite some time to warm up and reach its full brightness when using this type of starter. Additionally, the restrike period for this technique is quite long.
Pulse Start Ballast
Pulse start ballast systems usually make use of a high voltage igniter to light up the HID lamp. This technique ensures faster warming up and lighting of the lamp. It also does not negatively impact the lifespan of the lamp.
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Lamp Starters also form an integral part of fluorescent lighting systems. The basic function of a starter is to control the starting up of a fluorescent tube.
Unlike incandescent bulbs, which make use of a glowing filament to produce light, fluorescent tubes contains mercury which gives out UV light when current flows through it. The starter provides the initial inrush of current during startup after which it automatically switches itself off.
It is important to note that starters are most commonly used with magnetic ballast systems. Electronic ballasts do not require the use of starters.
Types of Starters
Fluorescent starters are divided into a number of categories depending on the functionality and applications. The following is an overview of some of the most common types of starters.
- FS-2: this type of starter is most commonly used for preheat lamps of class F14, F15 and F20
- FS-4: this class of starters is used with class F13, F30, and F40 ballasts
- FS-12: used in FS12 circline lamps operated by preheat ballasts and F22 T8 preheat fluorescent tube and ballast system
- FS-25: F18 and F25 T8 preheat lamps
As a norm, most of the new fluorescent fixtures are either rapid start or instant start type and as such do not require starters.
Low Voltage Transformers
There are basically 2 types of lighting systems: line lighting systems and low voltage lighting systems. line lighting systems usually make use of the supplied voltage from any electrical outlet while on the other hand, low voltage lighting systems have to make use of a stepped down voltage for lighting purposes.
The typical socket outlet voltage in the US is 120V. Low voltage lighting systems are unable to use this voltage and as such a low voltage transformer is used to step down the voltage to a much lower value: usually to 12V or 24V.
As a norm, low voltage lighting fixture are most commonly used for landscape lighting. But why are they so popular when it comes to landscape lighting? Conventional outdoor lighting systems initially made use of a 120V AC voltage source. However, a 120V supply is considered as being quite risky especially in an outdoor setting where the system is exposed to harsh weather elements and even rain. This led to the adoption of low energy installations for outdoor settings.
Landscape lighting transformers are basically divided into 2 major groups: detached transformers and inbuilt transformer systems. Detached low voltage transformers are usually separate from a particular light fixture and as a norm, the fixture is remotely connected to the transformer by use of a cable. This setup is most common in outdoor lighting systems since it incorporates some element of safety.
Inbuilt transformer types on the other hand have an inbuilt low voltage transformer within the lighting fixture system. However, they tend to consume a lot of space and are more prone to failure when exposed to harsh climates.
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Special Purpose Lighting Accessory Tips
When it comes to special purpose lighting accessories such as ballast, starter and low voltage transformer systems, there are a number of ti.ps which are considered as best practices. The following overview will shed some light on some of these tips.
As a rule, you should always ensure that you select the right accessory for the right fixture. Most accessories have a coding system and a rating in terms of watts and voltage. As such, when selecting an accessory it would be in best interest to ensure that the accessory corresponds to the lighting system for which it is intended to be used.
Magnetic or Electronic
When it comes to selecting a ballast system, an individual usually hams 2 options: either to go for an electronic ballast or magnetic ballast. Electronic ballasts usually have an additional device known as an inverter incorporated within their circuitry and as such, do not require the use of a starter. Electronic ballasts have the advantage of being quite small and as a norm do not produce any humming sound or flickering.
Magnetic ballasts tend to be quite large and heavy but despite this they have some practical use and are still being used to date in many light systems. when compared to electronic ballast systems, they tend to be more durable since they do not incorporate a lot of electronic circuit elements and are generally unaffected by extremely cold conditions.
Always use short cables for low voltage transformer lighting systems
When it comes to outdoor lighting systems, it is usually recommended that the system should be setup in such a way that the length of cable used is as short as possible. The reason behind this is that, as electricity travels through a cable it tends to encounter some resistance and as a result, some voltage is lost.
The end result is a bulb burning with low intensity due to the insufficient voltage supply. For instance a bulb might be rated for 24V but due to long cable length the voltage might drop to 22.5V resulting in a reduced light intensity. To avoid such a scenario, it is generally recommended that proper planning should be carried out during the installation phase so as to ensure that there is minimal voltage drop between the transformer and light fixtures.
Wattage is a very important factor that has to be considered when selecting special purpose lighting accessories. For instance when selecting a starter, you should always ensure that the wattage rating of the starter corresponds to the wattage for the fluorescent tube being lit since selecting a starter with much lower wattage will generally result in flickering lights during startup .
HID lamps on the other hand also tend to have a very high wattage rating: 200 watt, 300 watt, 400 watt and even 600 watt and as a standard practice the ballast system selected should be able to supply the wattage to the HID lamp. Additionally, always ensure the voltage supply rating for both the lamp and ballast being used conforms to the supply for the system.
Technology has brought up many remarkable inventions in the field of special purpose lighting accessories for lighting fixtures. As such, you have the option of replacing an existing lighting accessory for safety purposes, efficiency or simp.ly to upgrade to something better.
For instance in the case of outdoor lighting system, if the system you are using is a high voltage system p[posing a danger for you and your family during the rainy season, it would be a good idea to introduce a low voltage lighting system for both safety, energy efficiency and better lighting.
Replacing a magnetic ballast system for an electronic ballast system or vice versa is another great idea provided that the switch will be able to address your needs.
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