Feb 10, 12
Unless you’re an electrician, you’ve probably never changed a ballast. Chances are, when your garage fixture or kitchen light went out, you changed the bulbs, and when that didn’t work, you went to an overpriced hardware store and bought a brand-new fixture. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, you could’ve saved a lot of money by switching out the ballast—an investment of only $10 to $15.
But with so many options out there, how would you know which ballast to pick? The truth is, it’s pretty simple. There are tons of fluorescent ballasts to choose from (we have nearly 300 on our site!), but most business owners and even homeowners will find it easy to wade through that seemingly never-ending selection if they concentrate on just 3 key specs: Bulb type, start method, and ballast factor.
Needless to say, this is the most important part. If you don’t know what type of fluorescent bulb you’re using, you’re going to have a hard time figuring out which type of fluorescent ballast to buy. Fortunately, most fluorescent fixtures will use one of three common bulb types: An F40T12 (4′ long; 1.5″ in diameter), an F32T8 (4′ long; 1″ in diameter) or an F54T5 (46″ long; 0.625″ in diameter). If your bulbs don’t meet one of these descriptions, you’ll need to check the etching near one of the ends of the fluorescent bulb (a good idea even if you think you know the bulb type).
Once you’ve determined what type of fluorescent bulbs you have, don’t burn them out prematurely by choosing a ballast with the wrong starting method. As discussed in a previous article on how to extend the life of a light bulb, an instant start ballast hits the fluorescent bulb cathodes with about 600 volts every time you flip the light switch. As you might imagine, the bulb can only stand so many of those on/off switches. Consider where your fixture is installed. Offices, boardrooms, and retail spaces tend to stay lit for long periods, so use an instant start ballast should be fine, as long as you don’t switch the lights off and on more than about 3-4 times a day. Hallways, stairwells, and bathrooms are switched much more frequently, especially since the lighting in these areas is often controlled by an occupancy sensor. In these areas, it’s best to use a programmed start ballast, which will heat the bulb cathodes more slowly and prolong its life.
Finally, you need to consider light output. “What?” you say. “You mean the bulb isn’t exactly the brightness it says it is on the label?” Nope. The light output shown on a fluorescent bulb’s label, expressed in lumens, is figured using a normal light output ballast with a ballast factor between 0.77 and 1.1. A normal ballast factor is usually the right option, for “normal” circumstances. But if you don’t need your room quite as bright, you can save electricity by using a low output ballast with a ballast factor below 0.77. On the other hand, if you are lighting a warehouse or manufacturing facility where brightness is important, you will need a high output ballast with a ballast factor above 1.1, which will push the bulb to be 10% or more brighter than stated on the label.
Of course, if you need something more specialized like a sign ballast, dimming ballast, or circline ballast, you’ll likely need an equally specialized electrician. The same principles still hold true, however, so if you need to call an electrician, at least he’ll be impressed by how much you know!
Jan 27, 12
The third and final part in a series about life hours and how you can use this spec to inform your purchase and maximize the life of your bulbs.
If you’re a lighting nerd like most of us at 1000Bulbs.com, you’ve likely heard of the 110-year-old Centennial Bulb in Livermore, California. If (more likely) you’re not a lighting nerd, here’s the brief rundown: The Centennial Bulb was installed in a firehouse over 110 years ago and still hasn’t burned out. It’s not known exactly how it has lasted so long, but there are a few good clues: One, it has only rarely been moved; two, it has been switched off only a handful of times, and three, it is operated at very low power.
The two previous articles in this series explained how manufacturers determine life hours and how life hours and warranties are two different things. This third and final article in the series explains how you can make your light bulbs last longer. We can’t guarantee they’ll last 110 years (in fact, we can almost guarantee they won’t), but by following a few tips you can easily double or triple the life of your bulb. One caveat, however, because not all light bulbs use the same technology, these tips do not apply to all bulbs.
Don’t move it! Light bulbs get hot. Really hot. And when metal (which makes up a bulb’s filament) gets hot, it gets brittle. The more you handle a bulb with a brittle filament, the more vibration you subject it to, making the filament much more likely to snap. This doesn’t apply only to handling the bulb; it also applies to placement. Any bulb installed in a place that moves also moves. The swish of a ceiling fan or the slam of a refrigerator door, while barely heard by you, is a light bulb’s death knell. It’s for this reason that you may have seen special bulbs with reinforced filaments marketed as “ceiling fan bulbs” and “appliance bulbs.” As you might have picked up, this rule only applies to bulbs with filaments, like incandescent and halogen bulbs.
Leave it on! This may sound contradictory to common sense, but it’s not. Every time you flip a switch, you are blasting your light bulb with power. That poor little filament is forced to go from room temperature to 5000° F in a fraction of a second! You do that too many times, and the filament will literally crack under the pressure. This also goes for ballasted bulbs like linear fluorescents, CFLs, and HID lamps. In the case of an instant start fluorescent ballast, you’re hitting the fluorescent tube cathodes with 600 volts every time you flip the switch. After so many power cycles, the lamp will fail. Keep in mind, however, that while this trick will prolong the life of your bulb, it could also increase your electricity usage.
Operate it at low power. This may be the real secret to the Centennial Bulb’s longevity. Less power means less heat, which translates to less stress on a bulb filament. If you live in the United States, your house is operating on ~110V, so if you buy a bulb rated for 130V, you’ll be hitting the bulb with 15% less power than it is designed to handle (130V – 15% = 110.5V). You can stretch this principle even further with a dimmer switch. When you dim a bulb, you are lowering the voltage delivered to the bulb filament, putting it under less stress. This also applies to fluorescent technology, but in a slightly different way: Unlike an instant start ballast, a programmed start ballast supplies a much lower starting voltage and heat to the lamp. If you switch to this type of ballast, you could extend the life of your fluorescent bulbs by over 30%.
Finally, remember that the aim of extending bulb life, in most cases, is to save money. Is it really worth it to make that incandescent bulb last forever by dimming it and leaving it on for longer periods? In many cases, it’s better to switch to a more efficient CFL or LED. But if you’re a die-hard incandescent fan, or want to recreate your own Centennial Bulb, these tips will come in handy.
Jun 06, 11
Electronic HID ballasts are a growing part of the market. These units combine the capacitor, ignitor, and mounting brackets into a single unit along with the ballast itself. There are advantages to this design that many companies are starting to use to their benefit. One benefit is up to 25% better energy efficiency than traditional magnetic ballasts, which can add up to significant savings every year.
Another advantage of these ballasts is their decreasing costs and increasing versatility. Over the past few years, the size and cost of electronic HID ballasts have been steadily decreasing. This evolution has increased the wattages available in these ballasts. Right now, much of the market is concentrated in the lower wattage range between 40W and 70W; however, the cost savings mentioned above is making the higher wattages more popular in many applications. Most manufacturers now offer wattages up to 450W.
Manufacturers now create electronic HID ballasts that can handle lamps of different voltages and mounting types. This increases versatility and the number of applications for this type of ballast. Some manufacturers have even introduced dimming electronic ballasts that allow interior spaces to take advantage of sunlight during the daytime. Retailers love this advantage and use it to their benefit every sunny day they can.
Electronic HID ballasts continue to build on their advantages, allowing the use of lower wattage bulbs and providing constant illumination through automatic voltage regulation; all of this is accomplished in a quiet, flicker-free, and economical package. All of these advantages make them the ballast of choice for many commercial lighting designers today, and their increasing versatility and rapidly falling prices, electronic ballasts are becoming the industry favorites.