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Do You Need a Ballast for LED Lights?

Do You Need a Ballast for LED Lights?
Jan 08 2018

The water fountain spigot kind of acts like a ballast in this situation. A ballast regulates the current that’s coming at a lamp. It gives an initial burst just to get things going, then it makes sure the electric current is controlled and steady. Not getting the lamp’s shoes all wet. A ballast for Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights is not required – instead a driver is required.

There are two types of ballasts we deal with for existing fluorescent lights- magnetic and electronic. The difference is the mechanism they use to transform the incoming voltage.

  • Magnetic ballasts – heavier than bad news on a rainy day. Average 3.5 lbs. These bad boys are also why you associate a “humming” noise with fluorescent lights – they have a transformer consisting of a magnetic core and wire wrapped around it.
  • Electronic ballasts – use solid state circuitry to operate – no hum. Lighter and more efficient, they have been encouraged by energy efficient legislation dating back to the late 80s.

Alright so now that we know fluorescent lamps are like toddlers that need their food blended before they can eat it, what about LED lamps?

LEDs are from the future! Surely they don’t need an archaic metaphoric blender!”, you say.  LED lamps and fixtures use a different type of power source, in what is referred to as an LED driver.  The driver converts electricity to DC, which is required for the diodes to operate.  

Some LED drivers are external and wired to the fixture, and some are internal in the lamp or tube.  This can create issues and confusion, especially since some ballasts can then drive internal LED drivers.  

do led lights need a ballast or driver?

Type A – ballast for led lights compatible

Can LED lamps work off of existing ballasts?  Yes, if they have an internal driver than can work off that ballast.  Philips, for example, has designed a tube that is compatible with an existing electronic ballast. Cue buzzword plug-and-play. Super cost effective because it brings down the labor cost of changing the fixture.  This is referred to as a Type A lamp, and can come with a $4 to $5 Instant Discount.

This solution is ideal for well maintained electronic fluorescent ballasts.  If ballast are less than 10 years old, or there are staff on hand that can change a ballast, this is a good opportunity.  Energy savings can be achieved quickly, with lower labor and material costs.  

Type C – Driver, not ballast for LED

If you don’t have tubes that are compatible, then you will need an LED driver.  You do not need a ballast for LED lights, but instead a driver.  This is called a Type C application, with a tube and driver that work together.

Verde often uses this approach to replace T12 magnetic ballasts, as well as older T8 systems with aging electronic ballasts. The Type C system will typically last 70,000 hours in a system, so there is a huge benefit to replace the entire system at one time.  This can be more expensive due to the higher labor costs, but this can at times be offset by incentives from the local utility.

Type B – Hard wire to socket

Finally, there are hard wired fluorescent LEDs, which take 110v electricity right to the socket.  These lamps have a driver inside the tube.  These are called Type B applications.

This system approach is increasingly popular around the country, as it removes a failure point (ballast or external driver) from the equation.  However, it is commonly faced with safety concerns, and has less incentives available in some utility programs.


So, the moral of the story, kids….you’re going to need some way to control the current coming into your LED tube. It all depends on the type of tube ya got.  If you need an energy efficiency expert, you should talk to someone hooked up with your local utility so they can advise you on the right approach. Depending on your labor force, price, and current pain point – as well as the incentive available, this can really change.  



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