The operational and energy efficiency of lamps and their longevity depend on the type of ballast that powers the light. The ballast is an electrical component that controls the amount of electric current flowing through the lamp, when the latter is on and while it is running. Here we will examine all of the differences between an instant and a programmed start ballast.

The ballast provides adequate voltage to establish an arc between the two electrodes to switch on the lamp. It then reduces and regulates the voltage to a steady amount as it heats the electrodes. This keeps the lamp's power on and emitting light at a consistent level of brightness. When hooking a lamp directly to a source of electrical power without a ballast to regulate the flow, there is a risk of the lamp overheating and burning out.



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Your Ballast Must be Compatible

There are many different types of ballast. Each type is for the specific operational patterns of various different lamps. For instance, some ballasts are not suitable for lamps that switch on and off frequently. When the ballast and the lamp are not compatible, you can reduce the operational efficiency and longevity of the lamp.

Frequent lamp replacement eats into your savings, and you cannot optimize the returns on your infrastructural investment. That is why, business owners should know about the principal types of lamp ballasts— instant and programmed start ballasts. This will ensure that they make the right choice for the lamps at their commercial premises.


What are Instant Start Ballasts?

 Instant Start Ballast from MaxLite An Instant Start Ballast from MaxLite

Instant start ballasts are ideal for use with fluorescent lamps that do not switch on and off frequently. Such a type of ballast provides a high amount of voltage to the lamp when it switches on, but without pre-heating the cathodes either during the start or while the lamp is on.

The ballast provides this high mount of voltage to all parts of the lamp, and this usually has the lamp emitting light within about 50 milliseconds. Instant start ballasts do not heat the cathodes of the lamp, so emissive material releases to keep the lamp's power on and emitting light.

The greatest advantage of the instant start ballast is that it consumes far less energy than any other type of lamp ballast. In fact, it is the most energy-efficient ballast solution for most types of fluorescent lamps. This ballast is commonly used by business owners in spaces like restrooms, reception areas, and retail exhibition areas where the lights are not frequently switched on and off. However, this ballast reduces the life span of lamps if fitted on lighting devices that have frequent on/off cycles.


What are Programmed Start Ballasts?

programmed start ballast from howard A programmed start ballast from Howard Lighting.

The programmed start ballast is markedly different from the instant start ballast in that the former applies heat to the cathodes of a lamp to switch it on. Also unlike the instant start ballast, the programmed start ballast triggers a specific sequence of events to ultimately power on the light. The steps initiated by the programmed start ballast are listed below.



1. Application of Low-Degree of Heat to the Cathodes or Pre-Heating of the Cathodes

The programmed start ballast reduces the amount of voltage across the lamp before supplying voltage to pre-heat the cathodes. The ballast is programmed to continue supplying voltage till the cathodes reach a temperature of at least 700-degree Celsius. The time for the cathodes to preheat is called the preheat interval.

The voltage across the lamp is stays low during the preheat interval to reduce the amount of glow current. Glow current is the actual electrical current that flows across the cathodes. The more the amount of glow current flowing across the body of the lamp, the more blackening of the lamp body. A large amount of glow current passing between the cathodes results in greater loss of the emissive material. These two developments reduce lamp life significantly. So by doing away with these occurrences, programmed start ballasts prolong the life span of lamps with frequent on/off cycles.

After the above-mentioned first step is complete, the programmed start ballast automatically proceeds to the second step, which is applying voltage across the lamp to establish an arc. The completion of this step results in the lamp emitting light. There is minimal loss of emissive material while applying voltage throughout the lamp. This prolongs the life span of the lighting device.

2. Application of Voltage Across the Lamp

Most sophisticated programmed start ballasts move on from pre-heating the cathodes to supplying voltage across the lamp within 30 milliseconds. This fast transition time minimizes the loss of cathode emissive material. This in turn, increases the life span and improves the operational efficiency of the lamp. Although the instant start ballasts are more energy-efficient, some varieties of programmed start ballasts can reduce the amount of voltage supplied to the cathode to save more electricity. However, the most prolific advantage of programmed start ballasts is that they can facilitate 40,000 starts without degrading the lamp quality.

The above-mentioned differences between instant and programmed start ballasts will help you analyze the lighting operational conditions at your workplace and buy ballasts accordingly.


Need help with purchasing ballasts? All members of our sales team are lighting experts holding an LS1 certification. They are available to take your call Monday-Friday 6AM-6PM MST at 1-800-983-1315. Or, send us a message via the contact form. We will get back to you during the next business day.