Why Is It Called a Universal Ballast?

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Many homeowners may not be much more familiar with lighting technology than their experience with incandescent lights will permit. However, there are a number of other forms of lighting technology that are making their way into homes every year. LED lighting comes to mind, although homes around the country have been getting in line with replacing incandescent lights with CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) for some time now.

And, speaking of CFLs, fluorescent lighting technology is far from new. In fact, it’s so old that if there were one other form of lighting with which residential homeowners could be called familiar, it would probably be fluorescent lighting. 

Here’s the thing about fluorescent lighting, though. It works via a very different premise from incandescent lighting. An incandescent bulb consists of a glass vacuum with a filament (usually Tungsten) inside. When you run a current through the filament, the resistance it provides allows it to glow through a process known as electroluminescence. 

Contrast this with a fluorescent light, which excites mercury vapor through a current, which then irradiates a fluorescent material with UV light, which is itself invisible to the naked eye. However, fluorescent materials glow with visible light when struck by UV light, which is the method by which fluorescent lights work.

As you can see, these two methods of operation are very different from one another. In the case of an incandescent light bulb, no special electrical infrastructure is required, but in the case of a fluorescent light like a CFL which requires very specific voltage and current, there is some additional thought that needs to be worked into the circuit. 

Part of this comes in the form of a device that is known as a ballast. Without getting too into the details, a ballast is a component that is used in the wiring of fluorescent light as well as HID lamps and is required to regulate the voltage and current to the lamp. Without a ballast to regulate the supplied power, the lamp would quickly overdraw power, overheating and burning out. A ballast that operates properly is critical to lamp life and operation. Without one, a lamp not only would not work at all, but it would quickly fail. 

It goes further than this, though. Without a ballast that functions properly, the lamp will not give off the right light output and might also experience other problems like buzzing, flashing, or flickering. A ballast that works properly preserves the lifespan of the lamp as well.

So about this term “universal ballast”; it doesn’t make too much sense that one ballast could work with all different types of lights, as, despite the minor differences between the operation of fluorescent lamps, HID lamps, which also require a ballast, operate by different principles.

The term universal ballast is a slight misnomer because despite the name universal they cannot be used in all situations. The significance of universal simply means that the ballast in question can work with more than one type of lamp and circuitry and that most importantly, it can accept more than one input voltage. Therefore, a universal ballast can be used with more than one lamp, but not all lamps. That’s why they’re also called flexible ballasts and universal voltage ballasts. 
At any rate, if you’re looking for more information on universal ballasts or just for ballasts themselves, consult the experts at Atlanta Light Bulbs at AtlantaLightBulbs.com. They provide a full range of HID products as well as fluorescent lighting solutions, including magnetic ballasts, compact fluorescent ballasts, electronic fluorescent ballasts, T8 ballasts, and even associated products like LED drivers for LED retrofit solutions as well as control systems. Consult their website for more information and if you need personal assistance, call them at 1-888-988-2852.

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