What Does A Grow Light Ballast Do? And Why They Are Not Used In LED Lights

Takeway: Using growing light ballast can reduce your energy consumption and maintenance costs of Metal halide, mercury vapor, and HID lighting, Here What Does A Grow Light Ballast Do? and Why LEDs don't require a ballast like HID lighting?

I remember the first time I tried setting up an indoor marijuana growing space; I was overwhelmed by the several factors to consider.

There’s grow tent size, ventilation, and temperature. But one thing got me intrigued—it’s the use of ballast to properly operate a lighting system for my cannabis plants.

Basically, a ballast is your ultimate assurance that grow lights won’t blow up because it regulates the electrical arc.

It also ensures your marijuana grow lights get enough voltage to get started.

To lengthen the life of your grow lights, you must maintain an optimum electrode temperature. A ballast can do this.

Once you have chosen your preferred grow light, the next step is knowing what kind of ballast you should choose and how can it help you in growing and reaping marijuana.

What’s In A Ballast?

Each ballast has a particular power and must be in accordance with the bulb's voltage.

Some ballasts have a regulator to modify the voltage while there are others that only have a single output voltage.

Ballasts run on either a 120V or a 240V power connection. Some commercial models can operate at 220V, 347V, 400V, and 480V.

Those with fixed voltage can be used in flowering spaces or in mother plant rooms where the light is always operating.

Adjustable ballasts can be used in marijuana growing rooms where the whole growing cycle is carried out.

You can modify it at 50%, 75%, 100%, and 110%.

Typically, cannabis growers use a 600W ballast, which can be adjusted to 250W, 400W, 440W, and 660W, depending on the model.

Furthermore, a ballast can root cuttings or sprout seeds at its lowest power.

In addition, it can grow marijuana at only 75%. It’s also suitable for flowering at 100% and fattening buds at 110%.

Note that a ballast produces heat between 150 degrees Fahrenheit and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, some models are fitted with small ventilation fans to cool the ballasts, making them more efficient in marijuana growing.

What Does A Grow Light Ballast Do?

A grow light ballast can control the current to the lamps, as well as deliver enough voltage to power up lamps. With the power to limit the current, a ballast can prevent a lamp, which is linked directly to a high voltage power source, to quickly surge its current draw. 

Moreover, there are two mechanisms that light up grow lights: electrical arc and gas.

The bulb gets enough voltage to start that electrical arc in order to melt the solid into a gas. However, once that solid turns to gas, the bulb doesn’t need as much electricity to keep itself lit.

In the gaseous state, the lamp resistance plummets. Your light will then only need less power to keep operating.

Hence, a grow light ballast helps control how much electricity your bulb receives so it can operate the way it needs to. If there’s no ballast, your bulb could either produce too much electricity or blow up.

Any traditional tube fluorescent bulb and high intensity bulbs require a ballast. High-Pressure Sodium (HPS), Metal Halide (MH), and Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH) bulbs all need a ballast.

When it comes to HID bulbs, you will need more power than what your outlet can provide.

The ballast boosts power to give HID bulbs the necessary push to keep running.

Once lighted up, the ballast ensures HID bulbs constantly get electricity supply. Here’s what it can normally cover:

  • 150W = 1-3 weed plants
  • 250W = 3-5 weed plants
  • 400W = 6-9 weed plants
  • 600W = 9-12 weed plants
  • 1000W = 12-16+ weed plants

Furthermore, HID bulbs require more power to run when they age. A ballast automatically surges the amount of power for the bulb.

If a bulb reaches a point where it requires too much power, the ballast will shut down to avoid any kind of accident.

When you try turning the bulb on again, but the ballast deters it, this indicates that it’s wise to get a new bulb.

Ballast Size

Different ballasts mean different amounts of electrical energy that can be lost. That amount depends on the size of a ballast’s coil and iron core.

The new international standard for ballast size has fallen to 30mm x 30mm or 1.18 inches for the cross-section. Subsequently, ballasts became lighter and smaller.

Many models are now designed with universal voltage capacity, permitting input voltages from 100V to 300V.

There’s a chance for more energy to be lost when you have a bigger ballast size.

For instance, a 36-watt light will lose about 25% of energy despite having standard ballast.

What Happens When There’s No Ballast?

Like what I’ve explained earlier, fluorescent lamps give light to marijuana. Yet, lamps need a ballast to help regulate the current and provide enough voltage to operate.

For instance, fluorescent ballasts are built for higher-wattage CFLs with 26W, 32W, or 42W power ratings.

However, it would still depend on your fluorescent bulb diameter size. The two most efficient sizes are T5 and T8 bulbs, while the T12 bulbs are the least efficient.

A common way to estimate the system wattage of a CFL fixture is by multiplying the lamp wattage by the number of lamps and the ballast factor.

lamp wattage x number of lamps x ballast factor = estimated total system wattage.

So if you have a 32W bulb, the energy usage breakdown could be:

As you can see, the ballast helps produce high voltage to get the electrical arc started. When the arc strikes, the sodium is solid, but rapidly melts and becomes gas.

If there’s no ballast to limit the current, a fluorescent lamp connected to a high voltage power source would overwhelmingly intensify its current draw.

Choosing the Right Lighting Ballast For Growing

There are two main types of growing light ballasts for indoor marijuana growers: magnetic ballasts and electronic ballasts.

Experienced cannabis growers would have probably used old-school magnetic ballasts, which have transformer coils and a capacitor starter that regulate the voltage.

Magnetic ballasts are favored by many marijuana growers because of their low price, but they disperse a lot of heat energy. Consequently, your growing area gets higher temperature and power consumption.

On the other hand, electronic ballasts are smaller, yet a more efficient tool to operate at low temperature.

Moreover, electronic ballasts don’t emanate vibrations. They can also avoid the usual flickering, which is present in magnetic ballasts.

If you want a stable power flow and lengthen the lifetime of your bulbs, using electronic ballasts is a wise option.

Magnetic Ballast Vs Electronic Ballast

When there are advantages, there are also disadvantages. Know that setbacks are not hindrances, but you must consider your cannabis growing conditions to know what works best for you.

Personally, I would go for electronic ballasts because of efficiency.

Electronic ballasts are cooler and produce a higher output while using less power.

If you ask me for recommendation I suggest you to go for Apollo Horticulture Electronic Ballast  VIVOSUN 1000 Watt Electronic Digital Ballast  

Most electronic ballasts are dimmable, allowing them to run lower wattage bulbs, MH bulbs, and HPS bulbs.

How Does A Magnetic Ballast Work?

A magnetic ballast has a large spool of wire wrapped around steel sheets. This generator produces a large amount of voltage necessary to power up a bulb.

Magnetic ballasts usually last longer than electronic ballasts. They can even operate for years in harsh conditions. This is ideal if you want a model that can match the long-term needs of your marijuana.

Moreover, they are manufactured to meet standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which guarantees a ballast and a lamp run together correctly.

However, magnetic ballasts are bulky and release a lot of heat.

Similarly, MH and HPS bulbs have different requirements, including separate ballasts.

Nevertheless, there are switchable magnetic ballasts that can run both types of bulbs, yet they are designed for HPS specifications.

Since magnetic ballasts are single-purpose, they are not interchangeable as well. For example, a 600W ballast must be used for 600W bulb.

When using magnetic ballasts, lights that accumulate 39 to 175 watts of energy will lose between 14.6 and 37.6 watts of energy.

In addition, they consume 8 to 10 watts when operating with the lamp in the circuit. The ballast will take about 4 watts when the lamps are removed, but the ballast remains energized.

How Does An Electronic Ballast Work?

Instead of a magnetic coil, electronic ballasts use microchips and semiconductors to provide the high voltage needed by HID lamps.

The good news is that an electronic ballast provides up to 30% more light than magnetic ones despite having similar energy consumption.

Since there’s no heavy coil, electronic ballasts are lighter, smaller, and a lot cooler.

Unfortunately, there’s no ANSI standard for their compatibility with the 250+ watts versions of MH and HPS lamps.

This is why we suggest purchasing a complete lighting package for growing marijuana. As a result, you ensure the ballast was designed to operate the included light bulbs.

On the bright side, almost all electronic ballasts are switchable, which permits them to run both MH and HPS bulbs without issue.

Additionally, most electronic ballasts are dimmable, giving you the freedom to run multiple wattages of bulbs.

What Is A Digital Ballast?

In some cases, you’ll see electronic ballasts labeled as ‘digital ballasts’. Yet, very few are actually digital. This is when a ballast contains a microprocessor.

What’s good about a digital ballast is that it can execute the same functions as electronic ballasts, but is capable of delivering a higher level of precision of producing power.

Digital ballasts are also dimmable to any point between 400 to 1,000 watts. As a result, you attain an appropriate amount of lighting for growing marijuana.

However, this is often the most expensive type since digital and electronic ballasts are not interchangeable.

Can I Use Ballast With A Ceramic-Based Bulb?

From what I’ve seen, ceramic-based lights are either 315W, 630W, or 945W. These wattages could be a bit complex in pairing up with a ballast that is not explicitly made for them.

Ceramic-based lights are outside standard grow light wattages, which makes it difficult to find the right ballast.

Generally, a dimmable ballast is best used in these settings:

  • 250W bulb = 300W ballast
  • 400W bulb = 500W ballast
  • 600W bulb = 750W ballast

For example, a 600W ballast may not be compatible with a 315W bulb. But you’ll be fine as long as you are not under- or over-powering your bulb for marijuana growing.

Do LED Grow Lights Need A Ballast?

Ballasts power the light bulbs.

Fluorescent lights have a built-in ballast.

HID lights need to be paired with ballast in order to create an exceptionally high voltage to initiate an HID bulb’s electrical arc. Meanwhile, LED lights don’t require a ballast because they can be plugged directly into a standard electrical socket.

LED lights don’t require ballast because they operate in a different manner because they only need direct current. When you use LED lights to grow cannabis, everything you need is included in the package, so an extra component, like a ballast, is unnecessary.

Where To Get A Light Ballast

You can buy a grow light kit that includes everything

It’s customarily composed of a ballast, metal halide bulb, high pressure sodium bulb, hangers, reflector, and a timer.

A Word Of Caution

  • Magnetic ballasts can get hot because they are the main producer of heat when using HID lamps.
  • Keep the ballast outside your cannabis growing space to help control the temperature.
  • Ensure that magnetic ballasts are well-ventilated.
  • Keep your ballasts clean because lint and dust can trigger fires.
  • Ballasts are high-voltage equipment, so always be careful to avoid electrocution.
  • Always unplug a ballast before handling it.
  • Secure cables to the walls or ceiling of your marijuana growing space.

Choose The Right Ballast

A ballast acts as a transformer to supply a light bulb enough voltage to help the bulb jumpstart.

It will regulate voltage surge so there’s less current when the bulb is warming up.

Ensure you’ve correctly matched the ballast’s wattage to the wattage rating of your bulb type to maximize the power of your tools.

When you have chosen the appropriate ballast for your grow lights, you boost the power of having prosperous indoor marijuana growing set-up.

Last Updated on by Lindsey Hyland

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