When considering the lights that you use in your building, it’s easy to think first about cost or energy usage — and forget about the impact the lights have on its inhabitants.
Ballasts: Magnetic versus electronic
Each fluorescent light contains a part called a ballast — the component that is responsible for reducing the amount of electricity that flows through the light. The ballast prevents the light from being filled with excessive electricity, which could cause a burnout or explosion.
Lights that use newer, electronic ballasts provide a better overall experience for building inhabitants. This is because lights that use an older method — magnetic ballasts — have a much slower frequency; they cause headaches, eye strain, and general discomfort for anyone that needs to work under them.
So what’s the difference between the two types?
For decades, lights used magnetic ballasts, made up of a single copper wire. But the electronic ballast then came into style; this type of ballast uses a number of induction coils to perform the same job.
While magnetic ballasts may have longer lives in colder climates, they fall short of electronic ballasts in almost every other category. Lights with electronic ballast will cycle electricity faster, use less energy, and present users with a quieter, cleaner appearance.
Just look at frequency of the two types: lights with magnetic ballasts have a frequency of 60hz compared to the electronic ballasts’ 20,000hz.
How to use a cell phone to identify ballast type
How does one tell what type of ballast is used in the lights around them? Mason County PUD 3 shared a neat trick on YouTube that involves a simple cell phone camera.
Just turn on your camera and point it at the light. If you see multi-colored lines running across the light (like a barber pole) then the light uses magnetic ballast.
If you don’t see anything different, the light uses electronic ballasts and you’re in the clear.
Although it’s not the only factor when determining which kind of light to buy, environment is an important one that shouldn’t be forgotten. Creating a comfortable atmosphere for residents or workers is key — and it can start with this simple test.