Ballast. It sounds something like and iron or maybe metal beam that holds a building in place and gives it stability and durability. However a ballast in terms of T5 grow light ballast is something completely different and it has basically nothing to do with holding the T5 fixture in place, because T5 grow light ballast is connected with t5 light operation and power flow.
So what exactly do fluorescent grow light ballasts do?
In a nutshell a ballast for a fluorescent light is the component that the fixture uses to create the voltage and current that it needs to start working and afterward to work properly and illuminate the bulbs of the T5 fixture. So the ballast regulates the current and volt flow in the T5 fixture and makes sure that the fixture can generate enough electricity to light up, which means that if a light fixture don’t have a ballast, it basically won’t work.
And because ballast is such an important T5 grow light component, there are three types of grow light ballasts available:
Instant start ballast – this is a ballast, that will start the T5 light instantly, using two times the voltage upon starting the light as other starting method ballasts would. But even though with this ballast you get a light, that will light up as soon as you switch it on so you won’t have to wait for light to warm up and this kind of starting method also is more energy efficient, these kind of ballasts, because of the burst of electricity upon starting, usually burn out quicker and therefore need to be replaced more often;
Rapid start ballast – the second type of ballast that you can choose is the rapid start ballast meaning that the light is able to light up sooner because it per-heats the electrodes in the starter part of the ballast reducing the voltage necessary to start the light. The benefit of this ballast system is that it starts quite quickly and without any flashing, while still not burning out too quickly.
Programmed start ballast – and the last type of ballast that can be found in the selection of T5 grow light ballasts is the programmed ballast, meaning that this type of ballast optimizes the starting of the ballast by waiting until the electrodes in the ballast have warmed up, and only then lights up the light. This is good because this way the ballast uses only the optimum amount of volts which will extend not only the life of the ballast itself, but also the life of the bulbs and other fixture components, but the downside is that you will have to wait those few seconds for the light to start and the light might experience some flickering until it warms up and gives out steady and good light.
Some other features that can vary are voltage of the ballasts, as well as the size and weight of the ballast, because different ballasts have different components such as cross-secions, luminaires, transformers, wiring and other parts.
If you are looking to build your own T5 fixture or to change out the ballast of fully assembled T5 light there are somethings that you need to pay attention to. First you need to decide which of the three types of ballast you want and second – what voltage ballasts you need. And also, when buying a ballast, make sure that it is compatible to your fixture for example if you have a HO T5 fixture make sure you buy a T5 HO ballast no T5 VHO or T8 ballast, because they won’t work in your fixture and can cause only to damage the whole light.