America’s 234th birthday wasn’t the only milestone reached last week; last week also marked the (effective) end of the magnetic ballast era.  Since the fluorescent lamp was commercially introduced in the 1940s, it has been coupled with the magnetic ballast to regulate the electricity flowing into the lamp.  As of July 1, 2010, many popular magnetic ballasts can no longer be manufactured or imported in the US.

Even though this phase-out occurred only last week, it has been a decade in the making.  The writing was on the wall for the magnetic ballast all the way back in the year 2000, when the DOE issued a ballast rulemaking that established a new minimum ballast efficacy factor meant to usher in a new era of the more energy efficient electronic ballast.  However, while the 2000 DOE rulemaking phased out magnetic ballasts operating the full wattage versions of T12 lamps, it did not include a list of magnetic ballasts operating energy-saving versions of these lamps.  The Energy Policy Act of 2005 closed this loophole.  As a result of these minimum efficiency requirements, most magnetic ballasts were no longer able for use in new fixtures as of July 1, 2009; and as of last week, no longer able for use as replacement ballasts either.

Magnetic ballasts that have been phased out include:

  • T12 4-ft. and 2-ft. rapid start U-lamps with medium bi-pin bases
  • T12 8-ft. instant start lamps with single pin bases
  • T12 8-ft. rapid start HO lamps with RDC bases

And of course, as with any rule, there are the exceptions.  The versions of the magnetic ballast that will remain available for manufacture and sale are:

  • Dimming ballasts that dim to 50% or less of its maximum output
  • T12 HO ballasts capable of starting down to -20° F or less and for use in an outdoor sign
  • A ballast that has a power factor of less than 0.90 and is designed and labeled for use only in residential building applications

Since most of the existing fluorescent fixtures out there are T12’s, you might think a T12 electronic ballast is the best option to replace your old magnetic ballast.  However, many of today’s compliant T12 electronic ballasts are likely to go away in the near future due to a new DOE ballast rulemaking in the works.  Combine this with the fact that T8 and T5 electronic ballasts and lamps are more energy efficient, the accelerated depreciation of expenditures available through the Federal Commercial Building Tax Deduction, and possible utility, state, or local incentives that may be available in your area for lighting upgrades, now may be the perfect time to consider installing T8 retrofits or new T5 fixtures throughout your facility.

For more information on lighting upgrades, visit www.nemasavesenergy.com.


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