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Do LED Lights Need A Ballast? + How To Bypass

When moving from the older technology of incandescent and fluorescent bulbs to the newer market-dominant LED technology, you’ll want to know whether LEDs can be swapped straight in.

With fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent bulbs, there’s a ballast in the fixture – are LED lights ballast compatible?

LED bulbs and LED tube lights don’t need a ballast. They have their own driver which controls the current, and a ballast can interfere with that. However, plug and play LED tube lights are available so that you don’t have to bypass the ballast.

In this guide, I’ll explain:

  • Why LED tube lights don’t require a ballast
  • Whether you have to remove the ballast from light fixtures for LED bulbs to work
  • How to bypass a ballast

Do LED Tubes Need A Ballast?

tubes and ballast

LED tube lights don’t need ballasts to work. They instead use a driver, built into the bulb, which regulates the current and steps it down to the required level.

The driver and the ballast are similar, in that they help to control the current of the circuit, but they aren’t compatible.

A driver purely steps the current down, whereas a ballast is a bit more complex, helping to provide a high enough voltage to kick-start the fluorescent light fixture and then maintain a steady, controlled level.

They’re used with some older kinds of light – inside the home, you typically get them with a fluorescent bulb, but they’re also used in cars that have HID bulbs for headlamps.

The LED driver also converts the current to direct current (DC) whereas a fluorescent ballast doesn’t change the alternating current (AC) of the circuit.

Do LED Lights Have Ballasts Inside?

LED lights don’t have a ballast. Ballasts are usually installed in light fixtures, not in light bulbs, and any kind of LED bulb, including an LED tube light, will have a driver inside instead.

Do I Need To Remove Ballast For LED Light?

ballast on the ceiling

You don’t need to remove the ballast to use LED tube lights, provided you buy plug and play LED tubes that are designed to work in a ballasted socket.

Trying to replace a regular fluorescent lamp with an LED tube light won’t work – the ballast will interfere with the LED drivers and cause it to not work properly.

But plug and play LED tube lights are special lights designed exactly for this purpose.

Called a Type A tube light, they contain a specialized driver which adapts to the current levels regulated by the ballast, and ensures that the LED tube still gets the current it needs.

If you’ve accidentally bought the wrong type of LED bulbs to replace your fluorescent lamps then you have two options – either remove or bypass the ballast, or buy new plug and play LED tubes instead.

Installation is then as easy as changing a light bulb and does not take more than a few minutes.

What Is A Self Ballasted LED Bulb?

The term self-ballasted LED bulb tends to refer to LED lights that work with a ballast, designed to replace existing fluorescent lights.

Technically, the term “self ballasted” usually means any kind of light bulb that doesn’t need a ballast. All LEDs are therefore self ballasted by that definition, since they contain their own LED driver.

But it’s not a common term, and so when talking about self-ballasted LED lights in this context, it instead refers to those plug and play LEDs which turn any ballasted fluorescent fixture into an LED fixture without any rewiring.

How To Bypass The Ballast?

Here’s how to tackle a ballast bypass if you want to use Type B LED tubes (which aren’t compatible with a ballast):

  1. Disconnect the power to the existing fixture
  2. Remove the fluorescent tube lights from the fixture
  3. Unscrew the ballast cover
  4. Cut the wires close to the ballast on both sides
  5. Unscrew and remove the ballast
  6. Connect the loose hot wires together using a wire nut. Repeat for the neutral wires.
  7. Replace the ballast cover over the wires

Once this is done, the fixture will have a complete circuit once more, with the ballast removed.

Final Words

So there you have it, a simple guide to understanding how ballasts work and whether LED lamps need them or not.

It’s a lot easier to leave a ballast in place if you can use Type A LEDs in your old fluorescent fixtures, but if you’ve bought Type B then removing the ballast isn’t too difficult – you can do it yourself quite easily, saving on labor cost.

LEDs operate differently from lights that need magnetic or electronic ballasts, and it’s the LED driver that controls everything. If you want to know more about the components of an LED bulb, check out my guide on that.

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