The only dumb question is the question not asked!  A new blog series of answers to your electrical supply questions provided by Joe Simard, Plymouth Branch Manager at Granite City Electric Supply, Co:

Instant vs program start ballasts

Why would it matter if I use a Program Start ballast over an Instant Start ballast?

Instant-start ballast provides a high initial voltage to start the lamp without preheating the cathodes. Instant start ballast is the most energy efficient type, but gives the least number of starts.   This is the best type for installations where lamps are not turned on and off very often.

* Instant Start ballasts consume less energy than comparable program start ballasts.

* Most energy efficient solution to fluorescent lamp ballasting.

NOTE: Will cause shorter lamp life if used in applications with frequent switching, or on/off cylces. Not to be used with occupancy sensors

Most common uses are:  Commercial/Office, Retail, Decorative, Restrooms

Program start (Rapid-start) ballast provides low voltage to heat the lamp cathodes before applying higher starting voltage, and it continues to provide cathode heating voltage during normal lamp operation. Continued cathode heating is not required for normal lamp operation, so the associated ballast power draw is considered lost. However, preheating the lamp cathodes decreases the required starting voltage and cathode wear, allowing for more starting cycles and/or extending lamp life.  Rapid start ballast provides superior lamp life and more cycle life, but uses slightly more energy.

* Provides maximum lamp life in frequent starting conditions.

* Program Start ballast precisely heats the lamp cathodes to 700°C prior to lamp ignition.

* This puts the least amount of stress on the lamp electrodes, resulting in maximum lamp life regardless of the number of lamp starts. As on the on and of cycle of occupancy sensors

Most common uses are:  Offices/facilities where Occupancy Sensors are also going to be used 

For electrical contractors, choosing the correct ballast for the correct application will ultimately give your customers a better value.  Whether it’s by reducing energy usage or extending life cycle of the product installed.

Granite City Electric stocks a variety of ballasts available at your local branch or on GraniteCityElectric.com.