Used to stabilize the current traveling from an electrical supply source to an electrical device, ballasts appear most often in electrical devices such as overhead fluorescent lighting. When shopping for ballasts before installing these products, or when attempting to find a replacement ballast, you must be aware of the subtle differences between two kinds of ballast: commercial and residential. As their names suggest, residential ballasts are designed for home use, while commercial ballasts are designed for use in commercial buildings.
Because residential ballasts limit the electrical current traveling into a device, many consumers believe they result in a limited operation of that device. For example, according to L.W. Brittian, author of "Electrical Troubleshooting Industrial Lights and Ballast," some consumers believe that light fixtures operating with commercial ballasts actually limit the intensity of the light emitted by the product when compared with the same bulbs lit in a fixture using residential ballasts. Oftentimes, because they are of lower quality, commercial ballasts cost more than residential ballasts.
Because they are less developed and often simpler than their residential counterparts, commercial ballasts tend to produce more heat when used with electrical devices. Consequently, contractors must abide by strict installation codes when using commercial ballasts in their designs. For example, lighting that uses commercial ballasts must be installed in drop lamps away from nonmetallic surfaces like ceilings or drop ceilings. This is to eliminate any possibility of fires.
Again, because of their development and manufacturing, commercial ballasts tend to produce stronger electromagnetic interference, which can affect things like cable signal, radio signal and even how well your microwave operates. While the stronger EMI isn't necessarily a problem in commercial spaces like warehouses or department stores, in a home this interference can seriously hinder the operation of common household appliances.
Perhaps the greatest difference between commercial and residential ballast is the degree to which each is regulated during the building of a home, as well as during the manufacture of each. Commercial ballasts cannot be considered energy efficient, so products that use them are not energy efficient certified. This affects architectural certification such as the LEED rating system that determines how "green" a building is. Similarly, because commercial ballasts emit EMI, the FCC strictly restricts their use in residential buildings.