Dimmable Fluorescent Light Bulbs: Get the Facts

These days it is well known that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are a good option if you want to save money on electricity. CFLs use a fraction of the electricity of standard incandescent bulbs, leading to lower energy bills. They don’t burn as hot as incandescent bulbs, so they’ll lower your cooling bills. One bulb can pay for itself in energy savings in about five months.

Dimmable Fluorescent Light Bulbs

If you have a dimmable switch, you may be able to use a CFL bulb but only if you do your research and buy the right type. Not all CFL bulbs can work properly with dimmers. If you already have some CFL bulbs, read the fine print on the packaging. CFL bulbs that are not certified for dimmers can technically be put in dimmer enabled sockets, but activating the dimmer will significantly shorten the life of your bulb.

The reason that not all CFLs can be used in dimmer enabled switches is because of the design of CFL bulbs. CFL bulbs are made of two main components – the tube and the ballast. CFL ballasts are made to handle a specific input voltage. They don’t respond well to variations in the input voltage.

Dimmer outlets function by rapidly turning off and on the switch – sometimes as much as 120 times per second in order to achieve the dimmed lighting effect. The effect on a CFL can be harmful to their functioning. CFLs have a finite start-up time, which normally lasts a few seconds. While this isn’t normally noticed by people turning on their CFL lamps, it becomes quite a problem when dimmer switches consistently turn the outlet off and on.

If you’d like to use CFL bulbs in a dimmer, there has been response from manufacturers. There are special CFL-compatible dimmer outlets that can be used to achieve the desired results. However, this requires major retrofitting and cost. Another option is CFL bulbs that are specially built for dimmer outlets.

Dimmable CFLs Have a Limited Range Unlike Incandescent Bulbs

Even with these adjustments, you may not get the soft glow you are after. Incandescent light bulbs are able to dim between 100% and 0% of the total output in a continuous motion. However, CFL bulbs can only dim down to 10% to 20% of their output. If they go any lower, they’ll go out completely. The color of the light doesn’t “warm” like incandescent bulbs do and you may not be happy with the results. Chances are if you really love the warm glow of a dimmer bulb, you may be better off using an incandescent and leaving CFLs for full spectrum light fixtures.

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