Do you need special bulbs for dimmer switches?

With the advent of new bulb technologies, dimmers have become even more complicated. Specifically, what type of bulbs are compatible with what type of dimmers? It used to be that you just put a dimmer switch on a wall and could easily adjust the light levels of any bulb. However, this is no longer the case. In this article, I will discuss how to find the right dimmer switches for your bulbs.

How dimmers work: To understand compatibility, it is important to understand how dimmers work. The bulbs have both voltage and wattage. Voltage decides the type of current that enters a light bulb, while wattage decides the strength of that current. Contrary to what you might think, it is the voltage of the current that is affected by the dimmer, not the wattage. This can wreak havoc on certain bulbs, if they have the wrong voltage.

Incandescent bulbs: Incandescents will work with any dimmer switch. This is because incandescent bulbs will only burn out if on its voltage, not if you stay under it. In fact, running an incandescent light bulb at a lower voltage can increase its lifespan. In any case, you should look for the cheapest dimmers available, as you will not need more.

Fluorescent bulbs: Fluorescent lamps are much more complicated. If you put a lower voltage current through a fluorescent light bulb that is not designed to dim, the bulb will start to buzz and then just turn off, without even dimming. To dim fluorescent lights, you need two things. First, you need a bulb with what is called a “dimmable ballast.” It will say it on the package if you have one. Second, you need a dimmer that is compatible with your bulb. The problem is that standard dimmers are not perfectly compatible with all dimmable fluorescents, even if the fluorescent says so on the box. Instead, you’d better get a specially designed dimmer for fluorescent or CFL lights. These switches will say that they are specially designed for fluorescent lights.

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