Can You Dim Compact Fluorescent Lights?

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question:  I just recently replaced the old light bulbs in my kitchen ceiling recessed can lights with the new energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs.  The new bulbs work fine when they are turned up to the high setting but flicker like crazy when I dim them.  The old incandescent bulbs worked fine at the lower setting.  Are my new bulbs defective?

Your Handyman:  Your new bulbs are probably not defective but more than likely will not work with your dimmer or any dimmer for that matter.  Most compact florescent bulbs are not capable of being dimmed and you will need to purchase ones that marked on the packaging as being dimmable, and they will be substantially more expensive.

You may also need to replace the dimmer switch if it is the old style mechanical switch, with an electronic switch that says on its packaging that it is compatible with compact florescent bulbs.

Even with the correct bulbs and dimmer switch, it has been my experience that the compact florescent bulbs don’t dim all that well, still slightly flicker at the lower settings, and tend to make a buzzing noise at the lower settings also.  I personally don’t like the compact florescent bulbs for many reasons and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they are completely replaced by LED lighting in the near future.  LED (light emitting diode) lights are very low wattage, last for thousands of hours, produce a very bright light that doesn’t distort colors, emit very little heat, and dim well with the correct dimmer switches.  LED lighting is still relatively very expensive but the prices are quickly coming down and they are being more frequently installed in homes and businesses.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

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