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With the advent of new technologies in light bulbs, dimmer switches have become even more complicated. Specifically, what kind of light bulbs are compatible with which sort of dimmer switches? It used to be that you would simply put a dimmer switch on a wall and you could easily adjust the light levels of any bulb. This is no longer the case, however. In this article, I will discuss how to find the dimmer switches that are right for your bulbs.
How Dimmers Work: In order to understand compatibility, it is important to understand how dimmers work. Light bulbs have both voltage and wattage to them. 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 with certain light bulbs, if they get the wrong voltage.
Incandescent Light Bulbs: Incandescents will work with any dimmer switch. This is because incandescent light bulbs will only burn out if you go over their voltage, not if you stay under it. In fact, running an incandescent light bulb at a lower voltage can actually increase its lifespan. If anything, you should be looking for the most inexpensive available dimmers, since you won’t need any more.
Fluorescent Light Bulbs: Fluorescents are far more complicated. If you put a lower voltage current through a fluorescent light bulb that isn’t designed for dimming, your bulb will start to hum and then simply shut off, without ever dimming. To dim fluorescent lights, you need two things. First, you need a bulb with what is called a “dimmable ballast.” It will say so on the package if it has 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 are better off getting a dimmer specially designed for fluorescent lights or CFLs. These switches will say they are specially designed for fluorescent lights.