The Unhelpful Low Energy Bulbs

| July 18, 2013

With increasing concern amongst consumers about energy efficiency (as electricity bills rise meteorically across the land) lighting your home in a cost effective way is of considerable interest to many people. Energy efficient bulbs are great, but they have one big draw back if you have, or intend to fit, dimmer switches; they don’t work so well with this type of lighting control. In most cases they will work, to an extent, but will flicker and give off little or no light on the lowest settings. So what’s the problem and is there a way round it?

The Techie Problem

Energy efficient light bulbs will work in conjunction with a dimmer switches but the standard variety will usually flicker, produce a very low light level and often their lifespan will be severely shortened. The reasons for this are simply that the energy efficient light bulbs are effectively a compact version of the old fashioned fluorescent light. These fluorescent bulbs do not work in the same way as a traditional filament based light bulb.

Older light bulbs contain a wire that glows as electrical current is passed through it; this means that as you vary the amount of current (using the dimmer switch) the light dims or brightens. Fluorescent tubes (and modern energy efficient light bulbs) work in a completely different way; they contain gas, not a wire, and electrodes are placed at either end of the tube. When the light is switched on, electrons pass from one electrode to the other, through the gas which creates ultra-violet light. This light is invisible to the eye but a fluorescent coating on the inside of the tube converts it to light that the human eye can register.

The Techie Solution

The problem is that when operated with a dimmer switch, the lower power the setting, the less electrodes pass through the gas and this means that they fail to generate enough activity in the atoms contained in the gas and therefore produce flickering, or no, light. The solution? Specially designed low energy bulbs created to work effectively with dimmer switches. These, almost inevitably, cost more than standard issue environmentally friendly lighting.

The simple reason for this is that they contain a more complex electrical set up in order for them to run on very low levels of power. However, the fact that these bulbs are designed to work specifically with a dimmer switch makes them worth the investment. Like their more standard cousins they should not only cost much less to run than the traditional version, but will also last longer than standard energy saving bulbs fitted to circuits with dimmer switches.

Switching Lights?

All of this begs the question, if you don’t have existing dimmer switches, is it worth the hassle installing them in the first place? For those that already have dimmer switches, isn’t it quicker and easier to switch to standard light switches? Ultimately the choice will be a very personal one. Low lighting effects can be created using numerous lamps and/or dimmer switches. In terms of creating different moods and effects in a room, dimmer switches are an eminently practical solution.

For dining rooms, living rooms and bedrooms they offer a simple solution and the actual difference in cost of kitting the lights out with bulbs is not a huge one – and don’t forget they’ll last longer than the traditional type. Given that the incandescent bulb is getting harder to source and gradually being removed from the market, energy saving bulbs will soon be the only option. For those creating cosy, atmospheric rooms, the best solution will be to pay the slightly higher cost for the correct bulbs!

About the author:

Chris Hoole is freelance writer and frequent DIY-er. As a lover of working late into the night with low lighting, he’s a great fan of dimmer switches.

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Category: Eco-Friendly, Lifestyle

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