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Ask Angie: Dimmable-rated CFL bulbs are available but cost more

Angieslist.comJanuary 18, 2013 

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Angie Hicks

HANDOUT — MCT

Dear Angie: We replaced our incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights in canned lights that are on a dimmer. I've noticed since replacing them that every time we try to dim the lights, they flicker. Is there some sort of adapter or newer fixture I need to install to correct the problem? — Rachel H., Indianapolis

Dear Rachel: I spoke to some highly rated electricians on Angie's List who told me the problem probably isn't with your light fixture. The flickering is likely because of the type of bulb you're using.

Standard compact fluorescent, or CFL, bulbs cannot be dimmed. However, dimmable-rated CFL bulbs are available. The dimmable bulbs cost more, but you should be able to find them at your local hardware store.

With light bulbs, as with most things, you get what you pay for. Some of the lower-cost CFL bulbs will allow you to dim your lights only about halfway, and lighting professionals have told me they still see flickering with some of these cheaper bulbs.

Because you seem to really like and use the ambiance options that dimming your lights gives you, I recommend you invest in a more versatile CFL bulb. In the end, you'll probably recoup that investment through a longer-lasting and more efficient bulb that will save you more energy than the incandescents. CFL bulbs use up to 75 percent less energy and last about 10 times as long.

Another idea to think about is LED lights rather than CFLs. They deliver a fuller range of dimmable capability. It might be worth it to try a few options to determine what works best visually for you.

All that said, you still might require the help of a reputable, licensed electrician in your area. If you live in a home with an older dimmer switch, the round dial type in particular, many of those will not dim anything other than incandescent or halogen bulbs. If this is the case, you'll need to replace your switch with one that is rated for use with CFL bulbs. The same is true if you use most LED new technology bulbs as well.

Experts I spoke with suggest a 300-watt dimmer that is rated to work with both newer bulb types.

Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com.

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