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Dimmers & Lights

by Hickerson Brothers on April 15, 2016

How do electrical dimmer switchers work with lightsWhen it comes to lights, everyone has their preference.  Some people like harsher white lights; others prefer the warm and inviting yellows of an incandescent bulb.  There are people who enjoy lots of light and sunny days, and others who prefer overcast days and dark rooms.  Whatever the reason, having a way to adjust the lighting in your room beyond a simple On-and-Off switch is not a bad idea.  This is why many homes have installed dimmer switches.

What a Dimmer Switch Is

Dimmer switches seem to function very simply: reduce the light in the room.  For incandescent light bulbs, this has been fairly simple.  A dimmer switch reduces the power flowing to the light bulbs in the room.  With less power, the lights don’t shine as brightly.  Reducing the power to the light bulbs reduces the wasted energy, decreasing your energy costs as well.  For many dimmers, this is done by either redirecting some of the power.  Others simply turn the switch on and off, cutting power by a percentage.

Problems from Dimmer Switches

The percentage of off-time a dimmer switch gives is created by chopping up the AC voltage on the circuit. This is perfect for incandescent bulbs, since it reduces the amount of energy they use while on, but it comes at a cost.  Many dimmers only work with incandescent light bulbs.

Incandescent bulbs are simple devices.  A tungsten filament is heated up, which causes it to glow and emit light.  That’s all a light bulb truly is.  LED and fluorescent lamps require special drivers or ballasts to operate.  CFLs and LED light bulbs usually have these power regulation devices built right in to the bulb.  Since they’re expecting a specific type electricity (usually 120-volt AC), dimmer switches that chop up the AC signal make it difficult for these lamps to operate.

Often, when a homeowner complains of buzzing, flickering, or humming from their lights, it’s due to a dimmer being connected to LED lamps or fluorescents.  If you’re having issues with your lights, it’s a good idea to check and see if a dimmer is tied to them first.  If it is, take a moment to note if the sounds or flicker gets worse the more you dim the circuit.  If it does, it’s likely that the bulbs and the dimmer are incompatible.

Even simple dimmers, which operate by adding a load to the circuit to regulate how much power is going to the light bulb may not interact well with LEDs and CFLs.  The lamps already operate at lower wattages, so simply reducing the amount of available power will not allow them to dim.  LEDs also have a lower power limit that shuts off the lamp when power drops too low, which is why many of these bulbs are listed with ratings that say what their minimum dimming setting is.

Your best alternative for buzzing and humming lamps is to try a different light bulb, or to switch out any dimmers on the circuit.  Most dimmers now come with a list of compatible light bulbs which you can compare.  In the end, it’s best to go ahead and buy a single lamp, test it, and then purchase more once you’ve decided there aren’t any problems.

Hickerson Electrical is your source for all home electrical services.  We’re ready and willing to deliver top-quality service to your home at a moment’s notice.  So call today at (703) 594-3913.

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