Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Which Light Bulb is Dimmable?
Dimmable Incandescent Bulbs
Incandescent Bulbs have the largest controllable dimming range from 100% full light, all the way down to 0%, no light. Incandescent Bulbs produce light by allowing an electric current to flow through a metal filament surrounded by inactive nitrogen and argon gas. The current heats the filament and produces light at the same time. Reducing the current will produce a little less light but doesn’t prevent the incandescent from working. Lowering the voltage will benefit your incandescent bulbs, causing them to outlast their typical 1,000-hour life span.
Dimmable Halogen Bulbs
All halogen bulbs are dimmable; this includes xenon and krypton bulbs as well. A halogen bulb operates the same way an incandescent bulb does. However, halogens have a quartz capsule and some additional gas from the halogen family that slows down the burning process of the metal filament, allowing them to last twice as long as incandescents. Your incandescent hall light and the halogen bulbs in your track lighting can share dimmer without a problem.
While dimming makes incandescents last longer, your dimmable halogen bulb may come to a premature end. When a halogen bulb is dimmed down to 20%, the gases around filament begin to build up on the capsule glass instead. Then the bulb begins to operate as an incandescent, leaving the filament to overheat and burn out.
Dimmable CFL Bulbs
Dimmable CFL's are dimmable because of the special electronics in the ballast (housed in the plastic part at the base of the bulb) which steps up the current to be extremely high frequency to create a circuit through the gas in the tube and ignite the bulb. The modern CFL-compliant dimmers work with this, but they also work with other types of bulbs, by reducing the current flow.
NOTE: Non-dimmable CFLs cannot and should not ever be used with dimmer switches. This isn’t so much because they won’t perform well, but because it actually presents a pretty serious fire hazard. Fire is probably a remote risk, but it could happen, more likely it could damage the bulb or substantially reduce its lifespan.
CFLs have less resistance than incandescent bulbs, which means all hell breaks loose when they are exposed to the electrical fluctuations that a dimmer sends. They can actually consume up to 5x the current as when they're not connected to a dimmer. This overheats the bulb and can actually catch on fire.
Dimmable LED Bulbs
While many LED bulbs are now dimmable, not all of them are and not all of them dim daylight lighting in the same way. Since LEDs consume such a low wattage, many types of dimmers do not function with LED in the same way that they do with high wattage load incandescents.
When dimming an LED, you may notice the following:
- Smaller amount of dimming range
(Typically 70-90% range vs. 100% with incandescent)
- LED Bulbs may not shut off at lowest dim setting: this is caused by the dimmer thinking the bulb is completely off due to the low amount of wattage an LED consumes
- On dimming systems based on X10 or Power Line Carrier (PLC) control technology, LEDs may flicker when modules are communicating due to the small fluctuations in power on the line
- Current LEDs do not shift color when dimmed, in other words they will not offer a soft fiery glow when dimmed like an incandescent
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