Thursday, March 22, 2007

In Which I Act Like a Know-It-All, Compact Fluorescent Bulb Edition

Over at the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum wonders, among other things, whether there are any brands of compact fluorescent light bulbs that work with dimmer switches.

Having recently replaced a dimmer switch after doing a little research on the internets (let's not talk about the part where I made all the lights in half the house suddenly turn off, resulting in a call to the electrician), I can confirm that the answer is that no fluorescent bulb will work with a dimmer. The way a dimmer switch works is by turning the light on and off very rapidly, hundreds of times a second. The on-off is invisible to the human eye, which just sees the smaller net amount of light coming through.

As everyone knows, fluorescent lights take a moment to turn on once the switch is pulled. Since a dimmer switch will be turning the light off hundreds of times a second, the light won't ever get that running start it needs to turn on.

Incidentally, this is also why a light on a dimmer often emits a slight buzzing sound. The rapid delivery and cutting off of the juice makes the filament in the incandescent bulb vibrate, which creates the buzzing.

Since I discovered how dimmer switches work, I've been dying to tell somebody and show how clever I am. Thanks for the opportunity!

No comments: