Why do my CFL bulbs flicker?

CFL bulbs are more expensive than incandescent light bulbs, but they last much longer and consume less energy. (Photo by Josh Palmer)

CFL bulbs are more expensive than incandescent light bulbs, but they last much longer and consume less energy. (Photo by Josh Palmer)

Dear Angie: We replaced our old incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights in our 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 that 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 (CFL) bulbs cannot be dimmed. However, dimmable-rated CFL bulbs are available. The dimmable bulbs do cost more, but you should be able to find them at your local hardware store.

As with most things, with light bulbs, you get what you pay for. Some of the lower-cost CFL bulbs will allow you to dim your lights down 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 give you, I recommend you invest a little more in a more versatile CFL bulb. In the end, you’ll likely 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 longer.

Another idea to think about is LED lights, rather than CFL. They deliver a fuller range of dimmable capability. It might be worth it to try out a few different 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 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 old switch with a dimmer switch 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 of the newer bulb types.  

Angie’s List collects about 65,000 consumer reviews each month covering more than 550 home and health services. Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angie’s List to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com

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