Can You Put a Dimmer Switch on Fluorescent Lights?

Author: Stuart Hunt - Published: 27.10.20
Dimmer Switch on Fluorescent Lights

Dimmer switches can increase the ambiance in any room because they offer ways to change how bright the room is with the flick of a switch.

For those of you who are wondering if a dimmer switch can be added to your current lighting system, it is possible for both compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, as well as standard fluorescent light bulbs however fluorescent lights will require a special fixture and a compatible dimmer

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The only trick is that with putting a dimmer switch on fluorescent lights, the switches require special hardware because you cannot just simply add the dimmer switch to your lighting system.

Don’t worry, though, because it isn’t as tricky as it sounds.

First Things First For Putting A Dimmer Switch on Fluorescent Lights

With regular incandescent light bulbs, using a dimmer switch is just a matter of installing the actual switch, but for any type of fluorescent light bulb, the process is a bit different.

To install a dimmer switch with a fluorescent light bulb, you need a particular fixture and dimming control that is compatible with the bulb.

The first thing you need to remember is that a fluorescent bulb and a CFL bulb are two different types of fluorescent bulbs, but both of them require some special treatment to attach a dimmer switch to them.

For regular fluorescent bulbs, you’ll need a dimming ballast.

These light bulbs are typically found in the commercial or industrial setting, although some homeowners are using them in individual rooms in their homes.

The Lutron Company is one of the biggest suppliers of these dimming ballasts, if not the biggest, and the ballasts are getting easier to find all the time.

On the other hand, CFL bulbs, which often have a spiral design, are found in many homes all over the world.

If you have these bulbs in your home, you need first to check to see if the bulb is compatible with dimmers and dimmer switches, because some are not.

Companies such as GE and others now make dimming CFL bulbs, but never use a dimming switch with a CFL bulb that is not designed to accommodate these switches because it can dramatically shorten the bulb’s lifespan.

In other words, a fluorescent bulb has to be a dimmable bulb in order for this to work, and you’ll need a compatible dimmer switch to go with it.

So when you ask yourself, can you put a dimmer switch on fluorescent lights, the answer is “yes,” but with some stipulations.

Equipment Needed To Install A Dimmer Switch For Fluorescent Light Bulbs

If you’re interested in learning some tips about the equipment needed to install a dimmer switch for fluorescent light bulbs, below are some tips and suggestions that can make the job much easier for you:

  • Add a ballast. Once again, a dimmer switch isn’t going to work with a standard ballast fluorescent light; instead, you have to install a special dimmer ballast, which in turn will not work for all fluorescent fixtures—confused yet? Not to worry, though, because the main thing you have to remember to do is make sure the ballast and the light bulb are compatible. In addition, it may be that the existing screw holes aren’t going to work with the screws that come with the ballast mounting. If this happens, you’ll need to drill new holes for the screws. The best thing to do is visit a hardware store before you get started and let their experts tell you for sure that the dimmer ballasts fit your fluorescent fixtures.
  • Make sure your cable is the right one. Once again, a regular cable won’t work when you install a dimmer switch on your fluorescent light bulb. Instead, you’ll need a 14/3 AWG cable, and it needs to connect the wall switch to the fixture. Can you do this without tearing out your wall? Maybe. You’ll have first to turn off the circuit at the circuit breaker, then disconnect the wires from the fluorescent fixture. Next, attach the new wires to the loose ends that are now present. Finally, loosen the wires at the wall switch and start gently pulling at them. Unless the wires are stapled into the studs, or they pass through joists or wall studs with holes in them, you should be able to pull them straight through, but expect it to take some time, as this is not a quick process.
  • Make sure the dimmer switch is the right one. Not just any dimmer switch will work. If it’s a basic dimmer switch that works on standard incandescent light bulbs, it is not going to work on your fluorescent light bulbs. You need to make sure the dimmer switch is made specifically for your type of fluorescent bulb. If you have any doubts whatsoever, visit your local hardware store and let them help you out.
  • Be careful! As with any type of electrical work, there is inherent danger behind every corner. The first thing you need to keep in mind is that if you have an older fluorescent light bulb that isn’t rated for dimming, you can essentially forget about attaching a dimmer switch to it. Don’t even attempt the task if your fluorescent bulb fixture is an old one. Instead, you’ll need to replace the entire fixture, and the same goes for any fixture that has a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) adapter. Trying to attach a dimmer switch to any fixture that isn’t compatible can overheat the lights and cause them to burn out quickly. In addition, the dimmer, in this case, will only operate as an on/off switch only, meaning that “dimming” the lights will be impossible.
  • Attach the wires properly. This is the last step, and these are the “pairs” of wires that must be attached to one another: the white and ground wires need to be brought together with a multipurpose tool; the black fixture wire attaches to the red switch; the red wire connects to the orange switch, and the black wires go to the power line.

All of this must be done before the fixture itself is wired up. When you fit the fixture, simply attach the ballast wires and the dimmer switch wires with wire connectors.

When you do this, make sure the orange wire runs to the red wire, then join the white wire to the white wires, the ground wire to the ground wires, and the black wire to the black wires.

When you’ve finished this task, go ahead and turn the circuit breaker back on, then test the dimmer switch to make sure it is working correctly.

Indeed, there are numerous problems associated with putting the wrong dimmer switch on the wrong fluorescent light bulbs.

For instance, we’ve already mentioned that the lights can overheat and burn out quickly, but other things can happen as well.

The lights may not work at all, or if they do, they could make consistent buzzing noises that will get on your nerves at the least, and be a sign of something wrong at the worst.

You could experience flickering lights every now and then, as the lights can be unstable.

Finally, the lighting simply may not last as long as it would if you had made sure the two pieces were compatible.

Fluorescent Bulbs Are a Great Idea

If you’ve decided to switch from incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent or CFL bulbs, you’ve made a good decision.

Fluorescent bulbs used to be found only in commercial or retail settings, but that is no longer the case.

Nowadays, even homes can have these types of bulbs in them, and they’re becoming more and more popular every day.

If you’re not entirely convinced that fluorescent bulbs are a great idea, here are a few facts that might change your mind:

  • They are less expensive than incandescent light bulbs – up to 70% less expensive, as a matter of fact. Fluorescent lighting is also brighter than regular lighting, so you get more than your money’s worth out of the purchase.
  • They last much longer. Fluorescent light bulbs last roughly six times longer than other forms of lighting. So, not only are you paying less for these light bulbs, but you’re getting a better lighting system in the long run.
  • They do not give off excess heat. This means that your home will stay cooler and much more comfortable. Even in the winter, no one likes light bulbs that give off too much heat.

You can make them decorative if you like. Today’s light covers, or light diffusers as they are sometimes called, can turn an ordinary fluorescent light bulb into something fancy and decorative.

There are hundreds of styles and designs available, making them easy to use to personalise your home.


Fluorescent light bulbs do well with dimmer switches, but you need to know how to do the job right before you get started, which takes a little research on your part.

It helps if you remember that the ballast switch and the fluorescent light bulb must be compatible, and you should never be shy about asking for help from the experts at your local hardware store.

For more help and advise on the other homeowners maintenance then i have a full in-depth guide for you – Our Grant New Homeowners Maintenance Guide

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