Sources for *small* dimmable Compact Fluorescents in Vancouver, BC?
February 13, 2007 8:16 PM   Subscribe

I have been switching over to CFL bulbs, but have many lights on dimmers. Dimmable CFLs exist, and they exist in the sizes I need too, but I would like to find a supplier in Vancouver or at least within Canada, as paying customs charges on freaking light bulbs would be a real kick in the pants.

Specifically, I am looking for bulbs like these models listed on the US site 1000Bulbs...

Small Dimmable Fluorescents
Decorative Torpedo Dimmable

These seem to be a bit too "cutting edge" to have made it to the regular places - Canadian Tire, Ikea, Rona - who otherwise seem to have most CFL needs covered. I'm not picky about manufacturers and models, just shapes and sizes.
posted by pascal to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I had some of these and they worked, but did not last very long (less than a year). I suggest not bothering with dimmable CF.
posted by putril at 8:27 PM on February 13, 2007

ask yourself, do you really need the dimming function? I'll bet it would be easier and better in the long run to remove the dimmers, install switches, and put in CFL bulbs. How often do you actually run the lights at less than full bore? If you do run them dim fairly often, just stick with incandesents. The inherent inefficiency of dimmers means you really won't gain much by moving to dimmed CFLs.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:06 PM on February 13, 2007

If you can only find the light bulbs in the US, have a friend send you the light bulbs. Your friend (who could live anywhere in the world, including Vancouver) should order from a US company/website and ask that supplier to put on the customs declaration that the light bulbs are a gift valued at less than C$20, assuming this is true. For best results, a packing slip in the package should say the same thing. Thus there is no duty or custom handling fee when sent by regular mail.

However, you will have to pay mailing costs.
posted by acoutu at 9:09 PM on February 13, 2007

If the declared value is less than $20 CAD (remember, they are declaring in USD, customs will convert), your package will be tax exempt. If the package is marked as a gift, the exemption threshold goes up to $60 CAD.

That said, I'd go with cosmicbandito's approach, except that I think modern dimmers are pretty efficient. You don't need to take the dimmers out. The CF bulbs may not light at a dimmed setting, but damage is highly unlikely. Just keep the dimmers at maximum/off.

If you really, really need dimmable bulbs, try a specialty electrical supplier that targets contractors, electricians, and industrial installations. They won't be your typical retail store, but they are often much nicer to deal, and they actually know things about what they sell.
posted by Chuckles at 9:54 PM on February 13, 2007

Replacing the dimmer function may not be an option. My stove exhaust hood has a solid-state (button) dimmer, and I'm not about to waste time reworking that thing (i.e. cutting into metal to mount a switch) when I can just stick with an incandescent.

Thanks for the 1000bulbs links. I'd purchased (at not insignificant expense) a dimmable CFL locally, and it turned out to be too large for the hood, and I'd given up. I'll give these a shot. I really want to stop having to change that damn bulb, 'cause it's a pain to get to. Hopefully putril's life expectancy's experience was an aberration.
posted by intermod at 10:00 PM on February 13, 2007

If you're willing and able to drive to Pt. Roberts (that little border crossing just south of Tsawwasen) during the day, you can have anything shipped weighing less than 24lbs to TSB Shipping for $2.50. Obviously, you then have to bring the bulbs back across customs yourself, but I can't imagine that being a big deal.

Note that I've never used these guys myself, but I've heard great reviews from others. The next time I'm stuck with someone who can't ship up here, I'm going to try them.
posted by cgg at 10:21 PM on February 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice on how to avoid customs, but that wasn't quite what I was looking for. If you read the links, these things are getting on for US$10 each, so a $60 limit won't go far.

BTW, the linked bulbs turn out to based on something called "cold cathode" technology, see here (funnily enough, that link has updated to point to 1000 Bulbs since the last time I saw it, this morning.)
posted by pascal at 10:59 PM on February 13, 2007

After reading this article about CFLs this weekend, I've been obsessed with replacing every light bulb I come within 50 feet of with the swirls. I've heard that, depending on the model, some CFLs that aren't specifically listed as working with dimmers actually work with dimmers just fine. Does anyone know if that's really the case?
posted by buriedpaul at 5:59 AM on February 14, 2007

some CFLs that aren't specifically listed as working with dimmers actually work with dimmers just fine.

There are different kinds of fluorescent lights and ballasts, so it is really hard to say. I've just been doing some reading at Sam's F-lamp FAQ (and some other places to be named later), and here is the basic gist of it..

Dimming in general

Modern dimmers switch the AC line signal on and off twice every cycle, and this creates two effects. The first is analogous to pulse width modulation, where the amount of power transmitted is reduced by the ratio of off time to on time. However, at high dimming (low light), the switching mechanism used also has the effect of reducing the peak voltage across the light.

This mechanism works very well with incandescent lights, because they turn on almost instantly, and they produce light more or less in proportion to the applied voltage. And, to the extend that incandescents don't dim ideally, the non-idealities are quite human friendly. As the light level goes down the colour becomes warmer, etc. Fluorescent lights are much more complicated.

Fluorescent lights, simplified

Fluorescent lighting requires several things to operate. The basic source of the light is an arc (think lightning) running down the tube. This arc causes the emission of UV radiation from the gases in the tube, and that UV radiation is turned into visible light by phosphors (think TV screen) on the inner surface of the glass.

To create the arc, you apply a high voltage across the tube, but once the arc has started you must reduce the voltage, or the arc will be too intense. This is the job of the ballast, and ballast technology has evolved over time.
Also important for the theory, bulb design must match the ballast technology being used. Of course with CF bulbs, the ballast comes attached, so it doesn't matter so much

Dimming Fluorescent Lights

So, conventional dimmers do two things, they turn on and off periodically, and they reduce voltage (depending on the level of dimming). These factors can cause problems for fluorescent lights. Depending on the off time, a fluorescent light may require a new start up cycle every time the dimmer allows power to the light. If start up takes longer than the on time of the dimmer, the light won't start. Also, some flourescent lights use heated filaments to help create the arc. During start up, there is a special heating cycle, and during operation the filaments are kept hot by waste heat from the light. When dimmed, the amount of waste heat is reduced, and the filaments may get too cold to sustain the arc. If the start up process is initiated every time the dimmer turns on, the heating mechanism can be on far too much, burning out the filaments prematurely.

Along with those issues, reduced voltage from a dimmer may also be a problem. To create an arc, the ballast applies a high voltage. If the level of dimming is too high, the voltage supplied may not be enough to start an arc. Some ballast designs, called electronic ballasts, use switch mode power supplies that can generate start up voltage even when the input voltage is varied. There will still come a point when the input voltage is too low.

Will it work?

In practice, dimming fluorescent lights may work, but it will be less effective. Some bulbs will be unable to turn on at any setting below full brightness (or so close to full brightness that it hardly matters). For bulbs that appear to work, the range of adjustment will be reduced. Presumably CF bulbs that are advertised as compatible with dimmers are optimized so that the range of adjustment is close to that of an incandescent bulb.

Again, check out Sam's F-lamp FAQ, and there is also Dimming Fluorescent Lamps. Of particular interest in that second article:
3. There are dimmable, electrodeless compact fluorescent lamps generally known as induction lamps. These are now available from electrical/lighting supply shops. These use an even different way to get electricity from metal to gas. These lamps work at a very high frequency, which lets current flow capacitively through the glass or use induction to get power from a coil to the mercury vapor discharge. No metal electrodes touch the mercury vapor discharge. These lamps should work at least reasonably well with ordinary light dimmers.

There are a few "dimmable" conventional compact fluorescent lamps, such as a Philips model or two available at Home Depot. They have conventional electrodes and can run into problems from severe dimming, but are tested to work reasonably on all common dimmers and without significant risk of fire or catastrophic failure even if the dimmer malfunctions.

One more thing to watch out for!
Light of typical "cool-white" fluorescent color, or any similar color, often has a dreary gray effect when it is dim. If you are using a dimmable fluorescent fixture in the home, you may want to use it with "warm white" bulbs, or something similar with a color temperature no more than about 3,500 Kelvin.
I feel like this post needs a lot more editing (and maybe even technical correction), but time to leave well enough alone..
posted by Chuckles at 8:54 AM on February 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Sage Lighting Ltd. offers a full range of dimming Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)."

I can't tell from the site if they have exactly what you're looking for though the description of their selection sounds fairly comprehensive.
posted by nanojath at 9:52 AM on February 14, 2007

A warning based on personal experience: investigate warmup times.

I've been in a new building occupied for fewer than six months, and it has dimmable CFLs in a conference room. They take a good 90 seconds to get to a convincingly full level of brightness.

I can't say if that's typical for dimmable CFLs, but I can say that trying to keep a fixed lighting level while your bulbs keep getting brighter over a period up to two minutes is a pain.
posted by NortonDC at 1:09 PM on February 14, 2007

I will second NortonDC. I have first generation dimmable CFLs in some of my lights at home and eventually have had to remove them because they have a *long* warmup time and are somewhat dimmer than conventional CFLs even when warmed up.

Some of this may be due to the quality of my dimmer switches, which are just "generic." I've seen some suggestions that dimmable CFLs only work well with high-quality expensive dimmers. YMMV.
posted by srt19170 at 1:17 PM on February 14, 2007

Response by poster: nanojath: I had already e-mailed Sage before posting here - their reply was "we don't do CFLs anymore". Which is a shame.

Chuckle: that's really good info and a very useful link - but I think one thing that may come into play here is the "cold cathode" part. These pretty clearly have electrodes, but I believe the idea is that they don't have to warm up the electrodes in the same way as with a regular CFL so can be switched much more quickly. The other claimed benefit apart from dimmability is that their lifecycle is much less affected by on/off cycles than regular CFLs, which seems to be consistent with the "fast switching" theory.
posted by pascal at 11:20 PM on February 14, 2007

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