Can a CFL Be Used with A Timer, Photocell, or Motion Sensor?

timersIt takes complex technology to get compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) to save 75% more energy than incandescent lighting, but is this same technology limited when it comes to lighting controls such as timers, photocells, and motion sensors?

Not Like Incandescent Bulbs

The short answer to the above question: yes, CFLs are limited. Electronic or digital controls such as timers, photocells, and motion sensors were created to work with the simplicity of incandescent light bulbs, not CFLs.

Problems with CFL Bulbs

The big issue is that CFLs were designed with some features that are very specific:

  • Specific input voltage – Dimmers make it possible for the voltage to go up and down. CFLs are not made for this change in voltage.
  • Restricted start-up time – Constantly turning a CFL bulb on and off can reduce the lifespan. Some light switches can turn lights on/off at a rate of 120x per second!
  • Temperature – A CFL bulb installed with an outdoor motion sensor is susceptible to the drops/rises in the temperature outside. This may stop the sensor from working properly.

So, Can a CFL Be Used with a Timer, Photocell, or Motion Sensor?

For some (not all) CFLs the answer is yes, but only under certain conditions.

Again, electronic or digital light controls pose a problem for CFLs, but mechanically controlled devices (like some timers) work just fine.

Before purchasing a dimmer, motion sensor, timer, etc., make sure the device is compliant with its stated UL section, otherwise the CFL will not last as long as the listed lifespan. The UL (Underwriter Laboratories) section tells you if the device is functional and safe.

Another Way to Save Energy: Dimmers

Though you can gain more than 80% in energy savings by using daylighting controls and occupancy sensors, another way to maximize the energy efficiency of CFLs is by using dimmers. Just check that purchased bulbs specifically state on a label or somewhere on the packaging that they are dimmable, because attempting to use a non-dimmable CFL in a dimmable light fixture could shorten the lifespan.

The complex technology in CFLs may have a few limitation, but that 75% in energy savings translates in the home, on your energy bills, and also in the environment.

Shop now for timers and dimmers>>>


2 thoughts on “Can a CFL Be Used with A Timer, Photocell, or Motion Sensor?

  1. Kim Grosso says:

    Why would they produce outdoor security lights that require this bulb if you can’t use a timer to turn them on and off?
    The new outdoor light fixtures I purchased are useless if they don’t go on automatically when it gets dark or if I can’t have them cycle on and off when I’m on vacation.

  2. Conservation Mart says:

    Hi Kim. Thanks for your question! For outdoor fixtures that do use this type of bulb, the manufacturer of the fixture should be able to provide details regarding the type of timers that are compatible with it, if there are any at all. Many times, the operation of these fixtures vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

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