Leakage current affecting CFL's - any way to fix?

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Old 06-10-08, 08:11 PM
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Leakage current affecting CFL's - any way to fix?

Well, I finally got around to putting in one of my projects. This one is a "wireless switch extender" - the lights in the basement are only controlled by a switch at the TOP of the stairs, so this allows me to have a wireless remote at the BOTTOM of the stairs to control it. It's a Heath Zenith part.

The problem is, pretty much every bulb in my house is a CFL! I understand the leakage current is being used to power the switch in much the same way as a lighted switch would. Unfortunately, this causes CFL's to flicker and try to start repeatedly as their capacitors fill. I've installed incandescents in these fixtures, which obviously don't mind the leakage current. I hadn't remembered this issue originally because my other wireless switch is for a plug-in type - which of course has a tiny "night-light" to provide the resistance so the plugged-in lamp doesn't flicker.

Anyway, I'm wondering if there's anything I can do to avoid this issue with CFL's? I really hate using 60W bulbs when I'd normally be using 13W, and so I wouldn't mind spending at least a modest amount of money on this.

The switch only controls two lights downstairs; no outlets are on the same circuit - just the light at the top of the steps, which is switched in the same box at the top of the stairs, but with a separate switch.

Ideas, anyone? I realize I'm not likely to come up with much, but I thought I'd ask! Incidentally, before anyone asks, hard-wiring a switch to the bottom of the stairs isn't really an effective option - the walls/ceiling are finished and there's no access to the space above the staircase ceiling (there's another staircase on the first floor right above it with no way to access the gap) - and the switch at the top and the only feasible location at the bottom are on opposite sides of the stairs.
 
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Old 06-10-08, 09:34 PM
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Originally Posted by TheWGP View Post
Anyway, I'm wondering if there's anything I can do to avoid this issue with CFL's? I really hate using 60W bulbs when I'd normally be using 13W, and so I wouldn't mind spending at least a modest amount of money on this.
The only way to control CFLs from two locations is to fish in some three conductor cable and install a proper three-way switch. Any device which depends on leakage current to operate will not be ideal with any type of fluorescent fixture.

They do make remote controls which use a neutral wire instead of leakage current, but you're back to the original problem of having to fish in a new cable which has the neutral wire.

Incidentally, before anyone asks, hard-wiring a switch to the bottom of the stairs isn't really an effective option - the walls/ceiling are finished
Drywall is pretty cheap and easy to patch.
 
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Old 06-10-08, 10:13 PM
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Originally Posted by ibpooks View Post

Drywall is pretty cheap and easy to patch.
True - but we don't have drywall, we have veneer plaster over plasterboard lath, which is difficult (for me, at least) to make look good in terms of large-scale repairs. Paying someone to do a better job is so exponentially far out of my law-student budget as to be a joke

Doing a proper switch would require not only fishing up the stud bay to the ceiling and drilling through 4 joists to get to the other side to run down the space in between joists to the bottom of the stairs, but drilling through into the basement ceiling and then creating a new wiremold run down to a wiremold box - the wall on that side has no appreciable depth, concrete block with wood paneling over it via *tiny* furring strips. Hacking an outlet box space out of the concrete - maybe doable... but pulling the wood paneling off to hack a channel in the concrete all the way up to the ceiling, not so much, I think!

I'm mostly wondering if there might be a creative solution here involving introducing some other resistive load somehow. I went ahead and replaced ONE of the bulbs with an incandescent - and that prevents the other CFL from flickering, so that's sufficient. I was told by someone else that even something like a 1W bulb might be enough - there's got to be something I can put on there to create just that tiny bit of resistance.

What about a hardwired smoke? We already have a full complement of smokes and CO2 detectors in appropriate places (including the basement in more than one location) but a smoke detector would not look out of place in the basement ceiling, and would be relatively easy for me to install. Are there any other types of tiny, yet sufficient loads that I could install in a similar manner? I'd prefer not to install another recessed light next to the one that's there, so lighting is basically out.

Don't worry, I don't plan to "ghetto-hack" this - I can think of some easy ways to do so that would involve hiding stuff in the ceiling, but that would be incredibly dangerous! I'm having a hard time thinking of a legitimately installable and hopefully sufficient load other than a hardwired smoke or a receptacle installed in the ceiling with a nightlight constantly plugged in - which would DEFINITELY look out of place!

If worst comes to worst, I'll just leave one incandescent and one CFL down there - but I'm really hoping a solution can be found here.
 
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Old 06-11-08, 06:53 AM
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One non CFL bulb on the circuit would do it. That bulb could be very low wattage, even a night light would probably work. Is there one fixture with double lamps that one of them could be a low wattage incandescent?
 
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Old 06-11-08, 07:26 AM
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Sadly, this circuit only has three light fixtures on it - that's all there is. One light at the top of the basement steps, switched at the top of the basement steps in the same box as the wireless receiver switch for the two recessed lights in the basement.

The box actually has one incoming power line that I had to pigtail to the two switches.

Right now I have one incandescent bulb in, and that works - unfortunately these are 1-bulb recessed fixtures (old, standard-base ones) and they're the only lighting for most of the basement, so replacing one with a tiny bulb isn't really an option.

That's why I was asking if it'd be okay to do a smoke - the recessed light would make it peachy-keen easy to drop one in right next to the light. I'm even going to be replacing these recessed fixtures, so I have to open up the ceiling anyway - there's no box up there, which would make it doubly easy to just pigtail to a smoke in the new recessed light's jbox.

Just to be clear, such a smoke wouldn't actually be intended to be relied on - we have a full complement of them already, but I can't think of anything else that would be cosmetically acceptable and also remaining accessible. Mounting an outlet in the ceiling to plug a night-light into is not a very attractive option - between that and using one incandescent, well golly, I'll use an incandescent!
 
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Old 06-11-08, 08:52 AM
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Originally Posted by TheWGP View Post
I was asking if it'd be okay to do a smoke - the recessed light would make it peachy-keen easy to drop one in right next to the light.
I believe smokes are all actually low voltage via a built-in transformer or switching power supply, both of which are inductive, so that probably wouldn't help. You'd probably get the CFL flickering and the smoke chirping. :-)

Do you have any access to the side wall? Perhaps one of those built-in louvered night light fixtures like you see in the stairwells at movie theaters?
 
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Old 06-11-08, 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by ibpooks View Post
I believe smokes are all actually low voltage via a built-in transformer or switching power supply, both of which are inductive, so that probably wouldn't help. You'd probably get the CFL flickering and the smoke chirping. :-)

Do you have any access to the side wall? Perhaps one of those built-in louvered night light fixtures like you see in the stairwells at movie theaters?
There's no neutral at the switch box, so a side-wall installation of such a light is impossible without a home-run, which would be even more difficult than running wire for a normal switch.

I may stop by an electric supply house and ask if they have any suggestions - maybe there's some kind of super-duper fancy combo detector that has a nightlight feature that would work.

After examining the situation, it appears there may be one other alternative, but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to do it. There's a normal outlet on the wall that appears to be straight down from this joist bay. A 4" box is surface-mounted on the concrete, with metallic conduit going up to the ceiling. Importantly, this is on a separate circuit from the lights.

Would I be allowed to run from the light down the stud bay and down the conduit to the outlet, adding the outlet to that circuit, while capping off the existing wires and leaving them in the box? Actually, it'd probably be more desirable if I simply mounted a SECOND outlet in the box, all-new, and just had them both on different circuits. That's okay, from what I've read regarding kitchens, but correct me if I'm wrong please! I could then simply plug a night-light into the outlet that's on the same circuit as the lights, to catch the flicker. The "next-owner" problem wouldn't be solved quite as elegantly as mounting something on the ceiling, but I'd describe the situation in detail on a note on the circuit map in the box.

The more I think about it, the more I think this is good, since this would only require a very small amount of plaster repair, at the very corner of the ceiling and wall, which I think I could do without making a huge mess of it. I have another GFCI on hand as well as wire, so I would only have to purchase a new 2-gfci 4 inch box cover, which shouldn't be more than a few bucks. This might actually be cheaper (in out of pocket cost anyway) than getting a super-duper-special detector of some sort with a light anyway.

Hmm, I might hit box-fill problems - 7.5 GFCI plus 7.5 GFCI plus 4 inches for two incoming 14ga. currently, plus 4 inches for two new 14 ga, plus 2 in. ground - that's 24, and a 4 inch box is what, 20.5? A box extender would be a quick fix for that, though.
 
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Old 06-11-08, 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by TheWGP View Post
this is on a separate circuit from the lights....Would I be allowed to run from the light down the stud bay and down the conduit to the outlet, adding the outlet to that circuit, while capping off the existing wires and leaving them in the box?
Yes, you can do that as long as you make sure to keep the circuits completely separate. Only the grounds should be interconnected.

Actually, it'd probably be more desirable if I simply mounted a SECOND outlet in the box, all-new, and just had them both on different circuits.
That would be okay too, except you said you don't have a neutral in the switch box, so you cannot extend a receptacle from that switch.
 
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Old 06-11-08, 11:18 AM
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I believe he wants to extend the receptacle from one of the light fixtures. That would be perfectly fine. Leaving the existing receptacle is also fine.
 
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Old 06-11-08, 11:39 AM
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Awesome - I'll plan to leave the incandescent in until the new recessed lights arrive (special order because they're HUGE and square). At that time, when I already have a hole in the ceiling to start from, I'll run to that outlet (yes, from the light fixture) and just install an extra receptacle, box extender and new 2-GFCI cover.

Oh, and I need to get a nightlight at the dollar store!

Thanks for your help, everyone - brainstorming this one out to do it in a proper way has taken some creativity. I figure in a few years I'll even make up the few bucks I put into this by way of being able to use the CFL instead of the incandescent, and the only incandescent in the house will continue to be in the attic where I'm too lazy to make a special trip up there to replace it.
 
 

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