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My country house has low voltage (150~180V) and the lighting is mostly comprised of incandescent lamps. I don't really know if voltage has anything to do with the brightness of incandescent lamps, but it's dim in the rooms with them.

I figured I could try and use a few energy saving fluorescent lamps and see how bright they'll be. But then I heard that fluorescent lamps don't work very well with voltage different from optimal. They break faster or give off less light. Since they're pretty expensive, I'd like to keep them alive longer. So I thought of buying a dedicated voltage stabilizer just for lighting, but it's also expensive, and before spending so much money, I'd like to make sure it will all work out as intended.

How will low voltage affect fluorescent lamps? Will they even work at low voltage? If they won't, will a voltage stabilizer (regulator) help them glow brighter and prolong their life?

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There are fluorescent ballasts that accept a wide voltage input range (just as the LED ballasts that other answers are suggesting.) Since you appear to want fluorescent lights, those would be what to seek out. 100-277VAC is a typical input range, as is 120-277VAC (277 is common in 3-phase systems where a lot of commercial lighting is installed.) If you cannot find a light with that type of ballast in your country you may have to order it from elsewhere, but they are commonly available and would appear to be exactly what electrical suppliers in your country should be stocking.

I am suggesting a florescent fixture with a ballast separate from the tubes, not a screw-in compact florescent "bulb" (though you may also be able to find the latter with a wide input range.)

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Since you say 150-180V is low, I assume you live in a country where the standard voltage is 230V? The first thing I would do is contact the electric company to see what they can do. It's possible there is a defect in the connection to your house from the main utility lines that's causing the abnormally-low voltage.

There are probably all sorts of things that are not running well in your house: anything with a motor (a refrigerator, washing machine, etc); anything with a heating element (hot water heater, kettle); probably the only thing that could handle such a low voltage without a problem is modern DC electronics: most laptops, battery chargers, etc. work with 110V and 220V without requiring any adapters.

Anyway, to answer some of your questions:

  • Yes, running an incandescent that is designed for 220V at a lower voltage will cause it to be dim.
  • A fluorescent bulb is probably not so forgiving of low voltage. I would expect it to not start. You could buy one and see if it works.
  • A "voltage stabilizer" probably won't help you, since they usually are designed to smooth out momentary changes in voltage, not actually step it up. What you really would need is a transformer. I don't know if you'll be able to find something suitable.

Another thing to consider is getting an LED bulb that is capable of accepting a range of voltages. Since LEDs internally adjust the voltage to something much lower than household levels, some models will accept wide ranges of voltages (e.g. 100V - 250V), so that they can be sold around the world.

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Since you didn't specify your country, I'm assuming that you have a normal mains voltage of 230 or 240 volts.

Yes, low voltage will cause your incandescent lights to dim. On the good side, they will last a lot longer than normal. If you want to try staying with incandescent lights, you can try higher wattages. For example, replace a 60W light with a 100W.

In the case of electronic lights, such as compact florescent or LED, you need to check the labeling on the box. Most will be marked for your specific mains voltage (e. g. "230V AC" or "220-250V AC". You should not try to use these at a lower voltage. at best they will flicker and at worst, they could burn out quickly.

You should try to find CFL or LED light designed for universal voltages, that is to say, to work in both the USA (120v) and Europe, for example. These would be marked something like "85 - 250V AC". You may need to get these mail-order.

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    If trying higher wattages, first check the max wattage on the fixture and don't exceed this – Steven Oct 20 '14 at 1:51
  • @Steven - good point. Sorry to omit that. – DoxyLover Oct 20 '14 at 4:49
  • Ordering light bulbs from another country seems a bit overkill for this task, but it's a possibility. – user1306322 Oct 20 '14 at 8:11
  • Whether or not you need to do that depends on what you can find in your (as yet unmentioned) country. There may be some tendency on our part to assume that if the voltage is not well-controlled there may also be issues with the supply of "sophisticated" electrical equipment; even though such equipment is exactly what's need to deal with your odd supply voltages. This may or may not be true, but you'll have to check locally, wherever locally is. – Ecnerwal Oct 20 '14 at 17:41
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While this does not directly answer your question, perhaps it is worth your while to persuade the electric utility to adjust their equipment to get your service up to snuff. Distribution transformers have various closely spaced taps on them just for fine tuning delivery voltage.

Utilities tend to be motivated to deliver full voltage because low voltage means most equipment uses less watts than full voltage, and that means lost revenue. A.C. motors being fed less voltage compensate by using more current (to a point), and that could lead to utility problems with overcurrent draw and a need for more distribution capacitors to compensate for the excess phase lag introduced by a motor.

  • If I was living in a European country and had enough money to invest into such equipment, it could be a feasible solution :) – user1306322 Oct 20 '14 at 23:15

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