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How to Shop for Dimmer Switches


Lighting dimmer controls provide variable light levels for incandescent and fluorescent lamps by reducing the voltage to the light fixture. Dimming reduces lamp wattage and light output, which can help save energy and significantly increase the life of incandescent bulbs. Dimming fluorescent bulbs requires specially designed dimmers and fixtures, but provides much greater energy savings than dimming an incandescent bulb, as the efficiency of the fluorescent bulb is not reduced when it is dimmed.

Adjustable Lighting Creates Atmosphere

Lighting creates mood, and creating just the right mood in your home is important, whether you're lowering the lights for an intimate dinner party or a movie, or providing brighter illumination while working in the kitchen. Dimmers allow you to customize the atmosphere in any room of your house by adjusting the light levels. Before you make a purchase, ask yourself a few basic questions about your dimming needs.

Lutron Electronics MIR-60 Maestro Dimming Package Dimmer
  •  •  In which room or rooms do you need dimmable lighting?
  •  •  How many and what type of fixtures will be dimmed?
  •  •  What types of light bulbs do the fixtures use, and what is their total wattage?
  •  •  Are the fixtures operated by more than one switch?
  •  •  What style and color of switch best suits your decor?
  •  •  Are there any other features, such as remote controls, that are important to you?

Dimmers are designed to meet varying needs, depending on the type and number of fixtures, so it is important to know what type of dimmer you are looking for before you make a purchase. Selecting the right dimmer can be complicated, but this guide is designed to make the process simpler.

Dimmer Types

Two of the main considerations when choosing a dimmer are the number of switches controlling the fixture and the total wattage of the light or lights being controlled.

  •  •  Single-pole dimmers are for use with lights controlled in one location only.
  •  •  Three-way dimmers allow light levels to be controlled from two separate locations.
  •  •  Multiple location dimmers control lighting in a number of different areas and often feature the use of remote controls.

Dimmers are designed to handle different amounts of power, so make sure the dimmer you choose is rated to handle the total maximum wattage it will be controlling. Add the wattages of every light bulb that will be controlled by the dimmer and check the total against the dimmer's wattage rating. If the total wattage of the bulbs is close to the dimmer's maximum wattage, it is usually better to choose a dimmer that can handle more wattage.

One other essential consideration is the type of light bulb you are dimming.

  •  •  Incandescent dimmers can dim all standard incandescent light bulbs (120-130 volt) including reflector-type bulbs, as well as line voltage halogen bulbs.
  •  •  Fluorescent dimmers can be used to dim linear fluorescent tubes and 4-pin compact fluorescent bulbs. Some fluorescent dimmers are also compatible with LED light sources.

Dimmer types for low voltage light bulbs depend on the type of step down transformer the light fixture uses.

  •  •  Fixtures using magnetic transformers are dimmed with magnetic low voltage dimmers. These dimmers can be used to dim standard line voltage bulbs as well as 12 volt and 24 volt halogen bulbs in fixtures with magnetic transformers.
  •  •  Fixtures using electronic transformers are dimmed with electronic low voltage dimmers. These dimmers are not compatible with standard line voltage bulbs. They can be used to dim 12 volt and 24 volt halogen and xenon bulbs. Electronic low-voltage dimmers require a neutral wire.

Dimmer Control Style

Lutron Electronics Vierti Single Touch Dimmer

Different types of dimmer control mechanisms have different features and benefits, though their essential effect on the lighting is the same. A wide range of control styles are available, from simple to elaborate.

  •  •  Rotary switches are inexpensive and easy-to-use manual controls. Push-button controls on some rotary switches allow the light to be switched on and off without changing the dimmer setting.
  •  •  Slide controls offer manual dimming with a full range of light levels from the lowest to the highest setting. Touch button controls on some slide dimmers give you the ability to return the dimmer setting to the previous level.
  •  •  Touch control dimmers allow you to adjust the light level by pressing a button or pad. One-touch recall of previous settings is available, as are indicator lights on some models that provide a readout of the lighting intensity.
  •  •  Integrated dimmer systems allow for the widest variety of lighting options and let you set different lighting levels in one or several rooms. These systems recall light level settings with a single touch of a button and frequently feature hand-held remote controls in addition to wall controls.

Extra Features and Additional Dimmer types

Many dimmers offer added features that may be just what you are looking for.

  •  •  Built-in LED night lights make it easy to find the light switch in the dark.
  •  •  Multiple-setting preset dimmers let you select from a number of favorite light levels with one touch.
  •  •  Hand-held remote controls let you change the light level without leaving your chair.
  •  •  Gradual fade-in/out dimmers give your eyes more time to adjust to light level changes.
  •  •  A wide variety of dimmer wallplate colors lets you perfectly complement the decor in a room.
  •  •  Combination ceiling fan and light dimmer controls serve two purposes with one unit.
  •  •  Single-fixture plug-in dimmers for floor and table lamps offer dimming convenience without tools or additional wiring.

Lighting control dimmers are available in a wide range of price categories, depending on the dimmer type, style and features. With all the options available, the perfect dimmer system for your home will be easy to find. Dimmer controls will enhance your enjoyment of your home's lighting design by adding extra functionality to the existing lighting system and creating just the right ambiance for any activity you choose.

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