Weather you’re planning a family movie night, a romantic dinner, or just in the mood for an afternoon nap, dimmer switches are a great way to set the mood for your home. And as the cost of LED dimmers continue to come down, they are a great way to save on electricity, especially when paired with any number of easy-to-use home automation platforms.
Dimmers have been around for a long time, and over the last forty of fifty years, their energy efficiency has improved dramatically. The earliest dimmers would work by decreasing a light’s brightness by feeding less electricity into the bulb and converting the leftover energy into heat. That worked okay and certainly got the job done, but it was a risky and inefficient method that wasn’t saving anybody a cent on their energy bills. Now, thanks to modern light bulbs and the advent of home automation, Dimmer Switches have the ability to reduce your energy use and improve the lighting of every room in your home.
Before we get into specifics, let’s talk about what a dimmer switch actually does. So everybody knows that light fixtures use a certain amount of electricity to produce light, right? In most homes, you don’t have any control over how much electricity that is. Sure, you can get different colored bulbs, but all circuits have wattage requirements that you need to maintain, so there isn’t a whole lot of room for customization. But that’s where dimmer switches can make a difference, because they put you in control of exactly how much electricity your light fixtures use.
Once installed, they replace standard light switches, which only turn fixtures on and off. Dimmers Switches, on the other hand, usually operate with an intensity paddle or a sliding bar control. Adjusting the control adjusts the wattage output, resulting in more or less electricity being used. We’ll get into some more specifics on how it all works later; but first, let’s take a look at the major features of modern dimmer switches, and how they will impact your home and your wallet.
How Could Dimmer Switches Improve My Home?
To make sure you’re getting the most out of your dimmer switches, be sure to place them in rooms that you seem to require the most fluctuation in light. For example, bathrooms generally have higher average wattages than rooms like kitchens and dining rooms. High wattage requirements in rooms that don’t really need high levels of brightness might make them good candidates for energy-saving dimmer switches because they don’t always require the amount of light they’re providing.
Let’s do a room-by-room breakdown and see how adding dimmer switches can help improve the different areas of your home.
Bathrooms. We all know the pain of waking up in the middle of the night and stumbling into the bathroom only to be surprised by harsh, bright light. Adding a dimmer switch in the bathroom can help you ease yourself into your day, or help you stay on the verge of sleep until you climb back into bed. Dimmer lights over a bathtub or shower will also help make your bathroom far more relaxing.
Bedrooms. Dimming the lights in the hours before you go to bed is a great way to relax and tell your body that it’s time to calm down and transition to sleep mode. If you put dimmers in your bedroom, you may be surprised by how much it helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. And of course, it’s great for putting children to bed as well.
Kitchens. Having a dimmer switch in your kitchen makes for the perfect environment for your morning coffee or even a midnight snack. They can also help distinguish different areas of a kitchen such as the dining area or breakfast nook from the cooking area. When hosting a party, this can be a useful trick to keep everybody from cluttering up the kitchen while you work!
Living Rooms. Chances are that when you think of dimmers, you picture a living room. The mixed light sources and high ceilings lend themselves so well to dimmers, and it’s tough resist having the ability to reduce glare and create mood lighting for movies nights.
Porch Lighting. You probably don’t spend a whole lot of time looking at your porch. So why do we spend so much on full-brightness light bulbs for an area that we rarely ever look at? Installing dimmers on your porch will allow you to control the brightness, and the cost, of having lights on your porch. You’ll save money, and you’ll still be able to light your outdoor space as much as you need to.
How Do Dimmer Switches Work With Home Automation?
Once you’ve installed dimmer switches in your home, the next thing you should do is connect your dimmers to your smart home.
This will allow you control the brightness of your dimmer switches and, in some cases, even control individual bulbs. Being able to turn lights off or on from anywhere puts you in total control of your home’s energy usage. Many dimmer switches also interface with Amazon Echo and Google Home, allowing you to control your lights with voice commands.
Most home automation apps make the process of adding lights incredibly easy and you won’t need any tools or special instructions. Adding lights can be as simple as holding a button on the dimmer switch for a few seconds and allowing the app to find the bulb. In most cases, just follow the prompts and you should be good to go.
How Can Dimmer Switches Save You Money?
Although dimmer switches are known to create some terrific mood lighting, they can also help manage efficiency and keep some money in your pocket. Residential lighting accounts for nearly 15% of the average American home’s electricity costs, and dimmer switches are a proven way to help reduce energy consumption while adding significant comfort.
Of course, the amount you save is going to vary based on how much you choose to dim your lights, as well as what types of bulbs you choose, but the important thing to remember here is that you have total control of your usage. With compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, your savings will be mirrored by the amount of reduction. That means if you choose to keep your lights 15% dimmer, you’ll save 15% on your lighting usage. Upgrading to LED bulbs will save you even more money on usage than CFL’s and incandescent bulbs. And when paired with Dimmer Switches, they will give you complete control over the amount of light in a space. Reducing the output will help the bulbs last longer, which means you don’t have to replace the bulbs as often. So you end up saving money both on your energy bill and by minimizing the cost of replacing bulbs.
While we’re on the topic of bulbs, keep in mind that it is generally not recommended to dim a regular incandescent bulb. Now, most people know that they should probably replace their normal incandescent with LEDs or CFLs to help with energy savings. So it should be no surprise that when it comes to dimmer switches, using more efficient bulbs will lead to larger savings. Just be sure that you read your bulb packages carefully, as not all CFLs are dimmers. If all this bulb-talk is making your head spin, see below for a simple breakdown of three different dimmer bulbs:
Halogen. Halogen incandescent bulbs use the most energy, and while they use about 20% less energy when they’re being dimmed, but that dimming also reduces the bulb’s lumen output more than its wattage, which makes them less efficient. Incandescent bulbs also have a much shorter lifespan than LEDs and CFLs, so while their cheaper cost may entice you, remember that they may end up costing you more in the long run.
CFLs consume far less energy than halogen incandescent bulbs and are very efficient when used as dimmers. Just make sure that your CFLs are compatible with a dimmer switch before you use them, as using non-dimmable CFLs in a dimmer switch can be very dangerous.
LEDs are known as the most energy efficient bulb, and the same is true for dimmers. They’re more of an investment as they cost far more than incandescent bulbs and CFLs, but they produce just as much brightness with a fraction of the heat of incandescent bulbs. This makes them be far the most energy efficient type of light bulb for your home. As with CFLs, you need to make sure you are working with dimmable LEDs before using them.
How Does A Dimmer Switch Actually Work?
Without getting too technical, a dimmer is essentially a piece of equipment that allows you to adjust the light intensity of a bulb from low to high using a TRIAC that restricts the flow of electricity in order to decrease the light of a bulb.
A Tricode AC Switch, or TRIAC, is a type of relay in which the light circuit is turned on and off at a rapid rate in order to reduce the amount of energy flowing from the switch to the light. Think of it as a regulator that controls the amount of power the light is getting. A TRIAC is a good choice, especially for incandescent bulbs, because the filament in those bulbs won’t appear choppy as the power changes. However, TRIAC switches don’t work with CFL or LED bulbs.
For CFL and LED bulbs, the best option is called a CL dimmer. This type of dimmer uses resistors to change the power output in order to reduce the light’s brightness. If your home already has a TRIAC switch for dimmable halogens, that may be a problem if you want to replace those bulbs in LEDs as TRIAC switches can actually damage LED bulbs because of the way they handle electricity. So be sure to find out what your dimmer switch status is before installing CFL or LED bulbs. There are a few LED drivers that are designed to function compatibly with TRIAC semiconductors, but you should probably get the advice of a licensed electrician before making any moves yourself.
On that note, it’s probably just a good thing to mention that while there are many helpful online tutorials to help you install your own dimmer switch, if you are not familiar with electrical work, it might be wise to go with a pro for this project. There are a lot of different variables at play, and unless you really know your stuff, it may be worth it to get the job done right the first time.
The Bottom Line
When properly installed with the correct bulbs, modern dimmer switches can make a really big difference in your home by creating and improving the look and feel of your rooms. There’s nothing better than the more relaxed aesthetic that dimmable lights give you, and they can also saving you major money by cutting your spending on energy every month. And if you go for LED bulbs, you’ll spend only a fraction of what you usually do on replacement light bulbs.
It’s easy to see why very few people ever go back to regular switches once they’ve converted to dimmers. In fact, most people start with one large room like a living room or bedroom and then slowly begin to expand out until their entire home runs on dimmers.
Dimmer switches may not be the first item on your list when you dream about making your home “smarter”, but the lighting in your home is an ever-present feature that is impossible to ignore, and the added atmosphere that dimmable lights bring are a high-value addition to any home. Plus, with amazing home automation platforms and voice-activated systems like Amazon Echo and Google Home, controlling your dimmer switch has never been easier.