How Dimmer Switches Save Energy

By avery_dietzen Last Updated On 07/15/2021

Looking to bring down your electricity bill? Installing dimmer switches might offer the perfect solution! Dimmers allow the lighting to create a warm and comfortable atmosphere while reducing how much energy your lights consume.

How do dimmer switches reduce energy use?

Older dimmers, or legacy dimmers, restricted the flow of electricity to the bulb. That excess current converted into heat, meaning it didn’t actually decrease the amount of electricity directed at the bulb.

These days, modern dimmer switches can work in a number of ways, but they usually use a Triac switch. Triac dimmers work by rapidly switching the current on and off. This happens about 120 times per second, much too fast for the human eye to register. Instead, we perceive it as a constant flow of light.

Modern dimmer switches minimize the amount of power lighting consumes. With less electricity used, it saves on energy costs!

What types of dimmers are there?

Dimmers can feature different controls, including:

  • Rotary - a dial you can adjust left or right to turn the brightness up or down
  • Slide - adjusts the brightness by sliding the slider up or down
  • Toggle - flips up and down similar to a toggle light switch with an integrated slider attached to adjust brightness
  • Decorator - also known as a rocker switch, decorator dimmers use an up/down, on/off design and offer a slider for dimming
  • Paddle - similar to a decorator, a paddle switch also utilizes an up/down, on/off design with a sliding control for dimming
  • Smart - allows you to control brightness from almost anywhere using a phone app

Additionally, you can find dimmer switches equipped with occupancy or vacancy sensors to help save even more energy by shutting off the lights when no one is in the room. Occupancy sensors flip the lights on when the device senses a presence in the room, and off again when the room remains empty. Vacancy sensors require someone to manually turn the lights on but will turn the lights off when it senses the room is vacant.

What lights can dim?

When looking for a dimmer switch, make sure it’s compatible with your lights. Dimming effects each type of light differently, so it's necessary to make sure the lights can dim and work with a compatible dimmer. The simplest way to check if a lamp can work with a certain dimmer is to check the manufacturer’s specifications.

Incandescent - incandescent bulbs can work with almost any dimmer, including standard incandescent and LED dimmers. Incandescent light bulbs offer a wide dimming range from 0% to 100%.

Halogen - while it’s possible to dim a halogen bulb to around 20%, it’s not always recommended. Dimming shortens their lifespan and they become less efficient.

Compact Fluorescent - make sure the CFL bulb states ‘dimmable’ on the package and that it’s running with a compatible CFL dimmer. Otherwise, dimming non-dimmable bulbs can shorten their life expectancy.

LED - LEDs remain extremely efficient when dimmed. Like CFLs, make sure the LED bulb is dimmable and working with a compatible dimmer. While they don’t produce much heat to begin with, LEDs produce even less when dimmed. This can help extend their lifespan.

How to tell if a dimmer and lamp are incompatible:

If you’re using an incompatible dimmer switch, the light bulb may blink, flicker, hum, or buzz. The lights might be slow to start up, brighten suddenly at certain points, or cut out. The bulb may not respond when you try to dim it or offer a limited dimming range. For any concerns, we recommend consulting a professional.


Find a wide selection of dimmer switches available at HomElectrical!


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