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Do Dimmer Switches Save Power?
What is a dimmer switch?
Dimmer switches give you the ability to change the amount of light that a fixture produces. Thus, it allows you to have control over the amount of light in a room or space.
By using dimmers, you can change the amount of light an area is receiving. It makes no sense to light a gymnasium at a school to 100% capacity if it’s empty. Or light an empty section of a warehouse. Dimmers allow you to control light levels and increase your savings.
Creating the right levels in commercial office spaces has been known to increase office productivity. But do dimmer switches save energy?
Should we use a dimmer switch?
Every situation is different. And your facility may not be able to take advantage of dimming your lights. There are times when a dimmer switch is not helpful. Examples include a 24/7 auto plant, the interior of an airport, and the waiting room of a hospital. These are areas where lights need to be on and at full power all the time.
However, if you have a facility that’s on a 12-hour on / 12-hour off cycle, then dimming makes a lot of sense.
Does Dimming the Lights Save Energy?
Yes. You will save energy when you use a dimmer switch. Light dimmers conserve energy by reducing the flow of electricity to a light bulb. This allows the light to perform at lower power outputs and extends the lifespan of the bulb. First, we’ll talk about the history and evolution of dimmer switches.
The first LED dimmer switches did not reduce energy when light levels were dropped. Instead, they simply converted the energy not needed for lighting into heat. Light levels were lower, but the energy was not saved.
Today, dimmer switches for LED lights work to reduce energy consumption when the light is dimmed. The most common dimmer switches are the ones that you can buy at your local home improvement store. It’s a dimmer called a “Triac” Dimmer Switch. The Triac Dimmer works by cutting power to the light up to 120 times per second. It happens so fast that the human eye cannot detect it. But this technology is only meant for smaller household bulbs. For warehouses and manufacturing plants, or outdoor fixtures in parking lots that are dimmed, a different type of dimmer switch is used. It’s called a 0-10V dimmer.
Read below to get a full understanding of what 0-10V dimming is.
Why Should I Install a Dimmer for My LED Lights?
Installing a dimmer is an easy and effective method to reduce your power consumption which in turn minimizes energy costs. It also produces light with a better ambiance that is easy on the eyes. Dimmers are considered to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the cost of electricity.
By upgrading or switching to LEDs, you’ve already made great strides in cutting back on electrical costs. LEDs run up to 80% more efficiently than other types of lighting, and you’ll see those results reflected on your monthly energy bill immediately. You can also add photocell timers or motion sensors to your LED lights that make them even more cost-effective, but for now, we’ll just focus on dimmers.
There are many factors at play when it comes to setting up a dimmer, and the best way for you to make sure that you have everything covered is to use a lighting plan. You can use the results from this plan to determine where the lights are mounted and where switches are placed. And it will give you an accurate picture of what to expect from your lighting.
What is 0-10V Dimming?
A 0-10V dimmer is quite simple to understand. Think about it this way: when the dimmer sends a low voltage 10V signal to the light, it tells the light to be at 100% on. When it sends a 5V signal, it tells the light to be 50% on. 4V is 40% on, and so on. The dimmer switch sends a low voltage signal to the light increments of 1V, from 0V to 10V.
What is the Difference Between 0-10V and 1-10V Dimming?
At first, 0-10V would dim to off when a 0V signal was sent to the light. Due to safety concerns, some LED dimming is 1-10V dimming. So, the least the light can dim down to is 10%. That creates a safe lighting area where some light is always available but reduced by 90%.
This type of driver works well with motion sensors, which take advantage of 1-10V dimmable drivers. When the sensor detects motion, it sends a 10V signal to the light, making it go to full brightness. And after a period of time when no movement is detected, it sends a 1V signal to the light, telling it to dim down to 10%*
*Most motion sensors will allow you to set the max and min settings, as well as the time before it dims. 10% and 100% is a very common setup.
What Do I Need to Set Up a Dimming System?
- In addition to wiring, you’ll also require a compatible 0-10V or 1-10V wall switch. These switches are available in unpowered and powered dimming versions and typically cost between $15 and $60.
- Wiring both high voltage and low voltage wires. High voltage carries power to the fixture and lights it up. It’s typically a 12 to 14-gauge wire. The low voltage dimming wires are typically 14-18-gauge wires. They send a 0V to 10V low-voltage DC signal to the fixture and tell it how much it should dim.
- A lighting plan. We recommend a lighting plan when you’re installing any type of lighting. You can request yours for free here. These allow you to accurately perceive how your lights will perform in the real world, and help you plan for different dimming settings.
Tools & Other Equipment
0-10v Compatible LED Light
0-10v Compatible Wall Dimmer Switch
18 gauge Shielded Wire
Put a Plan Together
First, you’ll need to make sure that you have a photometric lighting plan on hand. This will give you a good idea of whether or not you’re installing things in the correct place. Then gather your tools. To the right, you’ll find a list of suggestions, but take a look at your project and decide exactly what you need.
Run the Wires
Take off the old wall switch, including any wires, and determine whether you need to run the wires upwards or downwards. Keep in mind that you’ll likely need a combination of the two. Get your wires together and make one of the lines positive (+) and the other negative (-). We recommend marking these lines so that you don’t mix them up later. Leave 3 feet at the fixture and run the wiring back down towards the wall switch. Then, bring the wire back through the wall switch opening and connect the wires to both the fixture and the switch.
If the fixtures are difficult to reach, just connect your dimming wires while you’re there as well. At this point, make sure that you take extra steps to ensure that you’re using properly sized wire nuts. Then, leave a foot of slack and tape the wires back to something secure. At the wall switch, connect the wires to the positive (+) and negative (-). Connect the hot line and ground power and secure it back to the wall.
Test The Final Product
Make sure everything is connected safely and securely and test your final product.
Ensure that you have a secure lift or ladder to the fixture. Safety harnesses and clips should be used for higher installations. Kill the power at the breaker and double-check.
Dimmable LED Lighting
When you add dimming capabilities to your LED lighting, you have the obvious benefit of saving money and cutting back on energy consumption. But that doesn’t devalue the intangibles. Having complete control over your lighting can make employees feel much more comfortable and happier.
However, not every style of lighting plays well with dimming systems. In fact, many traditional bulbs don’t work well at all with dimmers. Metal Halide lights and Fluorescents, two of the most popular lighting options for commercial and industrial facilities, lose hours of their already short lifespans when paired with a dimmer. These lights also tend to flicker, take a while to warm up, and suffer from quick lumen degradation so it’s probably best to just avoid these bulbs altogether and stick with LEDs.
Does this mean that all LED products are dimmable? No. To be dimmable, the product must contain either a Triac Compatible LED driver or a 0-10V LED Driver. When equipped with the right driver, outdoor parking lot lights equipped with a motion sensor can dim when no motion is detected. Indoor Shop Lights can dim similarly with a motion sensor. Or set specifically by dimmer to an optimal light level.
About the Author
Dwayne Kula is President of LED Lighting Supply. On any given day, Dwayne is writing content for the site and helps manage the marketing initiatives that are on-going. He has a Software Engineering degree and still dabbles in writing software for the company as needed. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, working out, playing the occasional game of golf and exploring New England.