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What is a dimmer switch?

A dimmer switch is a light switch that, when hooked up, allow for the lights to be dimmed. Dimmer switches are very common in homes and small commercial environments. LED lights are even dimmable, however their are really 2 types of distinctly different dimmers for LED lights – Triac Dimming and 1-10V dimming.

Triac dimming is just a name for a dimmer switch most home owner commonly use – some type of slider control that dims the light as the slider is moved, 1-10V dimming is known throughout large commercial and industrial led fixtures, and its a special type of dimmer that requires a completely separate dimming low voltage circuit.

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Do Dimmer Switches Save Power?

The short answer is yes, dimmer switches do save you energy. But let’s discuss the history of dimmer switches and how far they have came. Old style first generation LED dimmer switches did not save energy because of the way they worked.

Instead of reducing the amount of energy used, they converted the extra energy into heat. So more heat, less light, and no energy savings.

Today, LED dimmer switches are much smarter, and actually reduce energy used by supplying only the energy needed that is called for. Triac Dimmers works by cutting off power to the light fixture – up to 120 times per second.

It basically turns on and off the light very quickly, undetectable to the human eye. Since LEDs are not affected by turning on and turning off, this process has no ill affects on the LED themselves.

A 0-10v (actually 1-10V) dimmer is different. The dimmer sends 10 different low voltage signals, 1, 2, 3… 10, and each voltage relates to a dimming step, 10% to 100%. There are only 10 dimming steps. That is why these dimmers are found in commercial and industrial fixtures where saving power by dimming is primary. Triac dimming is more about “setting a mood” by lowering the light levels. 

Why Should I Install A Dimmer for My LED Lights?

It’s one of the simplest tricks out there, but installing a dimmer is a great and easy way to minimize power consumption and cut back on energy costs.

Dimming LED lights is also an aesthetic choice, since it creates a lighter, welcoming light that is easier on the eyes. Dimmers are considered to be one of the most effective things in reducing 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 settings 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 plant to determine where the lights are mounted and switches are placed. And, it will give you an accurate picture of what to expect from your lighting.

What Do I Need To Set Up a Dimming System?

  1. An understanding of wiring and electrical fundementals is key when installing. Ideally consult with a licensed electrician.
  2. In addition to wiring, you’ll also require a compatible wall switch. Look for a 0-10 volt dimmer switch. They come in powered and unpowered versions.
  3. Many switches require a power wire to operate correctly. Try low voltage wire 14-18 gauge shielded or similar.
Led Bulb

Put a Plan Together

First things first, make sure that you have your 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 Wiring

Take off the existing wall switch along with its 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.

Gather your wires 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.

Collect 3 feet of wiring at the fixture and run the wiring back to the wall switch. Then, pass the wire 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 are close by.  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. Back at the wall switch, connect your wires to the positive and negative ends, hot line, and ground power before securing it to the wall.

Test The Final Product

Make sure everything is connected safely and securely and test your final product.

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 happy. 

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 have a tendency 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 dimmable LED driver or a 0-10V LED Driver. But, both indoor and outdoor LED products can benefit from dimming.

Outdoor lights like parking lot lights can be equipped with a motion sensor and dim automatically when no motion is detected. Indoor products like 8 foot LED Shop Light Fixture can be dimmed similarly by a motion sensor or set specifically to alter light levels to the optimal light level.  Luckily, LEDs and dimmers are a match made in heaven. And, with this tips you can certainly integrate dimmers into the lighting at your facility. But, if you have a question, don’t be afraid to reach out to the experts at LED Lighting Supply.

light switch
Dimmer Switch

Cory Peterson


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About the Author

Cory Peterson is Director of Sales & Marketing at LED Lighting Supply where he focuses on improving customer experience and revenue operations. Cory writes about commercial & industrial lighting, along with topics important to contractors and facility managers. In his free time, Cory enjoys traveling, snorkeling, exercise and cooking.

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