Dimmable light fixtures are an excellent way to control the brightness level in your home or business, save on electricity, and prolong your bulb’s longevity. You can install dimmable lights in your bedroom, outside on your deck or patio, inside hallways, or even in accent light fixtures such as a chandelier.
Light fixtures are dimmable depending on the bulb and circuit used. Most lighting fixtures can become dimmable if you adjust the bulb and have a dimmable circuit. To make a light dimmable, you will need a dimmable bulb and circuit. Some LED and CFL bulbs are not dimmable.
If your light bulbs have dimming capabilities, you can easily make your light fixture dimmable by installing a dimmer switch. Keep reading to find out what light fixtures you can make dimmable and how you can dim them.
How to Determine if Your Light Fixture Is Dimmable
Most incandescent or halogen bulbs are dimmable, and most light fixtures with typical sockets can be dimmed by replacing the current bulbs with incandescent or halogen bulbs. Some LED bulbs are dimmable as well, but most aren’t. Most CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs aren’t dimmable either.
The best way to determine if your LED or CFL light is dimmable is to check the box. If you don’t see anything stating whether the bulb is dimmable, it’s best to assume it’s not dimmable.
Before we get into different types of dimmers, let’s define what a dimmer switch is. A dimmer switch is used to change a bulb’s brightness and intensity using an electric circuit. A dimmer switch can turn lights off and on, as well as make the lights dim and brighten.
To get the correct type of dimmer switch, you’ll need to know what voltage your light fixture runs on. Typically, light fixtures will run on line or low voltage. Line voltage switches and low voltage fixtures are not interchangeable, so you must make sure to match your control with the correct light fixture.
Line voltages are the standard for light fixtures. They typically run on 120v or 277v.
If you’re using a line voltage, you will need to install track and rail lights with incandescent bulbs. Then you can purchase a line voltage dimmer and use the switch to control the bulb’s brightness.
Low voltage fixtures are either magnetic or electronic. If you are using low voltage fixtures, you’ll also need to determine if your system is compatible with magnetic or electronic dimmer switches. Be sure to check your property’s voltage requirements beforehand.
Some universal dimmer switches work well with low voltage CFL and LED bulbs. However, others will need specialized dimmers. Many dimmable LEDs must be paired with specific LED dimmers so that your light fixture works appropriately. Check your dimmer beforehand to ensure it will work with the type of bulbs you have on hand. And if you’re in doubt about whether a universal dimmer will work with your light fixture, opt for one that’s made specifically for your LED or CFL bulb.
Non-Dimmable LEDs are bulbs that you cannot dim. These bulbs are designed to be entirely on or off, and they can’t operate on a dimmable circuit. If you try to do it, you will damage the bulb. You will know that your bulb is damaged if you hear a flickering or buzzing sound.
Many CFL bulbs cannot be dimmed, even on a dimmable switch. Be sure to check your lightbulb’s box to ensure that it’s a dimmable bulb.
How to Make Your Current Lights Dimmable
Be sure to always check your light fixture’s load capacity before you attempt to dim a light. If you’re working with a light fixture that has multiple bulbs, such as a chandelier, you need to ensure that your dimmer can handle the number of bulbs in the fixture.
Typically, your dimmer load should carry a maximum of 10 times the amount of the total bulb wattage in the fixture. For example, if you have a fixture with four 60-watt bulbs, your dimmer should be 240-watt maximum.
Conversely, if you know your dimmer switch wattage but don’t know the number of bulbs you can fit, divide both the minimum and maximum dimmer load by 10 to determine the minimum and the maximum number of bulbs needed to operate the light fixture safely.
For example, say you have a dimmer load between 300 and 600 watts. If you divide 300 and 600 by ten, you get 30 and 60. That means your load should be between 30W and 60W. Next, add your total bulb wattage to determine how many bulbs your dimmer can support. The bulb wattage has to be greater than your dimmer’s minimum load for it to work correctly. Your dimmer shouldn’t be any higher than 25% of the load.
Depending on your needs, you can control your lights with a single light switch or across multiple locations.
Dimmer switches come in three varieties:
- Single switch. Single switches are designed for light fixtures with just one controller, such as a simple overhead bathroom light.
- 3-way. You can use a 3-way switch if your light fixture has multiple buttons, but you only need dimming capabilities for one controller.
- Multi-way. Multi-way switches are helpful when you have multiple light switches per fixture and dimming capabilities on various controls. Multi-way controls are excellent for use in hallways, staircases, outdoors, or large rooms such as a kitchen or family room with multiple light switches.
Other specialized dimmer switches come with increased functionality, such as tap screens that enable you to control and preset light levels. After adjusting your light’s brightness, you can tap the screen to change the lights. Some specialized switches include wireless remotes that allow you to adjust your light’s brightness from outside the room.
Follow these simple steps to install a dimmer switch:
- Cut the power to the switch using the fuse panel or power circuit.
- Remove the switch plate by unscrewing it. Test the circuit using a voltage tester to ensure it doesn’t have any power.
- Unscrew the switch and remove it from the electrical box and any wires attached to it.
- Completely remove the old wires from the standard light switch.
- Use the wire nuts that came with the light fixture to attach the black wires from the dimmer switch to the colored wires previously attached to the terminals from the old switch.
- Put the new dimmer switch in the electrical box and use the screws to attach it back in place.
- Put the switch plate back on using screws.
- If your dimmer came with a control knob, attach it to the switch.
- Cut the power back on.
If you don’t have experience working with electricity and aren’t sure how to go about it, you can always ask a professional to assess your light fixture and install the dimmable switches.
Dimmable light fixtures can enhance your space’s ambiance and provide a practical way for you to control the light intensity of any room. Most light fixtures with incandescent or halogen bulbs are dimmable. However, not every light fixture can be dimmable. Many LED or CFL bulbs aren’t automatically dimmable, either.
Check your bulb and circuits to ensure they have dimming capabilities. If the packaging doesn’t say it’s dimmable, it most likely isn’t. Purchase dimmable bulbs with an appropriate electrical current to dim your current light fixture.