How to Choose a Dimmer: Four Factors to Consider

Mar 24, 14 How to Choose a Dimmer: Four Factors to Consider

In past blog entries, we’ve suggested using dimmers to provide mood lighting and save energy, but a lot more goes into choosing a dimmer than you think. Have you ever installed a dimmer only to find that it shortens the life of your bulbs or doesn’t work at all? Chances are you’ve chosen the wrong dimmer for the light sources you’re using or the type of wiring you have in your home.

As nice as it would be to be able to install one dimmer with any lighting system and have it work perfectly, that’s just not the case. There are many types of dimmers, all designed to be compatible with certain light sources and lighting systems. When choosing a dimmer for your lights, here are the important factors you need to consider.

Dimmer Type

How many switches control your light fixture? That’s the first question you’ll need to ask yourself when choosing a dimmer. Here are the four basic types for your lights that you can choose from:

Single-Pole Dimmer – The single-pole dimmer is designed for light fixtures that are controlled by only one dimmer in your home. In other words, this dimmer is the only switch used to turn your lights on and off, as well as to dim.

Three-way or Four-way Dimmer – These dimmers are for light fixtures that are controlled by only one dimmer plus one or more on and off switches in other places in your home.

lampdimmer

Lutron Cradenza Lamp Dimmer

Multi-location Dimmer – If your light fixture uses multiple companion dimmers, you will need a multi-location dimmer. Using multiple dimmers allows full dimming control from more than one location.

Plug-In DimmerPlug-in dimmers are used to dim the bulb in your table and floor lamps. Many of these lamp dimmers are compatible with incandescent, CFL, and LED bulbs.

Bulb Type

Incandescent/Halogen – If you are using standard incandescent or halogen lighting in your home, standard incandescent dimmers are what you’ll need to reduce the brightness. These dimmers work in a very interesting way. Many people might think that dimming involves reducing the electrical current, but actually, dimmers rapidly turn the bulb’s circuit on and off at rates much faster than we can see (typically over 100 times per second).

Compact Fluorescent and LED – In order to dim energy-efficient lights, you should first make sure that the lights themselves are capable of dimming. Because technology is advancing, dimmable LED and CFL technology is becoming much more reliable. Once you’ve got your dimmable bulbs, then you can focus on making sure your dimmer is compatible. If you were to try to use an incandescent dimmer with an LED or CFL, it would only cause your lights to not dim correctly or malfunction completely.

Magnetic Low-Voltage (MLV) – Low-voltage lighting systems require the use of a transformer to regulate the line voltage. If a transformer used within a lighting system is magnetic, you will need a magnetic dimmer. Magnetic dimmers are inductive and use symmetric forward phase-control in order to dim.

Electronic Low-voltage (ELV) – Electronic transformers in low-voltage lighting systems require a compatible electronic dimmer. Electronic dimmers are capacitive and use reverse phase-control for dimming.

Wattage

Once you know what kind of light source you’re using, you have to be sure the wattage of your bulbs is compatible with your dimmer. That said, you also must take into consideration how many bulbs you are using on one dimmer. Some people assume that just because LEDs consume less wattage, the same incandescent dimmer can be operated with more LED bulb that consume a fraction of the wattage of an incandescent. Due to something called inrush current, or the maximum, instantaneous input current drawn by an electrical device when first turned on, using more LEDs than you would incandescents on a dimmer will only render the dimmer ineffective.

For example, if dimmer can handle 300 watts of electricity and five 60-watt bulbs, that does not mean that it will be able to handle 30 or more LEDs at 8.5 watts. If a dimmer could only handle five incandescent bulbs, only use five LEDs.

Leviton IllumaTech Dimmer

Leviton IllumaTech Dimmer

Control Style

Once you’ve gotten past all of the technical elements and narrowed down your choices, you can start to focus on the more superficial stuff – like how the dimmer looks. Dimmers come in many different colors and styles, so it’s all a matter of personal preference. The styles of the dimmer switches are varied and come in options as varied as toggles, rotaries, and even touch-sensitive dimmers.

Do you have any questions about finding the right dimmer for your lighting system? Leave us a comment or drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, or Pinterest!

read more

Easy Ways to Save on Your Electricity Bill

Jan 03, 14 Easy Ways to Save on Your Electricity Bill

Christmas has come and gone, and it’s now the start of a new year. What’s that mean for you? Quitting a habit, like biting your fingernails or finishing other people’s sentences? What about reducing your energy consumption, thus reducing your electric bill? While we support the other goals, reducing your energy consumption sounds a little better. Below are some things that will help you reduce your energy costs in 2014.

Occupancy/Vacancy Sensors: One of the easiest ways to reduce your energy consumption is to turn the lights off when you’re not in a room. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it’s pretty common to accidentally leave the lights on when you leave a room, and I’m guilty of that from time to time, too. Thankfully, there are occupancy and vacancy sensors that control the lights for you.  These sensors eliminate the possibility of leaving the lights on by detecting body heat. When the unit detects body heat, it flips the lights on, and when it doesn’t detect body heat, the lights go off. Ranging in coverage areas from 450 to 2,000 square feet, occupancy and vacancy sensors are ideal for nearly every room in your home.

Lutron D-600P-IV Single Pole Rotary Switch

Lutron D-600P-IV Single Pole Rotary Switch

Dimmers: Not only do dimmer switches allow you to control the amount of light your bulbs are producing, but they also extend your bulbs’ life by reducing the amount of voltage going to your bulbs. So instead of 120 volts, your bulb receives, say, 80 volts. Dimmer switches don’t only come in switches. Other kinds of dimmers include rotary dimmers, toggle type dimmers, and slide dimmers. Look at the different styles for yourself, and see which type best suits you and your tastes.

Precision Multiple T-15 Photo Control

Precision Multiple T-15 Photo Control

Photo Controls: It’s time to move on to outdoor lighting controls. Photo controls, also known as photocells, are an excellent tool for controlling your outdoor floodlights, garden lights, and just about anything you can think of. The same principle applies with outdoor lighting as indoor lighting: there’s always a risk of leaving something on, like the floodlights over your garage. Photocells eliminate this risk by using the sun to turn your lights on and off. When there’s a lack of sunlight, the device switches your lights on by increasing the voltage little by little (CFLs won’t work with photo controls as they need that instant pulse of electricity to turn on, not the gradual increase offered by photocells), and when the sun starts to creep up in the mornings, the photocell turns your lights off. There are even some photocells that can tell the difference between headlights and the sun.

Timers: Timers give a whole new meaning to the word “convenient.” While it’s probably too cold to catch a few rays poolside, pool season will be here before you know it. With that in mind, having a pool and spa timer controlling your pumps and vacuums makes things a whole lot simpler. While energy conservation is a hot topic, water conservation is just as hot. Look into getting a sprinkler and irrigation timer to ensure you don’t over-water your plants and you conserve precious water resources. While these timers vary greatly in their features, many have the ability to water every other day, and include a shutoff switch on rainy days without losing your settings.

*The occupancy/vacancy sensors, dimmer switches, and photo controls work best with incandescent bulbs. If you use LEDs or fluorescents, ensure your equipment is compatible with your bulbs beforehand.

What ways will you be more Earth friendly? Tell us in the comments below, or drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Pinterest!

Enhanced by Zemanta
read more

Does Color Temperature Affect Sleep?

Jun 29, 12 Does Color Temperature Affect Sleep?

It’s a long accepted fact that production of the hormone responsible for sleepiness, melatonin, can be suppressed by light. The pineal gland uses the presence of light to determine when to release and suppress the hormone, setting our “internal clock” to a cycle of wakefulness and sleep, also known as a circadian rhythm. Not surprisingly, the large amount of artificial light we encounter in the modern world can have a negative effect on this cycle by suppressing melatonin production even at night. However, recent studies suggest that not just the amount of light, but also the color of the light we encounter may affect our sleep cycles.

A 2005 study conducted by researchers at Kyushu University in Japan suggests that exposure to high color temperature light immediately preceding bedtime reduces the length of stage 4 sleep. In the study, the researchers exposed different subjects to 3000K, 5000K, and 6700K light sources for 6 hours before going to sleep. Researchers monitored the subjects’ sleep patterns and came to this conclusion:

Given that the S4-sleep period is important for sleep quality, our findings suggest that light sources of higher color temperatures may reduce sleep quality compared with those of lower color temperatures.

Other studies by the University of Basel in Switzerland and the University of Connecticut found similar results.

Though these findings are not yet accepted scientific fact, it’s worth noting that manufacturers have already started to create products with these ideas in mind. Philips, for example, produces an entire line of “Wake-Up Lights” that use increasing light intensity and color temperature to wake you from sleep, a method that is marketed as a more natural alternative to alarm clocks. The computer program and smartphone app f.lux reduces the color temperature of screens for less obtrusive nighttime reading. On the flip side, companies have long used “full spectrum” office lighting to increase alertness and productivity, assuming that if high color temperature lighting discourages sleep, it must also encourage wakefulness.

While the scientific community works this all out, what can you do now to improve your sleep? Start with what we do know: Bright light of any color temperature suppresses the production of melatonin, so limit the use of artificial light in the hours preceding sleep. This is easy to do with dimmers, 3-way bulbs, and even low wattage bulbs. Second, conduct your own study: If you currently use high color temperature bulbs and have difficulty sleeping, switch them out for soft white or warm white bulbs and see if you notice a difference.

If you try these ideas out, we’re curious about the results. Does color temperature have any effect on your sleep? Let us know in the comments, or drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

read more

How Many Lumens Do I Need?

Apr 13, 12 How Many Lumens Do I Need?

If you’ve been to a home improvement store within the past 6 months, you’ve noticed household incandescent bulbs have given way to new, sometimes unfamiliar technologies. You may find a couple “full spectrum” incandescents or Halogen floodlights, but other than those, compact fluorescent and LED bulbs line the shelves. Long gone are the days of throwing your favorite brand of 60-watt light bulb in your cart and being on your way. No, you may not even be sure which funny-looking 60-watt equal light bulb you need.

Before buying a CFL or LED light bulb, get rid of any notions you have about incandescent equivalencies. How many times have you bought a 60-watt equal CFL or LED only to be disappointed by how dim it was (or blinded by how nauseatingly bright it was)? Because there is no agreed-upon standard among manufacturers for determining equivalent wattages, statements of incandescent equivalency for CFLs and LEDs are not always dependable. So to light your home the way you intend, stop thinking about watts and start thinking about lumens.

If you read our previous article on lumens, candlepower and CRI, you may remember the definition of lumens. If not, here’s the gist: “Lumens…represent the actual amount of ambient light coming from a lamp. The higher the lumens, the more ‘lit up’ a room will be.” However, while a definition of lumens is nice, if you’re like us, you’re probably asking the real question, “How many lumens do I need to light up my room?” The answer will vary based on the design and color scheme of your room, but here is good rule of thumb, loosely based on the IESNA Lighting Handbook:

Floors: 20 Lumens per Square Foot

Tables and Raised Surfaces: 30 Lumens per Square Foot

Desks and Task Lighting: 50 Lumens per Square Foot

For the average living room of 250 square feet, you’ll need 5,000 lumens as your primary light source (20 lumens x 250 square feet), equivalent to about five 100 watt incandescent light bulbs, five 23 watt CFLs, or eight 10 watt LEDs. Since you probably read on your couch, you’ll also need about 4 square feet of task lighting on each end of the couch. That’s 200 lumens each (50 lumens x 4 square feet), but you’ll need more if the light source is a lamp with a shade. In your dining room, you’ll want about 30 lumens per square foot on your dining table (you want to see your food, but not examine it), so if your table is 6 x 3 feet, that’s 540 lumens.

Room Layout

Create Your Own Room Layout at FloorPlanner.com

Keep in mind, however, that these numbers are for typical conditions. If you have especially dark walls and furniture, you’ll need brighter light sources. The distance of your light source from the surface also changes the equation. We based our calculations on 8-foot ceilings and average height task lamps. Finally, personal preference will play the largest part in your decision. If you like the room to be especially bright, you may want to add 10 to 20% to our numbers. In fact, the best idea for any home may be to aim high and install dimmers to bring the light level down to where you want it.

So how much have you thought about how many lumens you need for your home? Are our numbers too high or two low? Let us know in the comments below, on our Facebook or Twitter, or even post a photo of your home on Pinterest and share it with us!

 

read more

8 Reasons to Use Dimmer Switches

Feb 17, 12 8 Reasons to Use Dimmer Switches

1. They save energy

When you crank down a dimmer, you are lowering the amount of power sent to a bulb. The more you dim the bulb, the less power you use, resulting in lower energy use.

2. They make bulbs last longer

As discussed in a recent blog on how to extend the life of a light bulb, delivering less power to the bulb reduces the stress on an incandescent or halogen bulb filament. The less stress the filament is under, the longer it will last.

3. They’re good for the environment

This goes back to reasons 1 & 2. Using less power means saving electricity, potentially reducing pollution produced by power plants. Longer bulb life also means throwing fewer bulbs away, resulting in less landfill clutter.

4. They’re good for your health

In addition to reducing pollution, some scientific studies suggest dimming lights in the evening has less negative effect on sleep cycles than burning bulbs at full power because dimming a bulb also lowers its color temperature, replicating the effect of the setting sun.

5. They make rooms look better

Let’s face it. Rooms with dimmed lights just look more inviting, even romantic. Next time you go to a nice restaurant, take a look at the lights. Nice aren’t they? Now go to McDonald’s. Not so nice, huh? The secret is dimming.

6. They make you look better

You may be a pretty girl or a handsome guy, but that doesn’t mean lighting can’t still help. When you dim a bulb, you are changing the light from bright white to a warm, inviting tone, softening the appearance of your hair and skin.

7. They’re easy to install

Contrary to what you may think, most dimmers are incredibly easy to install. Just turn off the power at your breaker, remove your standard toggle switch, and replace it with your new dimmer. The same 3 wires you disconnected from your toggle switch (positive, negative, and ground) attach to the dimmer in the same configuration.

8. They’re cheap

This may be the best reason of all. While sophisticated, multi-location electronic dimmers like the Lutron Maestro can cost upwards of $25, a standard rotary dimmer or slide dimmer will cost less than $10.  For less than a $10 investment, what do you have to lose?

read more