What Are The Different Types Of Dimmer Switches?

Upgraded Home Team
by Upgraded Home Team

Many homeowners are drawn to dimmer switches because they provide any lighting options in one switch. Understandably, many of those homeowners are left confused about the difference between the variety of dimmer switches available.

The three main types of dimmer switches are resistive, fluorescent, and inductive dimmers. Resistive dimmers are used for lamps with a filament, inductive dimmers for LED lights, and fluorescent dimmers for fluorescent lights. Dimmer controllers include slide dimmer with or without a preset switch, tap, and rocker dimmers.

In this article, we will talk about the different types of dimmers as well as the different types of controls. That way, if you decide to get one for your home, you know strictly what to look for and know which ones are compatible with your particular light setup.

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What Exactly Are Dimmers?

Chances are that you’ve seen a dimmer switch once or twice in your life. They’re commonly found in bathrooms and dining rooms. The control for a dimmer is like a little sliding lever that you can use to increase or decrease the brightness for lighting in a room. It’s also known as ‘mood lighting’. These are great if you want to have a nice romantic dinner with your significant other, or if the bathroom is too light in the mornings, you can turn the lighting down a bit.

Resistive Dimmers

Resistive dimmers are meant for lights that contain filament and are split into two categories. There are leading-edge resistive dimmers and trailing edge resistive dimmers. Leading-edge dimmers are the ones that you are likely most familiar with. You can use leading-edge dimmers with everything from transformers powering 12V lamps and constant current LEDs to halogen and incandescent lights.

When you are looking for leading-edge dimmers, you’ll notice they are rated by maximum wattage for lights that it can dim. The last thing that you want to do is pair a leading-edge dimmer with a light source that has higher wattage than what is recommended. Resistive dimmers help lights have longer lives as they don’t overexert the lamp.

Trailing-Edge Resistive Dimmers

On the other hand, trailing edge resistive dimmers are more expensive and harder to come by. The higher price tag for trailing edge dimmers is due to the added function that they have.

For example, trailing edge dimmers are soft-start, meaning that they turn on to a low light and let you bring it up at will. Trailing edge also allows for multi-way dimming, which means that you can dim the light from multiple locations.

Fluorescent Dimmers

Fluorescent dimmers are explicitly meant for dimming fluorescent lights. They are more complicated than the alternatives due to the nature of fluorescent lamps themselves. For example, you need a 1-10V regulated ballast if you want to use a fluorescent dimmer to effectively dim a fluorescent bulb. Unlike resistive dimmers, fluorescent dimmers don’t do anything to extend the life span of bulbs.

That isn’t because fluorescent dimmers are less effective than resistive dimmers; it is just that fluorescent bulbs are more finicky. Fluorescent bulbs are quite responsive to fluorescent dimmers, which makes them great for creating ambiance.

You can even dim some LED lights with fluorescent lights. If the LED light in question is powered by a 230V LED driver. Of course, not all LED lights are even dimmable, and of course, not all of them will have a constant current 230V LED driver.

Inductive Dimmers

Inductive dimmers are much different than fluorescent and resistive dimmers in that they are not used in homes for the most part. The dim light for low voltage LED lighting or from a transformer.

Instead of wattage, inductive dimmers are rated by voltage amps (VA). Inductive dimmers can handle a powerful rush of current coming from a transformer. For the most part, resistive and fluorescent dimmers are what you will find in homes instead of inductive dimmers.

What Kind of Dimmer Controls Are There?

There are several primary styles of dimmer controls used in homes today, including:

  • Slide dimmers with preset switch
  • Slide dimmers without preset switch
  • Tap dimmers
  • Rocker dimmers

Slide dimmers with preset switches are easy to use as they have an on and off switch as well as slide control. You simply adjust the “slide” handle to increase or decrease the light in the room. The preset switch allows for you to turn it on or off no matter what level the slide handle is at. Slide dimmers without preset controls are only different in that they have no on/off switch.

Turning off a slide dimmer without a preset switch is as easy as turning the dimmer all the way down. In general, slide dimmers without a switch are cheaper than the other options out there.

High-Tech Dimmers

If you want a high tech dimmer control, tap dimmers may be for you. Tap dimmers work via a touchpad that you can raise or lower the light with. Some higher-end tap dimmers even have automation controls. On the other hand, rocker-style dimmers are sleek and modern. They can be preset as they have a switch like some slide dimmers, and they stay flat to the wall. Rocker dimmers are great for setting a pleasant, ambient mood.

What About Plug-In Dimmers?

Plug-in dimmers are a simple and affordable alternative to the main dimmer types detailed above. For less than $20 or even $15, you can find plug-in dimmers that allow you to turn your lamps into dimmable light sources.

Not everyone wants to or can afford to have dimmable lights put into their house, and plug-in dimmers offer an affordable solution to that. Many people find that plug-in dimmers work great for desk lamps or bedside tables.

Plug-in dimmers come with a control that is typically styled like a slide dimmer. Affordable and easy to use, plug-in dimmers can save you a fortune on rewiring and reconfiguring lights.

Do You Need a Different Dimmer For LED Bulbs vs. Halogen Bulbs?

Halogen bulbs are more compatible with different dimmers than LED bulbs are. LED bulbs are compatible with many dimmers as well. However, if you put a non-dimmable LED bulb in a dimming socket, then you may damage the bulb. If you want to dim an LED bulb fully, you need to find a resistive, fluorescent, or other dimmer wired to handle LED bulbs.

Pairing an LED light with dimming circuitry that is not meant to handle it can damage the lights and the dimming system. Trailing edge dimmers are perfect for LEDs as well. For halogen lights, it is best to use leading-edge dimmers. Before incandescent light bulbs were phased out, they also worked best with leading-edge dimmers.

If you have doubts about whether your halogen or LED bulbs are compatible with a particular dimmer, consult an electrician. Using the wrong bulb can limit the range of dimmable light or even potentially damage the entire bulb and installation.

Why Should You Have A Dimmer In Your Home?

Lighting can be exceptionally harsh, especially in the kitchen or bathroom areas. The light tends to reflect off the mirrors, porcelain, glass, and sink fixtures. When you have a dimmer, you can dim these lights’ brightness, thus relieving the strain on your eyes.

In addition, you can install dimmers in your bedroom or your living room. The dimmer provides some fantastic mood lighting suited for:

  • Romantic evenings
  • Movie nights
  • R&R time
  • Naptime
  • Early mornings
  • Late evenings

Dimmers Save On Energy

Not only are you able to implore some fantastic mood lighting, but dimmers also save you on energy costs! This is because the bulbs aren’t functioning at full capacity, which means less power is running through the lines. So, upon installing dimmers, you can expect lower electric bills.

So, if you ever wonder whether or not leaving the light on is warranted or not, with a dimmer, that’s not a battle you’ll have to face any longer. Using a dimmer switch, you can lower the light to where it’s barely there or turn it on full blast. There is no more one or the other… You have a variety of choices in between.

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What Have We Learned?

There are many types of dimmer switches that each is best suited for different functions. The same can be said for dimmer control types, and each one has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. If you have bulbs containing filament, try to stick with leading or trailing edge resistive dimmers. Be sure always to prioritize checking the maximum wattage. If you overload our dimmer and electronics, you could fry the bulb or even the whole system.

When it comes to the type of dimmer control type you choose, it is mostly a matter of personal taste. If you want high tech ease of use, go with digital or electronic tap dimmers or even multiway dimmers for remote dimming. If you want to save money and forego the rewiring, invest under $20 in a plug-in dimmer. Otherwise, you won’t regret having new dimming lights put in your home. Dimmable lights create a great mood, keep your lights alive for longer, and are easy to use.

Upgraded Home Team
Upgraded Home Team

We are a team of passionate homeowners, home improvement pros, and DIY enthusiasts who enjoy sharing home improvement, housekeeping, decorating, and more with other homeowners! Whether you're looking for a step-by-step guide on fixing an appliance or the cost of installing a fence, we've here to help.

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