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Selecting Lighting Dimmers for Your Home

Important Information

Dimming reduces the amount of light produced and energy consumed.



  • To make certain that you are purchasing a quality product, choose products with the Energy Star® logo.
  • Be sure to purchase bulbs and dimmers from a reputable manufacturer. Some dimmers may hum, buzz, or cause interference. This is less likely with dimmers manufactured by reputable companies.
  • Portable (plug-in) dimming devices have no installation cost. For example, a table lamp may be plugged into a portable dimmer device.
  • Dimmers for some light sources may need a special device called a driver.
  • Some dimmers may require you to push the dimmer or slide it to the lowest position to turn it off completely.
  • Remember! Dimming technology continues to develop. Dimmers are upgraded, just like computers and phones.
  • See our fact sheet about Safe & Sustainable Lighting for more information on choosing the right bulb.


When Thinking of Dimming Effects, Consider...

  • Color: How will the color of the light change when dimmed?
  • Range: How evenly will the dimmer dim light from high to low?
  Incandescents CFLs LEDs
Color of Light: Becomes warmer, yellow to more orange to more red Not as much changes as when dimming incandescents May become more blue
  A gradient bar that shows the light color which starts as yellow at 0% and becomes red at 100%. A gradient bar that shows the light color which starts as a cyan at 5-20% and becomes a more purple blue at 90-100%. A gradient bar that shows the light color which starts as a cyan at 5-20% and becomes a more purple blue at 90-100%. gradient bar that shows the light color which starts as white at 10% and becomes a more cyan at 100%.
Dimming Range: Very smooth transition Exact range varies. Dimmed LED do not flicker


When Thinking of Dimming Costs, Consider...

  • Initial Cost: How much will the dimmer cost to purchase?
  • Installation Cost: How much will the wiring and electrician cost?
  • Dimmer Lifespn: How often will you have to replace the dimmer?
  • Energy Savings: How much energy will the dimmer save?
  Incandescents CFLs LEDs
Ease of Installation: Very easy Varies; Easy to more difficult Difficult
Initial Cost: Inexpensive... It could be as easy as replacing a switch with an incandescent dimmer Expensive... Must use a dimmable bulb, ballast, and special dimmer Expensive... Must use a compatible bulb (diode cluster), driver, and may need a special dimmer
Energy Savings: Varies; Potentially high Varies; Potentially high Varies; Potentially very high
Bulb Life: 2 to 4 times more than non-dimmed 1 to 1.66 times more than non-dimmed Potentially longer than non-dimmed LED technology is changing rapidly


Caution: Read all bulb, dimmer, ballast, and driver packages very carefully. Some CFLs and LEDs are not made for dimming.


Before You Buy: Some manufacturers publish lists of compatible components. Consult with an electrician, who can advise you about planning and can provide dimmer installation, comply with electrical codes in your area, and make certain that your lighting system is compatible and safe.


What the Package Can Tell You...

What type of light source will the dimmer dim?

  • Specific types of dimmers are made for incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs, and light emitting diodes.


How much longer will the bulb last if dimmed?

  • Average lifespan (in hours) increases for most bulbs when dimmed, but actual length varies.


All of these things can tell you how much the lighting really costs!


Choose the dimmer that is right for you!

  • People with a limited range of hand motion need a dimmer that works without grasping or twisting
  • Any dimmer can change the mood of a room and save energy when used the right way.


Typical Dimmer Styles

These are illustrations of different types of dimmers; this includes rotary, sliding, toggle, portable, and automated dimmers.



Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association. (2009).  Dimming scre-in compact fluorescent lamps:  Residential application.


Energy Star. (2006). Building manual: Lighting. Retrieved from 6. Lighting

Energy Star. (n.d.). The Energy Star choose a light guide. Retrieved from
Light Bulbs 

Energy Star. (n.d.). What are LEDs? Retrieved from Learn About LED Lighting 

General Electric Company. (2010). Compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) FAQs. Retrieved
from Information on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and Mercury

Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. (1999). fESNA lighting education:
Fundamental level [!ESNA ED-100]. New York: Author.

Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. (2008). Light and Design: A guide to
designing quality lighting for people and buildings [IES DG-18-08]. New York: Author.


Lutron Electronics Company. (2010). Top 10 energy savings benefits of light control.
Retrieved from Energy Savings


National Electrical Manufacturers Association. (2010). Solid state lighting for incandescent replacement: Best practices for dimming [LSD 49-2010]. Rosslyn, Virginia: Author.

Russell, S. (2008). The architecture of light: Architectural lighting design concepts and
techniques. La Jolla, California: Conceptnine Print Media.

U.S. Department of Energy. (2008). Future developments in LED dimming controls.
Retrieved from Energy Savings Estimates of Light Emitting Diodes in Niche Lighting Applications

U.S. Department of Energy. (2008). LED application series: Dimming LEDs.

U.S. Department of Energy. (2008). Standard dimming controls. Retrieved from
Lighting Conrols

U.S. Department of Energy. (2008). Using light-emitting diodes: Changes in color and efficacy with dimming.

U.S. Department of Energy. (2009). Using light-emitting diodes: Will LEDs solve the dimming problem? Retrieved from Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) for General Illumination


Whitehead, R. (2009). Residential lighting: A practical guide to beautiful and sustainable design (2nd Ed.). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Winchip, S. M. (2007). Sustainable design for interior environments. New York: Fairchild Books. 



Paulette Hebert, Ph.D.


Design, Housing, & Merchandising


Gina Peek, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Extension Specialist

Housing & Consumer Issues



Scott Frazier, Ph.D., P.E., C.E.M.

Oklahoma State University

Shirley Niemeyer, Ph.D.
University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Mike Vogel, Ph.D.

Montana State University


Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies, practices or procedures. This includes but is not limited to admissions, employment, financial aid, and educational services.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Robert E. Whitson, Director of Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma. This publication is printed and issued by Oklahoma State University as authorized by the Vice President, Dean, and Director of the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and has been prepared and distributed at a cost of $1.35 cents per copy. 1111

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