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Switches, Dimmers + Outlets

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Controls for your lighting and fans come in many different types. Here we will give you a brief overview and things to consider when deciding what type of control you need.


  • On/off switch: These are the basic types of switch. It will turn something on or off. This type of switch works with all lamp types and does not have a wattage constraint. Things to know when choosing a switch is if the application is single pole or three-way. (Is there only one switch location for the fixture, or are there two switches (opposite sides of the room as an example) that operate the fixture.
  • Dimmers: Dimmers, while controlling on and off, offer the ability to adjust the light somewhere in between - from low level to full brightness. Installing dimmer switches can help create different scenes as well as save money on energy expenses. Choosing the right dimmer requires you to know a little about the light source you are controlling and the overall wattage that will be used with the switch.
    • Line voltage incandescent (forward phase-control)- this is the most straightforward light source to dim. Calculate the total wattage of your fixtures on the circuit and choose a dimmer that meets or exceeds that total.
    • Low-voltage halogen lighting- Low voltage systems use electronic (ELV) or magnetic (MLV) transformers to reduce their voltage. The dimmer switch must be compatible with the transformer and you will need to select an ELV (reverse phase-control) or MLV (symmetric forward phase-control) type dimmer. Keep in mind the circuit being controlled can only have one type of lighting on it (all incandescent, all electronic, or all magnetic).
    • Fluorescent lighting- True fluorescent lighting can only be dimmed if the fixture is equipped with a dimming ballast. When there is a dimming ballast the fixture manufacturer will provide the compatible dimmer type to use.
    • LED- Not all LEDs are dimmable. When the LEDs are integral to the fixture, the fixture manufacturer will declare if they can be dimmed and then provide compatible dimmer types.
    • Compact fluorescent and LED with medium bases (incandescent replacement types)- These lamps must be labeled dimmable in order to be used with a dimmer. Check the packaging to see if they are dimmable and what type of switch the lamp manufacturer recommends. Their dimming performance may not be the same as incandescent, this is still a developing technology.
  • Lighting Control Systems: Lighting control systems enable you to control entire areas of your home and enable you to create different settings for different needs.
  • Fan controls: Fan controls come in a few variations. Variable speed- operates almost like a dimmer, no preset speeds. Controlled speeds - the control can offer from 3 to 7 preset fan speeds. Fan and light control, for when the ceiling fan includes a light kit. These controls can be wall mounted, hand held remotes or a combination of both. Most fan manufacturers offer compatible controls with their fans, there is also the choice of after market controls. You will need to be aware of how your application is wired. Two-wire refers to applications that have one circuit, this typically means that you will need to use a control with a radio receiver in the canopy. Three-wire refers to two-circuit applications- one circuit controls the fan speed, the second circuit will control the light. This is more common in new construction. In most cases two-wire controls will work with three-wire applications, but three-wire controls will not work in two-wire applications.
  • Timers and Sensors: Timers and sensors help conserve energy. Timers will turn the light off after a set amount of time. Sensors can be motion/occupancy activated and will turn the lights off after no motion has been detected. These are very useful in bathrooms, closets, storage rooms, spaces that people occupy for short periods of time.

Light dimmers not only have an extraordinary effect on the ambiance of your room, but dimmers are an eco-friendly choice. Dimming by 50% can save 34% electricity and bulbs last an average 10 years. Even better, your dimmers will pay for themselves in 2 years.

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