Can you put a dimmer switch on any light?
Understanding the if, where, what & how of upgrading to dimmer switches.
March 28, 2023
In case you haven’t heard: dimmable lighting is great.
Not only can it help reduce energy waste (and bills) when you set your lights to lower light levels of brightness, it also creates calmer, more personalized spaces, even providing an inviting (even Instagrammable) glow for whenever you’re hosting your next dinner party, game night, or book club. Dimmers provide the light level control that means setting the right atmosphere for any of life’s moments, in all their varied glory. And, surprise, it’s an easy upgrade, one you can even do yourself…once you understand some background basics.
Below we answer a few common questions about dimmers and dimmable lighting, and also provide a few helpful tips to get your next home project started.
Can you put a dimmer on any light?
In short: no. While a dimmer CAN be installed in place of ANY standard switch on your wall right now (more on this in a bit), for the dimmer to actually, well, dim, the bulb it controls also has to be dimmable.
Like with so many things, a bulb or lamp’s brightness is dictated by power. The more power being pulled in, the brighter the light. In extremely simplified terms, dimmers work by restricting the amount of power being transferred to the bulb to reduce its brightness. For a bulb to properly register and respond to the varying amounts of power a dimmer allows through, it requires special circuitry. Without it, trying to dim a standard, non-dimmable bulb would, at best, just not work properly. At worst? It could actually be overly sensitive to the fluctuating amounts of power and overheat, damaging the bulb and/or creating a fire hazard in your home.
How do I know if a light bulb is dimmable?
If you stroll the lighting aisle of your local hardware or home improvement store, you’ll see that there is no shortage of bulbs available that are clearly labeled as dimmable.
While it’s possible that bulbs already installed in your home may have dimming capability, if you do not know definitively that the bulb is dimmable, it is best to replace it with one that is. Most bulbs do not include an indication of dimmability on the product itself, and with the risks mentioned above of trying to dim a non-dimmable bulb, it’s better just to be safe. Any expense of purchasing a new, dimmable bulb before the existing one burnt out will likely be made up for in energy savings anyway.
Do all dimmers work with all dimmable bulbs?
Sadly, no, and this is where things can get a little more complicated.
Light bulbs come in a variety of types, such as LED, CFL, Incandescent, Halogen, etc. These different types account for how a specific bulb generates light (an LED bulb uses semiconductor materials for example, whereas an Incandescent bulb has a filament that heats up – hence why the former is so much safer for holiday decorations/string lights), and thus impact how much energy it’ll use, how much power it can handle (and how bright it can be), even how long it’ll last. To ensure that a specific dimmer switch will work to adjust the light levels of a particular dimmable bulb, safely and with reliable performance, you should compare the specifications of the dimmer and bulb for compatibility.
In addition to being marked as dimmable, a bulb’s packaging will also indicate its type and its wattage (ex. LED; 60W). Similarly, different dimmer models should indicate which types of bulbs they work with and what wattages they are rated for (ex. LED/CFL; 450W/700W). Note that with the examples here, the dimmer’s 450W rating indicates it has the capacity to dim multiple 60W bulbs, as would be needed if you were using the dimmer to control a light fixture that housed several dimmable bulbs. However, to make this matching process a little easier, Legrand’s Tru-Universal Dimmers were designed to work with virtually any 120V dimmable bulb (excludes 0-10V), whether it is LED, Halogen, Incandescent, etc.
Can I install a dimmer on any light switch?
Yes! Once you’ve ensured that the bulb(s) controlled by the switch is/are dimmable (and that the dimmer and bulb(s) is/are compatible) then the dimmer can easily replace that existing switch in as little as 15 minutes. Check out our blog post on How to Install a Dimmer Switch for instructions.
Additional Tips and Considerations
When dealing with LED dimmable bulbs and dimmers specifically, there are other details and specifications worth noting to ensure compatibility and optimal performance. For example, 0-10V dimmable LED bulbs should be used exclusively with 0-10V LED dimmers. If an LED bulb or fixture uses a driver that specifies “forward phase” or “reverse phase” control, be sure to check that the dimmer you’ve selected can accommodate that type of control.
Dimmable bulbs are available in a wide range of light color temperatures indicated through terms like “warm,” “cool,” or “neutral,” as well as descriptors like “soft” “bright” or “daylight.” Some brand’s bulbs can even be adjusted manually between these for easier selection. If you haven’t ever considered your preferences or the needs of your space in terms of lighting temperature (soft/warm is considered more relaxing, daylight or bright can be better for areas with hands-on activities like cooking or crafting), selecting your dimmable bulbs is a great time to factor that in.
If you’d like to get even more benefits from switching to a dimmer, opting for smart dimmers takes the advantages of light level control up a notch, allowing you to control the lights from anywhere via app. Notice it’s too bright while you’re lounging on the couch? Don’t get up; just dim the lights from your phone. Looking to streamline your daily routine? Automate the dimming and brightening of lights based by creating a schedule. Or configure your perfect movie-watching lights and save it as a scene that you can access every time.