Can Dimmers Work with LEDs?
March 7, 2012 - 5:04pm
 

Dimmers are popular applications in many homes these days, allowing people the ability to add drama and a touch of romance whenever the mood strikes.

But if consumers want to replace their incandescent bulbs with more energy-efficient lighting sources such as compact fluorescents or LEDs, they may find that their existing dimmer controls won’t work.

That’s because current dimmer controls are designed to work with incandescent bulbs, and the technology they use isn’t always compatible with CFLs or LEDs.

According to Kelly Gordon of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, normal household dimmers work by turning the power on and off to an incandescent bulb very quickly. Because it happens to fast, most people don’t detect that the light is flickering; instead it just looks light the light has been dimmed.

These dramatic spikes in current are fine for incandescents, but Gordon says CFLs and LEDs both require very specific power levels to operate and often the ballasts and drivers that regulate power to the CFL and LED bulbs aren’t able to withstand the pulsating power.

For example, Gordon says some screw-in CFLs will work with the existing dimmer switches, but often when the lights get down to a 30 percent light level, they’ll simply shut all of the way off instead of gradually dimming to darkness.

The problems are even worse with LEDs because Gordon says some dimmer switches have a minimum load requirement to work, and when those dimmer switches are hooked up to the extremely energy-efficient LEDs, the dimmers won’t work at all. “[Sometimes] they’ll have a 100-watt minimum load that they’ll work on. And LEDs are starting at already way below that, so even if you had a bunch of LED fixtures on it, it still wouldn’t meet the minimum load requirement for the switch, so that’s another challenge,” Gordon explains.

Luckily, CFL manufacturers are now beginning to specify on their packaging whether the bulbs can be used with dimmers. But Gordon says most LED bulb manufacturers haven’t begun to inform consumers about whether or not their light fixtures are compatible with exisiting dimmers.

In fact, Gordon says she’s only aware of one LED manufacturer, Cree LED Lighting Solutions, that specifies which company’s products are compatible with its lights.

“I think, as we see more LED replacement lamps, [or] screw-in lamps, that’s something manufacturers are going to have to do. They’re going to have to give an indication of what kind of dimmer switches their product will work with… They’re going to have to label them as dimmable,” Gordon says.

Over time, as LEDs become more common in residential lighting, Gordon says more LED-compatible dimmer switches will be installed in homes.

“But that’s going to be a long-term thing,” Gordon says. “In the next five years or so there are going to be many of the same issues as with CFLs with dimmer compatibility.”

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My switch for the ceiling

My switch for the ceiling light is right next to another switch next to our bed. I want to be able to use the same switch covers (they were expensive and match all the other in the house). Are there any dimmer switches that are made to go with traditional switch plates?

I bought special LED dimmers

I bought special LED dimmers with a Rapid Start feature, and I hate them. When the dimmer is set to low and I turn it on, it gives a flash of full brightness before settling down to the dim setting. My old incandescent dimmers, on the other hand, work really neat with the LEDs. When they are turned on at the lowest setting, there is about a one second pause, and then the light fades gently in to the low setting. What's the problem with that?

I bought dimmable led light

I bought dimmable LED light bulbs for my kitchen fixture, but my dimmer switch still doesn't work with them. Can you recommend a brand?

CAN ANYONE TELL ME IF THERE

Can anyone tell me if there is a risk that an existing dimmer used with new dimmable LED's could fail catastrophically and result in a fire? I currently have older Lightolier Sunset Series slide dimmers and want to re-lamp with LEDs. The dimmer seems to function with these new lamps, but I have had multiple failures with the dimmers in the past from various issues including state discharge that were borderline dangerous.

Thanks for your question. The

Thanks for your question. The world of LEDs has dimming issues, there is no denying that. Most manufacturers of LED products will list what dimmers are compatible with their products. It is possible that the dimmers you have may work. A typical problem is that the LEDs use so little power that the dimmer doesn’t even recognize the low load. Lightolier makes their own dimmer, called the CL Dimmer, that is compatible with many LEDs. I don’t think that a fire can result from a dimmer/LED pairing. - Randall Whitehead

I am wanting to re-lamp the

I am wanting to re-lamp the chancel in our church. We currently have 24, 75 watt incandescent bulbs that are in 10" recessed can fixtures. All these are controlled with 1 dimmer switch. The 24 cans are rarely dimmed. I get more complaints about the area being under lit. we are wanting to install 24 pcs. of a 100 watt equivalent LED. The lamp package states that they are dimmable. If you had to make your best guess do you think the existing dimmer will work. I can not find a 500 watt LED dimmer anywhere.

My guess is that the existing

My guess is that the existing dimmer may not work. Usually the LED manufacturer lists on their packaging or on their website what dimmers are compatible with their product. They would also have a customer service number too. Lutron does make a 250 watt LED dimmer called the CL Dimmer. You would need to have an electrician divide the lighting into two groups. I hope that this helps, Randall

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