I wouldn’t be lying if I said that dimmable LED lights are probably my favorite type of lights. They’re just so practical and interesting. They’re super versatile and can create mood lighting so easily. So I decided to write down an extensive guide discussing all things related to these Swiss army knives of lighting.
The majority of LED light bulbs are dimmable but some are not. Most models of LED lights are available in a dimmable version. Make sure the LED bulbs you purchase say “dimmable” on the packaging or description. If you already have LED light bulbs and are not sure if they are dimmable, there are a few things you can try to test them. Keep reading to find out what those are.
The major points of this article will help you:
- Check if your LEDs are dimmable or not
- Figure out how to purchase and use dimmable LED lights
- Find the coolest places to install dimmable LEDs
- Learn some key details about dimmers
Let’s get on to it!
- What Are LED Lights?
- The Ultimate Guide To Dimmable LED Lights
- Good To Know About LED Dimmers
What Are LED Lights?
A light-emitting diode (LED) is a small semiconductor device that emits visible light when current runs through it. As the light (or photons) are actually emitted by the semiconductor, LED lamps generate minimal heat and have a very long lifespan.
As a reference, incandescent bulbs produce light by heating a wire filament to a specific temperature. This means that up to 90% of the energy is emitted as heat.
LEDs are the newest addition to conventional lighting products and they are here to stay.
Some of their stronger selling points are:
- They are up to 75% more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs
- They can last up to 15+ years
- They are more environmentally friendly
- They don’t generate heat
- They come with many dimming and color-changing options
There’s so much to say about LEDs, so in this article, we will only focus on their dimming options and how to use them best.
The Ultimate Guide To Dimmable LED Lights
How to know if your LED lights are dimmable
a. If you’re about to buy a LED bulb, the package or product description will mention if it is dimmable.
But what should you do if you already have the LED and threw away the package?
b. In some cases, the base of the bulb may say whether it’s dimmable or not. This was especially true a few years ago when dimmable LEDs were not all that common. Newer LEDs are unlikely to have that but in any case, look for this symbol:
c. The only way to be sure is to plug the LED into a dimmer switch. Modern dimmer switches (called trailing edge dimmers) are compatible with your LEDs. However, if you have an old leading edge dimmer that you use with incandescent bulbs, it was designed for higher wattage and will not work with your LED.
What happens if you put a non-dimmable LED in a dimmer switch?
At best, nothing will happen and your LED simply will not dim.
At worst, you might damage the bulb and your electrics.
To check if your LED is dimmable by plugging it into the dimmer switch, keep the switch at full brightness and then slowly decrease it by 10-15%. This should be enough to figure out if the bulb is dimmable without stressing it too much.
It’s advisable to have an idea of your dimmer’s minimum load. Old dimmers could have a minimum load of 25 watts or more, while most LEDs are 10 watts or less. That means that you risk underloading your switch, which could damage your electrics. Disconnect the bulb if you notice flickering!
Which LED is better: dimmable or non-dimmable?
Dimming lights can transform an entire room with just the flick of a switch. Imagine being able to make your home office both a productive and a relaxing space depending on your mood and the task at hand.
Keeping dimmable LEDs at full brightness is basically the same as having non-dimmable bulbs. So really, they are that much more versatile.
This is why I always suggest dimmable LEDs wherever possible. The only true downside is having to install multiple dimmer switches which sometimes can be a hassle and a bit expensive.
Try to think of the places in your home that would most benefit from dimmable lights and start transforming those. You can move on to lower-priority lights when you start loving all the options dimmable LEDs give you!
Here are some unique ideas on how to use dimmable LEDs around your home.
Best places to install dimmable LEDs – tips and tricks
1. Living room cove lighting
The living room is ideal for dimmable LED lighting because its functionality varies a lot. You want the lighting to be perfect for entertaining guests but also for relaxing.
If your ceiling doesn’t have a cove already, don’t worry! Family Handyman has laid out a cove installation guide that goes through the process step by step.
2. Under the bedframe
Whether you had thought of this before or not, I’m sure you can see why this is a super sweet spot to put dimmable LEDs. It is very modern and elegant, and if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can install multi-color LEDs and change the color depending on your mood.
You can also use a motion sensor and set it to automatically light up the ultra-dimmed setting at night!
3. Under the bottom kitchen cabinets
This works especially well if you have LED strips under the cabinets for preparing food. It creates a parallel symmetry in the kitchen countertop, which is very modern and dramatic.
Read my guide on lighting your kitchen if you want to learn simple tricks to transform your cooking space!
Same as under the bedframe, you can install a motion sensor near the floor to avoid toe stubbing!
4. Behind your mirrors
Backlit mirrors are growing in popularity in the last few years and for good reason.
- They produce light evenly all around so they eliminate unflattering shadows
- They save space and don’t risk obstructing parts of the mirror with a fixture
- They create a nice atmosphere and make the bathroom more dramatic
They are ideal for a clean, minimalist aesthetic. Contemporary, Scandinavian, Art Deco, and Zen style bathrooms can look amazing with backlit mirrors.
Dimmable LEDs behind the mirror will give some versatility and warmth to the bathroom.
Configure them in a way to make use of the night light option and keep in mind that some backlit mirrors come with built-in defoggers!
Do dimmed LED lights use less electricity?
Yes they do!
Old dimmer switches were not very efficient in reducing the energy flowing to the light bulb, so much of it would be dissipated as heat.
However, advancements in technology have improved the efficiency of this system by a lot. Nowadays, if you lower the brightness of your bulbs to 50%, the power cost can decrease by up to 40%.
Not only that, but dimming can also double or triple the lifetime of your LED bulbs.
That’s not the case with incandescent bulbs though. The only reliable way of reducing electricity consumption with incandescent lights is by choosing lower bulb wattage.
Good To Know About LED Dimmers
Do LED lights need a special dimmer switch?
Trailing edge dimmers are ideal for LEDs, as they were made to work with lower voltages. But the reality is that trailing edge dimmers are much more rare than you might think. If you have a dimmer switch, it’s most likely a leading edge dimmer or “legacy” dimmer.
Because of their low voltage/wattage needs, all LED bulbs and strips have what’s called a “LED driver” – a small electrical device that regulates the power supply to the LED to reduce the risk of overheating, damage to the bulb, and electrical fire.
Leading edge dimmers can work with LEDs only if there is compatibility between the LED driver and the dimmer.
Lamp manufacturers provide lists of dimmer switches that have been tested with their products and are compatible.
Why do LED lights flicker when dimmed?
There are five main reasons why LED lights flicker when dimmed:
- The LEDs are not dimmable
- The LEDs have not been properly connected to the circuit.
- You are underloading the switch
- You are overloading the switch
- The LEDs are not compatible with the dimmer switch
1. The LEDs are not dimmable
If your LEDs are not dimmable and you connect them to a dimmer switch, they might flicker. To avoid any damage to the bulb and your circuit, disconnect the LEDs when you realize this might be the case.
2. The LEDs have not been properly connected to the circuit
Make sure your connection is fine. The bulb should fit easily without requiring any force and there should be no empty space between the bulb and the socket.
3. You are underloading the switch
LED lights might flicker if they are connected to a dimmer switch that has a higher minimum load requirement than the combined wattage of the LEDs connected to that switch.
The combined wattage of the LEDs on the circuit must always exceed the minimum load (and of course be below the maximum load).
For example, if a leading edge dimmer has a minimum load of 20 watts and a maximum load of 250 watts, it can be used with up to four 60-watt incandescent bulbs. Now if you replace those bulbs with three 6-watt LEDs, you will not meet the minimum load requirement.
This could cause flickering and damage the bulb or the circuit/switch. At best, it would lead to poor dimming performance.
4. You are overloading the switch
During initial start-up, LED drivers produce a high-wattage inrush current for a short duration that is not the same as the wattage rating of the LED. This inrush current might overload your dimmer switch.
A good rule of thumb is to allow 100 watts of the switch for each LED bulb.
So for example, if the maximum load of the switch is 500 watts, do not connect more than five LEDs.
5. The LEDs are not compatible with the dimmer switch
This is most often the case when using leading edge dimmers with your LEDs.
Look for LED drivers or dimmer switches labeled as having a “flicker-free design”.
So there you have it!
Dimmable LEDs can transform your house and make your everyday life much more interesting and fun.
Make sure you have the right LEDs and compatible dimmers and you are good to go!