November 18, 2008
| by Lisa Montgomery
So what’s the best course of action for adding dimmers? Should you change out every single switch in your house or start with just a couple of rooms? According to the experts, you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck in the kitchen and bath. “These two rooms have a tremendous amount of installed lighting,” says Phil Scheetz, home systems marketing manager at Lutron Electronics. In a kitchen, for example, there might be recessed lighting over the stove and cooktop, pendants above the island, a set of lights under the cabinets, some above the cabinets and another group by the breakfast nook. By placing all of these lights under the control of a few dimmer switches, you’ll be able to adjust the settings of the lights in a number of different ways to suit whatever it is you’re doing at the moment. For instance, after a meal is prepared and you’re ready to eat, you could use the dimmers to put the lights by the stove at a 10-percent intensity level but brighten the fixtures over the table to 80-percent. The other lights could go to 60-percent—a level that provides general illumination but allows you to save energy at the same time.
In addition to the kitchen and bathroom, other areas that are good candidates for dimmers are family rooms, dining rooms and the exterior of your house. “The exterior is the most overlooked area in a lighting plan,” says Grant Sullivan, product marketing manager for Leviton. “But what household really needs its outdoor lights burning at full intensity all night?” He suggests dimming these lights to 50-percent to save energy and provide enough light for people returning home late at night.
After you’ve decided which rooms deserve dimmers, your next task is to choose the dimmer switch itself. Dimmers come in a wide variety of styles and prices ranges. You’ll find old-style rotary dimmers that work by twisting a knob, dimmers that regulate the lights via a small slider bar and those that adjust the lights according to the position of your finger on touch-sensitive wall plate. Some dimmers are basic in design while others look like a piece of art. Dimmers also differ by how many lights, or loads, they can handle, as well as their ability to communicate with home control systems. Naturally, you’ll pay more for a smarter, prettier dimmer than a plain-Jane model. However, with prices ranging from $10 to more than $200, you’re sure to find a style that suits your home’s decor and fits your budget.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.