Dim-Witted About Lighting Control?

There’s nothing stupid about trading your toggle switches for dimmers.

lutron bathroom

Lighting controls from Lutron Electronics help shape this bathroom.

One of the most inexpensive ways to curb household energy consumption is by replacing some of your home’s toggle-style light switches with dimmer models. Studies show that by lowering the intensity of a light bulb by just 10 percent, you’ll save 10 percent on electricity costs and double the life of the bulb. Dim the bulb by 25 percent, and you’ll realize a 20 percent savings.

With dimmer switches costing as little as $10 a pop, the return on your investment is definitely worth the time and effort you’ll spend to install the new devices.

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Plan of Action
So what’s the best course of action for adding dimmers? Should you change out every 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 your tasks. 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.

Selection of Styles
After you’ve decided which rooms deserve dimmers, your next task is to choose the dimmer switches themselves. Dimmers come in a wide variety of styles and price 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 a 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.

Maximize Your Potential
You might be tempted to stick with the least expensive dimmers, but pricier models have the potential to save the greatest amount of electricity. A dimmer managed by a home control system, for example, can be programmed to adjust automatically at prescheduled times of the day and to react to certain conditions around the home. For example, if a daylight sensor notices that there’s ample light coming through the windows to illuminate the space, it could signal the home control system to turn off the lights and open the shades. Another scenario could involve your entertainment system.

Still another energy-saving feature could involve the activation of a GREEN button on a home control keypad or touchscreen. When this button is engaged, the home control system could sweep through the house, dimming every light to a predetermined percentage. “The homeowner would work with his or her home systems installer to decide which fixtures to put on the GREEN button and how much to dim them,” explains Scheetz. Expect to pay a few thousand dollars for a system with features like daylight sensing and green commands, but they’ll definitely make it easier to curb your household energy costs.

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