Can LED Lights Be On a Dimmer Switch?

Dimmers are great for setting the ambiance in a room. When you’re having a nice date dinner, you don’t want the place to be lit like a football stadium. You got to set the tone right and that’s why I like dimmers.

Replacing incandescent bulbs will reduce your home’s carbon footprint by almost up to 800%. And it will also significantly reduce the money you fork out to pay the bills every month so replacing them with LEDs is the way forward.

Yes, LED bulbs can be used on a dimmer but they need to be listed as dimmable. LEDs can still work with incandescent dimmers, but the compatibility is an essential factor. Look at manufacturers’ website to figure out the right bulb and dimmer for your home.

I’ve done all the research, so you won’t have to. All you have to do is read this article to learn all about dimming LED lights.

This article will teach you:

  • What should you look for when buying a dimmer
  • Why there needs to be A ‘Goldilocks’ combination to get your home properly lit
  • How to use your old dimmer switches for new LEDs
  • Does dimming lights use less electricity?
  • Why you should never use a non-dimmable LED on dimmers

So let’s get started on the first thing you need to know…

Dimmable vs Non-Dimmable: Do You Need Special LED Lights For Dimming?

Short answer: Yes.

To help you understand why let me explain a little bit about LEDs. LEDs are diodes that release electromagnetic radiation in the form of light when electrical energy passes through it.

This is different than incandescents, which use electrical power to heat a wire until it glows.

Anyway, the important thing to know is that LEDs require drivers to operate. These driver electronics control the current delivered from the mains to the LED emitter.

It needs to be done because LEDs are sensitive devices. The driver electronics determine the dimming performance of an LED.

For example, some LEDs have non-dimmable drivers. Other drivers for a particular LED may have a minimum dimming level of 10%. That would mean it could dim up to 10% of the full power level.

So you see, the choice of your light bulbs is crucial. When picking LED bulbs, you want to choose the dimmable ones. And, you want to pick ones that have a dimming range that suits you.

You can search online for manufacturer compatibility for dimming, and the information will be there.

Here are a few of the most popular companies that I found for your convenience:

  • GE – link
  • Philips – link
  • Cree – link
  • Ecosmart – link (the guide is from Home Depot)

If you want to read more on this, the US DOE ran the test on dimmers from 3 companies, Lutron, Cooper, and Leviton. My dimmer is Leviton and it is a good choice (Amazon) if you’re looking to get one.

These manufacturers also provide dimming compatibility charts:

  • Lutron – link
  • Eaton – link (Cooper was bought by Eaton in 2012)
  • Leviton – link

It’s as easy as that. Look at your bulb’s or your dimmer’s manufacturer data and you’ll find the answer there.

Now, let’s explore different types of dimmers.

Different Types of Dimmers

turning the dimmer switch

In the old days, dimmers worked by increasing the resistance of the circuit. A variable resistor lowers the current and takes on more voltage through it, causing the voltage going through the bulb.

This reduces the bulb’s brightness. But the resistor also dissipates the energy through heat, which creates a safety hazard should the dimmer overheat. These dimmers also do not reduce electricity consumption, so it does not save you money at all.

Luckily, modern technology has come a long way, and you’ll have a few choices on the market for dimmers that save you money.

Now, manufacturers have created universal dimmers that will work with all kinds of light sources. These universal dimmers use 3 wires as opposed to the 2 wire used by old dimmers.

This third wire is called the switched live wire and its purpose is to make the whole circuit more stable and safe.

Let’s have a look at some of the dimmers.

Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) Dimmers

PWM dimmers work by basically switching the LED ON and OFF rapidly at a rate faster than the human eye can notice.

If the light is dimmed to 25%, that means the light is switched ON for 25% of the time then OFF 75% of the time.

The interesting thing about PWM dimmers is that they can lower an LED’s brightness without affecting its color temperature.

The drawback is that they produce electromagnetic interference which means they are not suitable for areas where this is an issue.

PWM dimmers be used with constant current drivers and constant voltage drivers

Constant Current Reduction (CCR) Dimmers

CCR dimmers work by controlling the amount of current flowing through the LED.

The light produced is proportional to the amount of current flowing through the LED, so if a light is dimmed to 25%, only 25% of the rated LED current is provided.

CCR dimmers do not flicker the light, making it more suitable for workplaces where machinery is operated, or high-risk activity is carried out.

These can be also used with constant current drivers.

Explore more: Can Dimmer Switch Reduce LED’s Lifespan?

When Should You Use Dimmers?

changing the light switch

Let’s explore the possibilities that dimmer switches bring to your home.

For example, you’re not in a room, but you want the lights to be switched on, you can dim them to save on electricity.

Maybe, you have a date over and you want to set a romantic tone, dimming the lights would do the trick.

For work or reading, turn the lights all the way up.

Another super power of dimmers is to use them as the night progresses so that you’ll be less alert and ready for sleep.

And if you have landscape lighting installed, dimmers will make them more flexible. Reduce the brightness according to the ambiance you want to set. Dim the lights all the way down when it’s sleeping time.

The reality is dimmers provide a lot of flexibility to how you want to light your house, so I believe that they are becoming a necessity for most households.

The next time you visit a restaurant or hotel, look at the way they use the lighting for some inspiration.

Do Dimmers Help to Reduce Electricity Consumption?

light switches

Since both dimmers reduce the amount of electricity flowing through the LED lights, they are also very much a money saver.

In fact, some dimmers’ power consumption is proportional to the brightness of the LED. Say you dim your lights by 50%, well there is your 50% savings on electricity bill.

Let me realistic here.

Since LED bulbs are extremely energy efficient on their own, most likely you will save a big amount of money.

However, being able to set the mood of the room, and also be cutting down some $ on your utility bills is very appealing proposal.

Incandescent Dimmers & LED Bulb Compatibility

Phase-control dimmers were originally built for incandescent lamps. They work by cutting a section of the AC voltage wave cycle, which reduces the voltage going through the light bulb. But again, not all phase-control dimmers will work with LED bulbs.

The dimmer you use needs to be compatible with the LED bulbs you use to avoid any incompatibility issues.

Otherwise, you can have undesirable effects like:

  • Flickering: flickering lights are uncomfortable and also dangerous for people with photosensitive epilepsy
  • Audible buzzing noise: could be caused by overloading the switch, cheap dimmers, or incompatibility with LED bulb
  • Dead travel: little changes in light output even though you’re turning the dimmer dial
  • Pop-on or dropout: sudden changes in light output despite what the dimmer signal is set to
  • Ghosting: Faint light from the bulb when the light bulb is switched off
  • Reduced reliability and lifetime of both LED bulb and dimmer

If you have a dimmer installed and want to find out which bulbs will work with it, you will have to get the manufacturer’s manual on that particular product.

Can Non-Dimmable LEDs Be Used With Dimmers?

Now while I said that you should get a dimmable LED for dimming purposes, non-dimmable LEDs can be installed on dimmers.

But…

The US DOE also did a test on a non-dimmable LED bulb, Great Value’s GVRLAS11W27KND (the model number for this particular light bulb). For investigative purposes, they ran the bulb using four different types of dimmers. On one of the dimmers, the bulb performed similarly to the other bulbs.

But on the other three dimmers, they found the bulb’s dimming levels to be unsmooth and erratic. This meant having a brighter output at a dimming level of 60% than at 80%.

That is coupled with flickering and other factors.

The bottom line is, if you want your light bulb to be reliable and have it do what it’s supposed to do, then using non-dimmable bulb is not ideal.

Say you have a dimmer circuit in your living room but have no interest in using it (you bought the house with a dimmer installed but never really used it). Then you could install a non-dimmable LED and leave the dimmer alone on the max brightness.

Non-dimmable LEDs are cheaper than dimmable LEDs, so I understand why you’d do so.

Having said that, a dimmer in your circuit may affect the lifetime of a non-dimmable LED bulb. This is not to discourage you, merely to inform you.

Further reading: Can Dimmer Switches Get Hot?

Final Words

According to a survey done by the European Commission in 2017, the market for LED bulbs is expanding worldwide.

Right now, the market is still young, which means there are still some incompatibility issues between light bulbs and dimmers.

But don’t fret… all it takes is looking at the website of manufacturers to find out what works with what.

This’ll remove any headaches regarding dimmers.

Let me know in the comments how many of you already have a dimmer installed. Have you tried using LED bulbs on them? Any issues?

And if you’re looking for dimmers, comment below. I’ll help you choose one according to your budget and needs.

8 thoughts on “Can LED Lights Be On a Dimmer Switch?”

  1. lots of good information but i still have a question for you, several switches in my house were dimmers, when we replaced all our bulbs with LED i got dimmable bulbs for the dimmers we kept but in some places we took the dimmer switch out and put a regular switch in its place and used non dimmable LED bulbs but these areas flicker so so bad. The flickering is crazy fast and there is no rhyme or reason to when it does it. We have tried several different things and at the moment out of the 6 can lights in the kitchen we only have three in and that has seemed to help, but i want all my lights back. can you shed some light on my issues as to what we should do?

    • Hi Rebekah,

      It is very difficult to say just like that through the comment without actually seeing what has is happening. One thing I suspect that might have gone wrong is at the point where you have installed regular switches. Is it possible that you have mixed wires live with neutral in one or some of these switches? This would then explain the random flickering because of the mix up.

      Sorry cannot be more of a help, it would be the best to check if you definitely got the wiring correctly, and if so, probably local electrician would be your safest option.

      Eugen

  2. Hi Eugen,
    Very informative article that begs another question: I bought a wall lamp with a dimmer switch. I have tried several different LED bulbs; all respond differently. Some flicker randomly, some flicker steadily, some do not flicker at all but are the wrong color and brightness. Can I just rip out and bypass the dimmer? I do not need it.
    It seems that LED bulbs with heavy heat exchanger bases work best, but I can’t find those bulbs in the desired brightness and color.
    Thanks. Jeff

    • Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for reaching out and for your question. If you are confident in what you do, you can definitely take the dimmer out and just leave a normal switch. Agree that LEDs with proper heat dissipation work best, simply because are able to keep the temperature of the LEDs core low.

      Eugen

  3. HeLlo, Eugene.
    Very informative article! I have a question- i have an led dimmable fixture in my dining room. Apparently, the dimmer installed was not an led Dimmer. The fixture stOpped working. Do you tHink the fixture is destroyed? Or, iF the Led dimmer is installed, Will it work again?

    Any help would be most appreciated!

    ThaNks,
    Aalana

    • Hi Aalana,

      Thanks for reaching out. The easiest way to identify the problem is to try another bulb. If another bulb works well, then the problem lies either in the previous bulb or potentially the connection to the fixture. I would probably try both incandescent as well as LED bulb to see which one works. If incandescent works fine with dimmer switch but the LED bulb doesn’t than you can be confident that you need to replace the dimmer switch.

      Hope that helps 🙂

      Eugen

    • Hi Keith,

      Thank you for getting in touch. I had a quick look at both dimmer and lighting. Seems like a dimmer is not suitable for LED light, so in the long term I would probably aim to get a dimmer switch that is designed for LEDs. Although the dimmer works for now, it can reduce the lifespan of the light in the long term.

      Hope this helps.
      Eugen

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