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.

But I had recently swapped all my bulbs for LEDs, and I wondered whether LED lights can be used on a dimmer.

LED bulbs can be used on a dimmer. If you’re looking for a new dimmer, buy a universal dimmer. LED bulbs still work with incandescent dimmers, but the compatibility is an essential factor. Look at manufacturers’ website, and you’ll be able to figure out the right bulb and dimmer for your home

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.

Because of these reasons, I gladly swapped all light bulbs for the latest LED bulbs in the market.

I had dimmers installed in my living room and bedroom, and I found some problems popping up. The bulbs in my living room would flicker while my bedroom bulbs would not dim.

Frustrated, I read everything I could on the subject. There’s a lot of websites on the subject, and I wanted unbiased information. That leads me to a very reliable source, The US Department of Energy.

If you start researching on the topic, you’ll quickly find that LED bulbs are relatively new in the market. This means there are few agreed-upon standards by all the manufacturers. Expect some compatibility issues if you were to buy products without proper knowledge.

Well, all that research helped me fix my lighting issues at home. They’re now dimming perfectly. And because I’ve done all the research, 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:

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  • The Most Important Thing To Look For When Buying LED Bulbs
  • Why There Needs To Be A ‘Goldilocks’ Combination To Get Your Home Properly Lit
  • How To Use Your Old Dimmer Switches For New LEDs
  • Why You Should NEVER Use A Non-Dimmable LED On Dimmers

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

Do You Need Special 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 are 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. Look at the information on the box/website to find out this information.

But that’s not all you have to think about, because the dimmer type is also important for dimming performance. This brings us to the next question…

Can LED bulbs be used with a dimmer switch?

Yes, but the kind of dimmers you have installed matters.

There are a few types of dimmers available(I explained the differences of the dimmers in this article). The most common one is phase-control dimmers of the forward-phase variant. These are called TRIAC dimmers, leading-edge dimmers, or just forward-phase dimmers. High chances, if you have a dimmer installed at home, then this is the type of dimmer you have.

So how do you make sure you get the right bulb and the right dimmer?

Well, there is no easy answer. You have to read the information shared by the manufacturer on dimming compatibility to find out. 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:

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

The US DOE ran the test on dimmers from 3 companies, Lutron, Cooper, and Leviton. My dimmer is by Leviton and it is a good choice 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, 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 — its purpose is to make the whole circuit more stable and safe.

If you’re looking to get new dimmers installed, then that is the best way to go.

But I recommend you stay on the safe side and look at the data too, to make sure that you’re getting the best bulbs for the dimmers.

Incandescent Dimmer & 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:

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  • 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
  • Reduce the reliability and lifetime of both LED bulb and dimmer

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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 A Non-Dimmable LED Be Used In A Dimmable Fixture?

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

The US DOE 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. If you want your light bulb to be reliable and have it do what it’s supposed to do, then that 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.

Non-dimmable LEDs are cheaper than dimmable LEDs, so I understand why you’d do so. But having a dimmer in your circuit may affect the lifetime of your LED bulb. This is not to discourage you, merely to inform you.

Conclusion

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

Now, if you’ve read my article on how much savings can be done by swapping all of your bulbs for LED, you’ll see that this is a step in the right direction.

But 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.

If you have a dimmer pre-installed in your home, look at its manufacturer’s website. If you want to install a dimmer, buy a universal dimmer, and look at the data for which bulbs will work best on them.

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.

 

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

    • 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

      Reply
  1. 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

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply

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