Dimmer switches are a great addition to your home lighting setup.
They help you set the mood, and modern dimmers can save you money too – you only pay for the current you’re using, so if you like the lights dimmed, you won’t pay as much.
The problem is that dimmer switches that work with LED lights can be surprisingly expensive, especially when comparing them to a regular light switch.
What makes LED-compatible dimmer switches so much more expensive than a standard toggle switch?
LED dimmer switches cost more because they contain a lot more components to make them work safely and effectively, including a semiconductor consisting of a variable resistor, a capacitor, and often extra tech to reduce electromagnetic interference.
In this article I’ll go into a little more detail on:
- What components an LED dimmer switch contains
- The cost comparison between traditional switches and LED dimmers
- Whether more expensive dimmers are worth it
What Components Does LED Dimmer Switch Contain?
Modern dimmer switches have come on considerably since their older counterparts were first introduced.
Those original dimmer switches worked by using variable resistors to lower the current of the circuit.
That energy had to go somewhere – it can’t just disappear.
So those dimmers would use the resistors to dissipate the energy as heat. It could mean that the dimmer would overheat, which was a potential danger.
Also, it meant that using a dimmer switch didn’t save you any money – the energy was still being used, just converted into heat.
That’s not the case with modern dimmers – they use much more sophisticated technology.
Most modern domestic dimmers are Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) dimmers.
Instead of just reducing the current, they instead work by switching the lights on and off repeatedly, extremely quickly – faster than your eye can see.
So say you dim your lights to 50% – that means the bulb is turned off and on for equal amounts of time.
If you dim the lights to 30%, then the light is on for 30% of the time and off 70% of the time.
That’s managed through a Triode Alternating Current switch, shortened to TRIAC.
These are semiconductors with multiple layers which help to control the flow of current.
In a triac, the current flows through a variable resistor before hitting a firing capacitor, which charges up.
Once it reaches the necessary voltage, it discharges, making the triac conductive. The light turns on before the current fluctuates back to zero voltage, stopping the electrons from moving through the triac, turning it back off.
While this works really well as a modern solution for dimming bulbs, it does have a drawback – it can create a buzzing sound and electromagnetic interference.
The buzzing is caused by vibrations in the bulb due to the fluctuating magnetic field generated by the triac.
Good quality dimmer switches will also, therefore, include an inductor choke and an interference capacitor.
These temporarily store electrical charge and release it later, which smooths out the sharp jumps in voltage that cause the interference.
So that’s a semiconductor made up of variable resistors, a firing capacitor, an inductor choke, and an interference capacitor, running across three separate wires in the circuit – that’s quite a few components.
It’s worth noting that not all dimmer switches are compatible with LED bulbs, and even those that are won’t be compatible with all bulbs.
If you use an incandescent dimmer with an LED bulb then you may get flickering lights, or the dimmer may not function properly.
Related: Are There Fuses In Dimmer Switch?
Traditional vs Dimmer Switch Costs
Let’s compare the above with a traditional light switch. There are almost no components to a conventional toggle switch – just the switch itself.
In the off position, the connection is broken, and in the on position, it is complete.
When you buy a traditional toggle light switch, you’re buying a straightforward bit of wiring that probably cost the manufacturer mere pennies to put together.
The only thing that can make a traditional toggle switch more expensive is buying one with a premium wall plate, such as a metal one.
So, look again at everything involved in making a dimmer switch work – the resistor, capacitor, inductor choke, and interference capacitor.
Each of these costs money and so raises the cost of the switch.
If you head to Amazon, you’ll usually find a basic light switch starting at around $3.
The most basic models at Home Depot are even cheaper – some for less than $1!
Compare that to a dimmer switch that’s compatible with LED light bulbs, and your starting price on Amazon is rarely less than $10.
You can get slightly cheaper ones on Home Depot but still no less than $7.
On average, you’re probably paying between 4x and 7x the price for an LED dimmer compared to a traditional toggle light switch.
Two more factors also impact the price of an LED dimmer switch. Firstly is the quality of the capacitor.
Some capacitors are better than others in terms of their durability and heat resistance. Unfortunately, a better capacitor costs more, meaning the dimmer switch does too.
Secondly, there’s the brand.
Some of these dimmer switches might have even been manufactured on the same production line!
But there are benefits to buying branded, primarily the option to get tech support or customer service if you need it.
Lastly, smart dimmer switches are also much more expensive due to their extra components that allow smart integration with your home.
Are More Expensive Dimmers Worth It?
Generally speaking, it’s worth spending a little more on your LED dimmer switch if you can afford to.
With more components involved, there’s more chance of something burning out. So the more you spend, the higher quality the components will be.
This particularly applies to the capacitor.
A better capacitor will be more robust, which means it’ll keep working as it should for longer.
It’ll also be more resistant to heat. So over time, they won’t be damaged by the warmth generated from the circuit, again keeping them reliable.
The other difference offered by a higher quality dimmer is the number of bulbs they can manage.
Always check the maximum Wattage listed on the product description or the dimmer box you’re buying, and make sure that your bulbs are well under that amount.
Dimmers often display two different Wattages – one for incandescent bulbs and one for CFL and LED – make sure you’re reading the right information.
LED dimmer switches are quite a bit more expensive than a traditional light switch but with good reason.
I’d always recommend buying a named brand from a reputable seller.
If you’re buying from a marketplace such as Amazon, check out the seller’s reviews if you’re not buying directly from the company.
A better quality dimmer switch will last you longer and cause fewer potential problems to your lighting setup, so spend as much as you’re comfortable doing.
Remember that you need to buy dimmable LED bulbs to match, too.
Do you have a dimmer switch connected to your LED lighting setup?
Let me know the solution you’ve chosen in the comments.