Home Blog

What is the best dimmer style?

best dimmer for recessed lighting

 

Best dimmer for recessed lighting

While the best dimmer style for recessed lighting is a matter of personal preference, you may not want to choose one based on appearance alone. Sure, appearance is important, but each style actually works slightly different as well, so it’s worth giving it some thought.

Modern Dimmers

There are four styles of dimmers most commonly used today. They are the rocker, slider with switch, slider without switch, and electronic. All four styles fit the standard rectangular (Decora style) switch plates.

Let’s take a look…

Rocker Style

Best rocker dimmer switches
At first glance, rocker dimmers are the most similar to the standard on/off rocker switches. Their sleek, low profile design makes them hardly noticeable.

Pros
  • They closely match the modern Decora (rectangle) style switches.
  • The dimmer adjustment is low profile and discrete.
  • Extremely durable.
  • You can preset the brightness lever, and then turn the lights on or off like a regular switch.
  • Great for controlling accent lighting (or any lighting) that you don’t adjust the brightness of too often.

 

Cons
  • Its tiny adjustment lever can be hard to see. Guests may not even realize it’s there unless you tell them.
  • Not as easy to adjust as the other styles due to its tiny lever.

 

 

Slide Style with Preset Switch

Best slide dimmer switch
Slide dimmers are arguably the easiest to use. They basically have a small handle that you raise or lower which adjusts the brightness accordingly. This type of slide dimmer also has an on/off switch, which allows you to preset the handle and then use the switch to turn the lights on or off.

Pros
  • Easy. You can tell how to use it just by looking at it.
  • They fit modern Decora wall plates.
  • Like the rocker style, the brightness adjustment is independent which allows you to preset the brightness and then use the switch to turn the lights on and off.

 

Cons
  • Not as low profile as the other styles.
  • The on/off switch on many of these is horizontal rather than vertical, which can be counter intuitive. Pass and Seymour’s version (shown above) is up and down.

 

Slide Style without Switch

Best slide to off dimmer switch
This style dimmer does not have an on/off switch. To turn it off, you just slide it all the way down.

Pros
  • Very easy to use.
  • Typically cost less than other dimmers.
  • Great if you like to adjust the brightness each time you turn on the lights.

 

Cons
  • No presetting. Because you slide the dimmer all the way down to turn the lights off, you have to set the brightness each time you turn them on.
  • I’ve heard complaints that lights get left on at a very low level because the dimmer was not pushed all the way down to off.

 

Electronic or Digital Style

Best electronic dimmer switches
Electronic dimmers are typically flat with a large rectangular button that you tap to turn the lights on or off. Their capabilities range from simple dimming to sophisticated scenes and automation control.

Pros
  • Unlike standard (aka electro-mechanical) dimmers, electronic dimmers can be installed at both control points of a 3-way circuit. This is especially useful to control recessed lighting above staircases where you want to be able to adjust the brightness from the top and bottom of the stairs. If you have a standard dimmer installed in a 3-way circuit, the dimmer goes at one end, and an on/off switch remains at the other. When you turn on the lights from the switch, they will only be as bright as the dimmer is adjusted to at the other end which can be very frustrating.
  • They have a modern, streamlined appearance that matches Decora style switches.
  • Most have adjustable preset levels.
  • Some have adjustable fade on/off rates that adds a little drama to the lighting.
  • Many have versions with wireless connectivity built-in. This can be used to link the dimmers to each to create wireless 3-way (or more) circuits without running any new cables. It can also be used to control the dimmer from a wireless remote control, smartphone, or anywhere in the world via the internet.
  • Some versions are available with occupancy sensors that can turn lights on or off automatically.

 

Cons
  • They have a slight learning curve that can be frustrating to some.
  • Their advanced electronics mean they typically cost more than electro-mechanical dimmers.
  • Some require a neutral wire in the switch box which can be a problem if your circuit is not wired that way.

 

Well, there you have it. The four most common styles of dimmer switches for recessed lighting.

 

How to Install a Dimmer Switch for Your Recessed Lighting

How to install a dimmer switch for recessed lights

Dimmer switch for recessed lightsInstalling a dimmer switch for your recessed lighting is one of the simplest ways to dramatically increase the flexibility of your lighting. It’s also a fairly simple DIY project that almost anyone can do.

This post will show you how to install a typical dimmer switch for recessed lighting.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • New dimmer switch and cover plate.
  • Medium screwdrivers – Flat and Phillips
  • Wire cutters/strippers
  • Live wire tester (Non-contact type recommended)

When purchasing your new dimmer switch, you’ll need to know whether the lighting circuit is a single-pole (lights controlled from one location) or a three-way (lights controlled from two locations). Some dimmers are universal and will work for both single-pole and three-way circuits, but read the packaging to be sure.

Once you have your new dimmer and tools, this project should take 20-minutes or less depending on your level of experience.

I’ve listed the steps below, and included a video by the Home Depot that walks you through the process. I recommend watching the video first so that you are familiar with the overall process, and then refer to the steps listed below it as needed.

 

Here’s a summary of the steps to install a dimmer:

Step 1. Turn off the power.

Step 2. Remove the old switch and use your live wire tester to be sure the power is off.

Step 3. Remove the wires connected to the switch. If it’s a 3-way switch, label the wire that is connected to the “common” screw (usually a black screw) before removing the wire.

Step 4. Strip the insulation on all the wires about 3/4 of an inch.

Step 5. Connect the ground wires.

Step 6. Connect the remaining wires. If it’s a single pole circuit, the order of the wires usually doesn’t matter. If it’s a 3-way circuit, connect the wire that you labeled “common” to the common wire on the dimmer. It is usually the black wire. Then connect the remaining two wires, the order doesn’t matter.

Step 7. Fold the wires into the switch box and use your screwdriver to install the dimmer and cover plate.

Turn on the power and enjoy the flexibility of your lighting!

 

How to use Wireless Dimmers to Control your Recessed Lights from Bed

Wireless dimmers next to bed

Wireless dimmers next to bed

Here’s a cool project that adds the convenience of controlling your recessed lights from your bedside, just like a fancy hotel. The result is a dimmer switch mounted on both sides of the bed that control the recessed lights in addition to a dimmer at the door. For you fellow electricians, a 4-way switch. The best part is it takes advantage of wireless dimmer technology which does not require any new wiring to be run.

There are several great options for wireless lighting controls on the market. For a simple project like this, you can’t beat Lutron’s Caseta wireless dimmer kit. It’s inexpensive, uses RF for reliability, has a 10-year battery life.

The Caseta kit comes with a wired dimmer switch to replace the existing light switch, a RF dimmer switch, and a screwless wall plate. For this project, you’ll need to get an additional wireless dimmer and cover plate so that you have one for both sides of the bed.  You’ll also need two wallplate brackets to mount the dimmers to the wall with a face plate so they look exactly like a hard-wired dimmer switches.

 
Tools to install wireless dimmer

Here’s everything you’ll need:

 

 

 

 

Step 1. Replace the existing switch with the Caseta dimmer.

Turn off the power. Remove the existing switch or dimmer and install the Caseta dimmer switch in its place. There are wiring instructions included with the Caseta dimmer if needed.

remove the old light switchInstall the Caseta dimmer switch

 

 

 

Step 2. Mount the wireless dimmers on either side of the bed.

Measure and mark the wall where you’d like the controls to go on both sides of the bed. Example; 8-inches out from the headboard and 6-inches up from the nightstand on center.

Insert the dimmers into the wall mount brackets and attach them to the wall using the anchors and screws included with the brackets (use your level). Then install the cover plates.

Install the dimmer wall mountInstall dimmer cover plate

 

 

 

Step 3. Pair the wireless dimmers with the wired dimmer.

Turn on the power. Press and hold the off button of the wired dimmer switch until the led lights begin flashing. Then go to one of the wireless dimmers and press and hold the off button until the recessed lights flash indicating that the pairing is complete. Repeat the same process from the beginning for the wireless dimmer on the other side of the bed.

Wired dimmer image

Wireless dimmer switch

 

 

That’s it! Now you can control the recessed lights from the original location at the door and from your bedside.

Hint: You’ll notice that the wireless dimmers have a very convenient “favorite” button in the center. I like to dim the lights as low as they will go, and then set this as the favorite setting by pressing and holding the button for a few seconds. It works great when you only need a little light to find your way in the middle of the night.

Are Your LEDs Buzzing? Here’s the Fix…

LED buzzing lightsOne of the great features of recessed LED lighting is the ability to dim the lights.

While most LED lights are dimmable, a common complaint is hearing a buzzing sound coming from the lights when they are dimmed.

The cause is almost always a compatibility issue between the dimmer and the LED’s driver (power supply). LEDs are electronic devices, and using a dimmer that was designed specifically for the resistive load of an incandescent lamp will seldom work well.

Most manufacturers now provide a list of recommended dimmers that they have tested to be compatible with their products. Of all the dimmers on the list, there are two types to look for that will likely work best at eliminating the buzzing.

dimmers to prevent led buzzingWhat you’re looking for is either a CL dimmer or an ELV dimmer.
CL dimmers are made by Lutron and designed to be compatible with LEDs. My experience with them has been excellent. They have a low-end trim adjustment that allows you to get the best dimming range possible. CL dimmers will eliminate the buzzing on most brands of LEDs, but not all.

Electronic Low Voltage (aka reverse phase or trailing edge) dimmers are designed for electronic (capacitive) loads like LEDs. In my experience, ELV dimmers have eliminated the buzz every time.

Note: ELV dimmers require a neutral wire in the box.

How to Convert Recessed Lights to LED

A great way to freshen up the lighting in a home is to convert old incandescent recessed lights to LED. Benefits include a significant savings in energy, very long life, and a clean modern look.

The market is flooded with LED retrofit kits, so you should have no problem finding one with the specifications you’re looking for. There’s a lot of junk available too, so stick with a well know company like Cree or Feit that offers at least a 5-year warranty.

 

How to tell if your recessed lights can be converted to LED

The first thing you should do, even before you purchase the LED units, is to determine whether or not your existing recessed lights can be converted to LED. The most common issue is with the mounting springs. Most LED retrofits use “v” shaped torsion springs to attach the LED to the housing inside the ceiling. The torsion springs slide between two brackets on the inside of the housing. If your existing trims use a different mounting method, your recessed lights may not be compatible with LED retrofit kits. If this is the case, it’s not the end of the world. It just means that you’ll need to replace the recessed fixture with a universal type before installing the LED unit.

Here’s how to check. Stand on a ladder and remove the light bulb from one of your recessed lights. Then use your fingertips to pull down on the trim and see how it is attached. If it uses the “v” shaped torsion springs, you’re good to go! If not, remove the trim so that you can see inside the housing.  Look for two brackets attached on opposite sides. If they are there, then you’re in luck! If not, you’ll probably need to replace the fixture with a universal type.

 

Convert Recessed Lights to LED in Four Steps

Below you’ll find a great video made by Jeff Weissman Electric that walks you through the process. I’ve also listed the four main steps below the video. I recommend watching the video first to get the explanation, and then follow the four steps below as you go.

 

Here’s a summary of the steps:

Step 1. Remove the existing trims.

Step 2. If your recessed lights use a lampholder, adjust it all the way to the top or remove it to make room for the LED unit.

Step 3. Screw in the adapter to the light bulb socket and plug in the LED unit.

Step 4. Squeeze and insert the torsion springs into the brackets inside the housing, and push the LED up in place against the ceiling.

 

That’s it. Turn them on and enjoy your new LED recessed lights!