Published on November 30th, 2014 | by Peter Young


A Guide To Dimmer Switches


Dimmer switches are a great way to improve the ambiance of any room in your home and they’re also an easy way to save both money and energy. But how do these switches work? Which bulbs do you need to make them work, and can I install one of them myself? Lucky for you we’ve compiled the answers to all these questions and more to help you save money around your home and have it looking good while you’re at it.

A Guide To Dimmer Switches

Let’s start by taking a look at how modern dimmer switches work:

Essentially, a modern dimmer switch works by rapidly turning the light circuit “on” and “off” many times per second. This constant back and forth between having the light circuit “on” and “off” will reduce and limit the amount of energy being sent to your light bulb(s), and as a result, will cause it to produce less light and use less energy. Check out the diagram below to get a better idea of how this works:


The red line represents the fluctuation of power traveling through the circuit as it goes from being positively charged to negatively charged 60 times per second. The dimmer switch breaks that circuit up into the “on” and “off” intervals you see highlighted.

In order for your dimmer switch to work properly you’ll need to use the right type of light bulb, which can be either an LED or a bulb labeled as “dimmable”. Ever tried screwing a non-dimmable bulb into a dimmable light socket? Odds are the bulb will start to flicker on and off rapidly instead of staying on . The reason it flickers is because the bulb isn’t designed to work with a circuit that is being constantly turned “on and off”. It needs a constant source of power in order to work properly. So, be sure that the bulbs you use with your dimmer switch are compatible with it (LEDs or bulbs labeled as “Dimmable”).

There are two common types of dimmer switches that you may encounter and they’ll look like either the one featured at the beginning of this article or this:

Screen shot 2014-11-18 at 3.51.56 PM

In either case you’ll have to turn the light on (by either pressing the button or turning the dial) before you’re able to use the knob or slider to dim the lights to your desired level.

Fortunately installing these switches isn’t overly complicated and if you fancy yourself a handy-person you should be able to tackle the job yourself. Just check out this video to see how easy it can be:

If you’re looking for more ways to save both money and energy around your home be sure to check out our green home improvement projects: Green Living Ideas, after all, is a top 20 home improvement website!

Photos are courtesy of the Flickr Creative Commons (Dimmer Switch, Dimmer Switch Part 2,) How Stuff Works,

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About the Author

graduated from Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) with a degree in journalism and has made sustainability and eco-conscious living mainstays of both his professional and personal life. It was during his time at PLU that he began his journey with sustainability and it's what has led him to writing for Green Living Ideas. He currently resides in Honolulu and works for Pono Home, an energy efficiency company focused on reducing carbon emissions and promoting a healthier, greener lifestyle.

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