How to Select a Dimmer Switch

Save energy and create the right mood lighting for any occasion with flexible light levels

How to Select a Dimmer Switch

Dimmers make it easy to adjust the brightness level to open up a wide range of lighting moods. They not only provide more flexible lighting options, but also help save energy and extend the life of your light bulbs.

This buying guide highlights the different types of dimmers, light bulb options and control styles that are available.

Dimmer Types

The first step in choosing a dimmer is to identify the number of switches that control the light fixture

  • Single-pole dimmers are designed for lights controlled from a single dimmer in one location.
  • Three-way or four-way dimmers are designed for lights controlled by a single dimmer and one or more switches in other locations.
  • Multi-location dimmers are designed for lights controlled by multiple companion dimmers allowing for full dimming control from four or more locations.
  • Plug-in dimmers are designed to dim bulbs in table and floor lamps.

Light Bulb Options

Some light bulb types require a specific type of dimmer for compatibility

  • Compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs can only work with dimmers if they are labeled as “dimmable” as regular CFL bulbs will not work with a dimmer.
  • Dimmable CFLs may work with some incandescent and halogen dimmer models, but not all.
  • Most incandescent and halogen bulbs will work with most dimmer models.
  • Most magnetic low frequency (MLV) and electronic low frequency (ELV) bulbs are also compatible with dimmers.
  • Some LED lights are also dimmable, but not all. Since they consume such a low wattage, many dimmer types do not function with LEDs in the same way they do with traditional bulbs.

Control Styles

There are 6 common control style dimmer switches:

  • Rotary dimmers are traditional in that they rotate with a knob that adjusts lighting levels.
  • Toggle dimmers switch up and down like a standard light switch, but the light level automatically returns to the last level that was set.
  • Slide dimmers slide up and down and are available in preset or slide-to-off designs.
  • Rocker dimmers resemble a decorator-style rocker switch that “rocks” up and down to return the light to your favorite level.
  • Tap dimmers feature a touchpad or button controls that return light levels to your preset level. Some tap levels have LED lights that indicate the current light level.
  • Scene selector dimmers feature multiple buttons that let you switch to different light levels.