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Dimmers Set a Lighter Mood

After all, lighting isn’t just there to make sure you don’t trip over the rollerblades in the middle of the floor.

“With a few easy changes it can enhance the décor of any room and set a mood unique to any situation, and it can save money in the process,” said Larry Lauck, vice president of communications for the American Lighting Association in Dallas, Texas.

“Dimmers give us complete and intimate control over our lighting systems,” added Dan Blitzer, the ALA’s consulting director of continuing education. “I say complete because it allows us to adjust the intensity of the light to meet the needs of different individuals and different tasks, to warm the color, and to extend the life of incandescent lamps.”

Such control allows the homeowner to set a mood in any room, not just the dining room, which is the most common traditional location for dimmer switches. Adjusted lighting is ideal in a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and breakfast nook — nearly anywhere. The only rooms that may not benefit from dimmers are laundry rooms, storage areas, and pantries.

Basic dimmer controls are simple to install in any existing or new setting, but there is more to the dimmer than the common knob-style.

“As a category, lighting control is virtually unknown,” said Suzanne Miller, of Lutron in Coopersburg, Pa. “But not being able to control your lights is like not being able to control the volume on your TV, or the temperature in your oven. People want choices, they want control — and that includes being able to control lighting levels in their own homes.”

Lighting controls come in four different types:

• Integrated dimming systems allow the most variety. Homeowners can create several preset lighting settings in a single room. With the touch of a single button from a wall box or a wireless remote control, they can recall the pre-selected settings.

• Touch dimmers create a lighting change with the press of a single button. One-touch recall allows the homeowner to return to the previous lighting level without resetting the light. Some dimmers also have a lighted indicator to show the intensity of the current setting.

• Slide dimmers offer manual control of the lighting in a room. Some also include a button on the plate so it is easy to return to the previous setting.

• Rotary dimmers are the ones most likely to conjure images of your Mom’s dining room. The manual dial allows a homeowner to alter the lighting level by turning the dial. Some have push-button control to switch the light off while keeping the current setting in place.

It is also possible to control the lighting in your entire home by building in a custom system. This is the most cost-effective route, but it is possible to add a whole-house lighting system to an existing home. Wireless, infrared systems and radio wave dimmers are available, and can go with you when you move.

Another easy way to add the control of dimmers is an extension cord dimmer, which is a quick way to alter the light level of individual lamps.

Prices for lighting control systems vary based on their technology and the extent of their control. A single dimmer will cost a few dollars, but an automated system for the entire home will run in the thousands.

“Every incandescent light in your home should be connected to a dimmer,” said Lauck. “Just so that you can get the benefits of installing the light the way you want it and take advantage of a dimmer’s ability to extend lamp life.”

A dimmer’s operation is fairly simple. It essentially limits the amount of electricity that goes to the light. “The end result is you use less electricity,” said Miller. “Dimming a light 10 percent cuts electricity usage by 10 percent and generally has a direct correlation to cost. What’s more, the human eye adapts to light so easily that you probably wouldn’t even notice a 10 percent decrease.”

Dimming controls will also extend the lamp’s life, which will save you cash over time. It can also save you the hassle of replacing bulbs in hard-to-reach places.

“I think the real benefit is to lamp life,” said Penny Henderson-Maher of Lightolier’s in Garland, Texas. “By dimming the light somewhat and turning it on with a soft fade, the lamps last a long time, like 3 to 4 years on a lamp that would normally last 6 months. That’s really convenient because the light bulb always blows out when you don’t have a spare. It’s all sorts of drama, convenience, and comfort, and energy, and lamp savings all wrapped into one.”

Light can dictate the activity in the room it is illuminating, according to Henderson-Maher. Bright light creates motion and a lot of activity. It’s ideal for getting everyone going in the morning, but not for relaxing. For that, or if an intimate party is what you have in mind, keep the perimeter of the room a bit darker. The “campfire effect” will draw people to the brighter area at the center of the room.

Trying to get folks to mingle at a large gathering? Brighten the accent lighting around the perimeter. It will encourage people to move around. Experiencing the environments varied lighting can create is really the key to understanding its importance in a room’s décor.

“It is one thing to say dimmers create an ambience,” said Miller. “And it is another to see it for real. Why settle for ‘on’ and ‘off’ when you can have ‘on,’ ‘off’ and everything in-between?”

— Courtesy of ARA Content

Saving Energy

Dimmer controls are not the only way to help save energy in your home. Here are a few other ideas from the American Lighting Association:

1. Be sure to turn lights off when you are not using them.

2. Keep your outdoor lights energy-efficient by using timers to turn them on and off automatically, or, choose lighting with photoelectric cells.

3. Select bulbs with the more efficient reflector bulbs, especially in task and accent lighting applications. (For example: An energy efficient 50W “R” bulb will emit as much light onto an area as a 100W “A” bulb.)

4. Fluorescent bulbs get more bang for their buck. A fluorescent bulb produces more light out of the electricity it uses than its incandescent partner does, so consider installing these lights wherever applicable. Now more versatile than ever, fluorescent bulbs can produce light color that is more similar to their warmer siblings. They are also available to accommodate a wide variety of lighting styles and functions.

What about Dimming Fluorescent Lights?

It is possible to dim fluorescent lights, but it has a different effect on a room. While incandescent bulbs create a warm, candlelight look as they dim, light from a fluorescent bulb remains cooler in color. Dimming won’t increase the life of a fluorescent bulb, either.

“It is much less expensive and more convenient to dim fluorescent lighting than ever before,” said Dan Blitzer, the American Lighting Association’s consulting director of continuing education. “Where fluorescent lighting is used in kitchens or dining rooms or family rooms, you can install it on a dimmer.”

Altering fluorescent lighting is not as simple as just changing the switch, such as with incandescent bulbs, Blitzer said. A special fixture and compatible dimming control are necessary. And, although it is possible and more inexpensive than in the past, altering the level of fluorescent lighting remains at a higher cost level than controlling standard lighting.

— Courtesy of ARA Content

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