Dimmer Drama

Posted: June 26, 2019

Warm? Buzzing? Flickering? Are You Experiencing ‘Dimmer Drama?’




Is your dimmer switch sometimes warm (or worse, hot) to the touch? Does the buzzing noise that sometimes come from your dimmer or lighting fixture have you looking for bees? Do flickering lights in your home have you wondering if there is something wrong with your wiring? If you answered “yes” or even “maybe” to any part of these questions, you may be experiencing dimmer drama.

It’s been 40 years since disco diva Donna Summer first invited audiences to “dim all the lights,” and a lot has happened. Dimmers are smarter. Lightbulbs come in more varieties and are more energy efficient. With all these advances in technology, you may be wondering “why am I experiencing ‘dimmer drama?’”

Here are three commonly asked dimmer-related questions with quick and long-term solutions to each problem.



Why is my dimmer warm?



Dimmers use a semiconductor to vary the amount of electricity going to your lights. When the electron flow that makes up household current is resisted, the energy that was moving forward is converted to heat energy which builds up and is dissipated through the dimmer’s mounting bracket. That heat energy then warms up the switch plate cover.

What can you do about it?



Warm is natural. But if your switch plate is hot, you’ve got a potential problem. The quick fix is to switch to lower-wattage lightbulbs to reduce the amount of electricity required. But you probably should check to see if the dimmer you’re using is rated to match the amount of electricity you’re using. Unless you’re an intrepid DIYer, it’s probably a good time to call an electrician.


Why is there a buzzing noise coming from my dimmer and lighting fixture?



While you may think that dimmers work to control the movement electrical current like a dam holds back the flow of a river, what is actually happening inside your dimmer is much more involved. Conventional dimmers, which have TRIODE AC (TRIAC) semiconductors, work by rapidly interrupting the current flowing to the light. This happens dozens of times per second which causes the lights to flicker so rapidly that to the human eye, it appears as though there is less light. Under some circumstances, the byproduct of quick and repeated interruption of current is a vibration of the electromagnetic field inside the lightbulb or switch – hence the humming noise.

What can you do about it?



For a hum coming from the lighting fixture, a quick fix is to change the lightbulbs out. Decorative incandescent bulbs with long filaments are more prone to vibration. Switch to bulbs with shorter filaments or invest in dimmable LED bulbs that will save on your electric bill. If the buzz is coming from the switch, you may be overloading the dimmer with too many bulbs. Try removing a few bulbs. If the buzzing stops, it’s time for you to upgrade that dimmer switch.


Why do the lights on my dimmer switch sometimes flicker?



Do the lights that are controlled by your dimmer sometimes annoying flicker? Chances are, those flickering lights are LED bulbs, right? If this is the case, you have a compatibility issue. Remember how we just explained how dimmers work by rapidly and repeatedly interrupting current? Well, LED bulbs require much less current to run, but not enough current for the for the TRIAC dimmer to do its job. This ends up in a choppy, strobing or flickering effect instead of an even dim.


What can you do about it?



A quick fix that sometimes work is adding an incandescent bulb to the circuit. But your lighting will look uneven. And when that incandescent bulb burns out, you’ll be back to flickering. Another solution that sometimes works, is buying high-quality dimmable LED bulbs. Depending on how many LEDs you have in the circuit being controlled by that dimmer, this fix could end up costing a lot of money. The best solution is to replace your dimmer with a new switch designed to work with LED bulbs. You’ll still need to get dimmable LED’s, but you’ll have guaranteed performance and save on electricity in the long run.


Do dimmer switches save energy and money?



It depends on the dimmer and the bulb. As we mentioned earlier, conventional dimmers designed for incandescent bulbs, work by rapidly interrupting the circuit to create a strobe effect that appears to the human eye as less light. This lowers the amount of electricity reaching the bulb and overall power being used. But that saving could be negligible. A report by Greenage stated that a 60W bulb dimmed to the brightness of a 40W bulb will use more energy than a 40W bulb on maximum. For maximum efficiency, LED bulbs and dimmers designed to work with them are the way to go.

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