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How dimming an LED fixture is like buying a new car

You may not usually put your dimmable LED fixture options and buying a new car on par, but the process is remarkably similar, and it’s a good way to approach your dimming options.

Just like when purchasing a new vehicle, you’re looking for optimal performance; all the features must be considered including flexibility, safety and, perhaps most significant, what fits best with your life and work style. 

A great place to start when selecting your ideal product features is with a quick review of the four dimming protocols for LED fixtures:

  1. Mains dimming: Most common for residential and smaller-scale retail and entertaining environments, the system reduces the voltage that reaches the LED installation by cutting out parts of the alternating voltage. Before selecting, make sure to check with manufacturers, many of which are continually pioneering circuit designs to work with this protocol.
  2. Dali (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface): This is a good choice if you’re trying to control (dim) a number of lighting circuits. The system functions with an additional two-core cable connection with switch (controller) that is typically mounted to the wall. It’s a good idea to always check the ability of the driver to dim before making your final decision.
  3. DMX (Digital Multiplex): Born in the entertainment world to work with special lighting effects across numerous lighting channels, DMX is a favorite for many spaces given its color-changing capabilities. Note that this method requires a special signal data cable.
  4. Analogue dimming: Yes, it’s still an available and reliable option. You can only use analogue on a single voltage channel system; when the signal voltage changes, the light dims (a multi-circuit installation would need a cable between each dimmer control).

Tips of the trade: a buyer’s guide

  • Test drive

It’s extremely unlikely you’d buy a new car without first taking it for a spin. Even if you’re familiar with the model, there are always subtle differences between each car; in addition, you can often opt in to a variety of packages and combinations.

It’s the same when considering your dimmable options. While it might seem costly and time-consuming, always test the system first. Take heart, though: given the recent advancements in and popularity of LED lighting and dimming, many manufacturers have been testing a variety of installations mimicking real-life environments, so the research may have already been done for you.

  • Color choice

How important is the color of your car to you? Would it affect your purchasing decision? And, with exterior and interior options, selecting the right combination might take a while. Color can affect your feelings toward your car and how others on the road perceive you.

Similarly, when considering your dimming needs, the flexibility of LED lighting has been linked to everything from increased productivity and inspiration in the workplace, to creating ambience and comfort that are often essential in both residential and commercial spaces including offices, theaters and restaurants.

One of the first things to consider when changing colors is a smooth transition. In most cases, you don’t want to evoke a Halloween-esque scene, with flickering, flashing and stuttering. 

And, just like with your car’s headlights, you also don’t want to dim to an insufficient level. Dimming an LED actually prolongs its life and does not impact the quality of the lamp. Consider the LED’s dimming range alongside the color temperature; does your space need warm to natural, or a cooler, white light? With the correct controls, LED lighting can do it all!

  • All the bells and whistles

Most importantly, when you’re purchasing a new car, you just want to climb in, turn the key in the ignition, and drive.  You want the car to do its job to the point where you don’t even have to think about how it’s working.

The first step to not noticing your lighting when dimming an LED lamp is to always make sure your switch is compatible with your LED. Consider selecting your control prior to the LED lamp to ensure your lighting success. Deciding if you want to tap, toggle or slide your switch is as important as where to install the control. Before making your final decision, check with the manufacturer, even if the switch label indicates it’s dimmable and is rated for both CFL and LED lamps. 

One of the most appealing features about LEDs is the energy and cost savings, and a big part of that is knowing your fixtures. Whether you’re going for an expansive retrofit or a new residential fixture, understand the capacity and suitability of the LED, especially paying attention to whether the fixture needs to function in a closed, fixed or recessed space.

There’s a lot to consider before hitting the road to your next LED dimmable fixture purchase; but with a little research, manufacturer input and a test drive, you’ll be on your way in no time.