How Dimmers Save Energy

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Do dimmers really save on energy use?

Key to answering this question is understanding how dimmers really work.

Many consumers, and even a few electricians, think that dimmers work by converting unused electricity to heat at the dimmer switch.

A kitchen with a three-light island chandelier.
A three-light island chandelier with a dimmer helps save energy and add ambiance.

It’s true that many old rotary dimmers worked this way; they were rheostats that took the excess energy when dimmed and converted it to heat.

Today’s dimmers use a “Triac Switch”. When dimmed, these switches cut the flow of power to a light fixture up to 120 times a second.

While the circuit is switched on and off many times a second, the human eye and brain doesn’t register this flickering. What we see is a constant light output.

And dimmers do save. Dimming your lights an average of 50 percent can cut your electric use a whopping 40 percent over time and make your bulbs last 20 times longer!