The New World of Light Switches, Controls, and Dimmers

A lighting switch is just a switch, right? As it turns out, not really. Technology is changing the smallest details in your home – switches, controls, and dimmers – to make daily life more beautiful and more functional. The American Lighting Association (ALA) details advances in lighting switches.
 
New Bulbs = New Switches
If you have decided to embrace the energy-smart world that is LED or CFL lightbulbs, there is something that might be hindering your use of them: your traditional lighting controls.
 
“Traditional lighting controls don’t work very well with the new bulbs,” says Erik Anderson, national sales manager, residential construction for Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. The reason is that the physics of the new bulbs is much different than that of incandescent bulbs. “With LEDs and CFLs, the way the light is emitted is driven by a driver or a ballast, and those don’t naturally dim,” says Anderson.
 
Say you have a fixture with four bulbs; one burns out and you decide to replace it with an LED-equivalent version. The old traditional dimmer does not know how to control that mixed load of bulbs, but new specialized dimmers are engineered and designed to work in that situation.
 
Wireless Lighting Controls
One thing that often stops homeowners from improving the efficiency of lighting controls is wiring. Older systems used to require wires from one control to another. Now, wireless controllers allow control from spots around the room or even another room.
 
Apps, either used on a tablet or smartphone, are also an integral part of modern-day lighting control systems. The bonus is that they also can control window treatments and in-home temperature. “It’s just a matter of swapping out existing controls for wireless versions that can communicate with each other,” says Anderson.
 
“You can get on a plane, and using an iPad or iPhone, switch on the lights, change the heating, and get the house ready for arrival,” adds Terry McGowan, director of engineering and technology for ALA.
 
The Next Generation of Lightbulbs
Many homeowners still see LED as the wave of the future, and to a certain extent it is. But lightbulbs in development will integrate control technologies in new ways, says McGowan.
 
“These are smart lightbulbs that can fit into any kind of a standard socket,” says McGowan. “They connect to the Internet, and you can adjust them so they dim up and down, come on at appropriate times, change color, even flash in time with music. They are very highly controllable lighting systems.”
 
As these new bulbs and controls make their way into wider acceptance in the marketplace, consumers are going to have a shift in how they think about lighting. Lightbulbs are becoming more like an appliance.
 
Visit your local ALA-member retail showroom to see the newest lighting products and switches. To find your closest ALA-member lighting showroom, visit AmericanLightingAssoc.com.