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Light Control Education

Dimming Basics

While all Lutron dimmers can save money on energy expenses and maintenance costs, not all dimmers share the same functionality. Before developing a light control strategy, you should understand a few basic facts about dimmers.

Types of Dimmers

Each type of lighting source (load types) has individual characteristics, which require special types of dimmers. It is important to use a dimmer that is designed, tested, and UL listed for your specific lighting source/load type:

sample dimmer
incandescent halogen icon
Incandescent/Halogen:
Line-voltage tungsten filament lamps, including line-voltage (120 V) halogen lamps
forward phase control

Electrical characteristic Resistive  
Special requirements Rated for cold filament inrush (positive and negative periods may not be equal, resulting in a net DC voltage). Do not use on magnetic low-voltage (MLV) or Electronic low-voltage (ELV).
magnetic low voltage icon
Magnetic Low-voltage (MLV):
Magnetic (core and coil, toroidal) transformer-supplied low-voltage lighting (6, 12, or 24 V)
symmetric forward phase control

Electrical characteristic Inductive
Special requirements Symmetric cycles (VDC ≤ 2), smooth turn off (positive and negative periods are equal for safe MLV transformer operation). Include transformer losses when calculating the load.
electronic low voltage icon
Electronic Low-voltage (ELV):
Electronic (solid-state) transformer-supplied low-voltage lighting
reverse phase control

Electrical characteristic Capacitive
Special requirements Very smooth turn on. Neutral wire connection
neon cold cathode icon
Neon/Cold Cathode (Magnetic Ballast):
Magnetic (core and coil, toroidal) transformer-supplied

Electrical characteristic Very inductive
Special requirements Symmetric cycles (VDC ≤ 2), smooth turn off (positive and negative periods are equal for safe MLV transformer operation). Include transformer losses when calculating the load. Low end trim capability.
fluorescent icon
Fluorescent: Electronic Fluorescent Dimming Ballast
Special dimmers are designed and UL listed to send power and control signals to each type of electronic fluorescent dimming ballast.
LED icon
Light Emitting Diode (LED): Electronic LED Driver
Special dimmers are designed to send power and control signals to each type of electronic LED driver.

 


Special requirements LED light source must be properly matched to LED driver, and LED driver must meet control specifications for control type (e.g. IEC for 0-10 V).
Heat Dissipation

During normal operation, dimmers get warm to the touch. Wallbox dimmer efficiency is typically around 99%. The other 1% is dissipated in the dimmer as heat. So, a 600 W load on a 600 W dimmer would produce around 6 watts of heat. This is approximately the heat generated from a small nightlight. Operating on its rated load, Lutron dimmers will stay below the UL limits of 140º F (60º C).

Heat dissipation
Ganging & Derating

To help the dimmer dissipate the internal heat normal to operation, a typical dimmer is wider than a switch. Dimmers can be ganged together such that the space is the same as switches. A portion of the fins (heat sink) must be removed. The fins are grooved to make the removal of fins easy with a pair of pliers. The removal of fins reduces the wattage capacity (load) the dimmer can control.

 

Ganging and derating
Magnetic Low-voltage Dimmer Ratings

The stated VA (volt-ampere) rating is the capacity of the dimmer that includes the magnetic transformer heat losses and the lamp load. A Lutron MLV dimmer UL listed for 1,000 VA can be loaded with a full 1,000 VA lamp load. A transformer dissipates up to 20% of the connected load as heat. Better transformers dissipate less than 10% as heat. Added together, the lamp load and the transformer loss determine the dimmer capacity required.

magnetic low voltage chart
Electronic Low-voltage Dimmer Ratings

Electronic low-voltage transformers also dissipate some heat. These inefficiencies are small enough to be accounted for in the dimmer rating. A Lutron ELV dimmer UL listed for 600 W can be loaded with a full 600 W lamp load. If ganged with other dimmers, standard derating rules apply.

 

Fan Controls
There are 3 fan styles:

Fully Variable
  • Fully variable fan speed
  • Used for controlling paddle fans or exhaust fans
fan control icon

Quiet 3-speed
  • 3 speeds plus off
  • Won’t cause fan motor hum
  • Used for controlling one ceiling paddle only

Quiet 7-speed
  • 7 speeds plus off
  • Won’t cause fan motor hum
  • Up to 4 ceiling paddle fans with 1 canopy module for each fan
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