How a dimmer switch works

How a dimmer switch works

Dimming the light in a room can make all the difference in the world. Whether you want to add “fill-in” light to a room or set a particular mood, you can find a reason to add a dimmer switch in just about any room you have.

While the dimmer switch is still a fairly new idea in the decorating world, the first dimmers date back to the 1890s. Historians refer to Granville Woods as the “Black Edison”. He lived about the same time as Thomas Edison and produced more than 150 patents of his own. Woods loved the arts and the theater. However, many early attempts to dim theater lights often led to electrical fires. That’s where Woods helped out. He developed a safe and inexpensive dimmer switch to help his friends in the entertainment industry.

Today, use is widespread. It may look like the dimmer is simply reducing the light produced by your lamp, but that is not what is happening. Old dimmer switches used to have “resistors” in them. Resistors are pieces of materials that don’t conduct electricity. Carbon film and the metal film are the two most commonly used materials today. The intensity of the light depended on the amount of electricity that met the resistor.

With a brighter light, there was less resistance. With a dimmer light, there was more. While it worked, the same amount of electricity was used at full-light, as half-light. The newer dimmer switches are much more economical. They turn the light on and off at extremely fast rates. Some switches reach 120 cycles per second. You are reducing the energy flowing through the circuit, producing a “dim” effect on your eye.

The on-and-off cycling can sometimes cause the filament in the light bulb to vibrate. The vibration causes a buzzing sound. There are a couple of ways to solve this problem. First, you can change the bulb you use. If your lamp has standard incandescent bulbs in it, try using “rough service bulbs”. These are the kind used for your refrigerator or garage door opener. Rough service bulbs have sturdier supports for the filaments, so they won’t vibrate as much.

You can also try a lower watt bulb. Most dimmers have a maximum amount of wattage they can use. If you have a 500-watt dimmer and use a 500-watt bulb, the dimmer could start to have problems. A lower-watt bulb will ease the load and may stop the buzz. A third alternative is to upgrade your dimmer. High-end dimmer switches include internal devices to absorb some of the jolts produced by the on-and-off cycles. Inexpensive switches usually don’t have such a feature.

If this inspired you to run out and get a dimmer switch for your house, you should remember that any electrical work can be dangerous and should be performed by a professional. However, if you think you can install your own dimmer switch, remember to turn off the circuit breaker before starting your work.

Dimmers have come a long way since the first version by Granville Woods. You can expect more technological advances in the future as well. One company is already making a “voice-activated” dimmer switch. With better quality switches and advancements in technology, there is no reason you can’t control the light in your room.

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