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Lighting controls: The basics on dimmers, motion sensors & more

Image of Kevin Ball
BC Hydro community representative Kevin Ball serves up some tips on lighting controls, including some key advice on deciding whether you want to install controls yourself.

Some controls are relatively easy to install; others require some expertise

Kevin Ball
For bchydro.com

Lighting controls such as dimmers, photocells and motion sensors, offer a great way to add another dimension of style and comfort to your living space while also saving energy. Lighting controls are available wherever lighting products are sold.

The type of lighting control you buy depends on where it's going to be placed. Dimmers will likely be used inside, while photocells (controls which detect levels of light) and motion sensors will often be used in outdoor applications.

BC Hydro is offering savings on ENERGY STARĀ® LED bulbs, ENERGY STAR LED fixtures, smart plugs and appliances at participating retailers across B.C. See Powersmart.ca for details.

Outdoor controls are about safety and security

For the outdoors, photocell and motion-sensor lighting help to improve the safety and security of your back alley or porch. Lighting controls like these keep your property safe and well lit. Photocell and motion-sensor controls will light your outdoor areas more efficiently, as the bulb will only turn on when necessary.

A great way to supplement your outdoor lighting control is to use an ENERGY STAR LED bulb. Often times, a bulged reflector (BR) bulb will work well in these instances that call for a floodlight. Using an efficient bulb like an LED will provide huge energy savings over an LED's extended lifetime: as much as $100 per bulb.

Learn more about outdoor lighting controls [PDF, 150 KB]

Dimmers create mood, cut electricity use

Dimmers provide a great opportunity to reduce your energy use while also changing the atmosphere of your living space. By dimming the level of light emitted by the bulb, you're also lowering the number of watts being used.

Many LED bulbs work well with dimmers. Be sure to read the packaging to ensure you're purchasing the correct bulb for the job.

Older dimmers may not be capable of dimming LEDs. Older dimmers were designed for higher wattages that incandescent bulbs use, and are unable to detect the lower wattages that LEDs bulb use at their lowest brightness setting. This may result in a flickering effect or the bulb turning off when turned down. It's a good idea to buy an LED-compatible dimmer control, too.

Image of light switch box and wires
Do you have the knowledge and skills to safely install a dimmer or other lighting control? If you're unsure, get some help from an electrician, your retailer or a lighting professional.

Installing controls correctly: Can you do it yourself?

There's a lot to think about when installing your lighting controls, so get some help from a friend or electrician if you're unsure about how to do it safely. If you install it yourself, you'll need to check grounding, choose the correct box size and confirm your plans meet the electrical code.

The tools needed to change a lighting control may vary depending on the type of control you're installing. But in general, you'll need a screwdriver, voltage tester, wire stripper and electrical tape. The voltage tester should be used after the breaker for the circuit has been switched off, as it will be able to confirm that the wire is not live and help to keep you safe.

To ensure your control is fitted safely and correctly, ask an electrician, your retailer or a lighting professional for details.

View a video on how to install lighting controls.

Kevin Ball is a community representative for BC Hydro.