What is an Incandescent Dimmer?

Mary McMahon

An incandescent dimmer is a device which can be used to control the intensity of light produced by an incandescent bulb by regulating the amount of electricity which is routed through the bulb. Dimmers or faders, as they are also known, are used in a variety of settings including homes, offices, and theaters. Many hardware and electronics stores carry incandescent dimmers as well as lighting control boards which feature multiple dimmers, and it is also possible to order specialty products from manufacturers, theatrical supply companies, and companies which specialize in products utilized in electrical installations.

Incandescent light bulbs.
Incandescent light bulbs.

Incandescent bulbs take advantage of a common properly of many metals: as the metal is heated, it starts to give off light. Heat is generated in a light bulb by subjecting the metal to electricity. With a basic light switch, the switch can be put in an off position, with no electricity reaching the bulb and the light staying off, or an on position, in which case the metal is rapidly heated and it gives off a steady supply of light until the metal filament inside becomes exhausted and breaks so that it can no longer conduct current, causing the bulb to go dark.

Light dimmers may make it easier to resolve problems with glare, reducing eye strain.
Light dimmers may make it easier to resolve problems with glare, reducing eye strain.

With an incandescent dimmer, when the power is turned on, the dimmer can be used to adjust the amount of electricity which reaches the bulb. Less electricity results in less heating, and less light production. Some dimmers operate on a graduating scale, while others take the form of switches with several different power settings, such as off, low, medium, and high. The technology can also be used to create a fading effect with lights, as may be done in a theater when the house lights dim down to darkness right before the performance starts, rather than just snapping off.

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An incandescent dimmer can be used to control light levels in a variety of applications. For example, in a cafe, the staff may want to dim the lights at night to create a more intimate atmosphere with low lighting. People may also find workplaces more comfortable if they can adjust light levels to find a level of light which makes it easy to see and does not promote glare, which can cause eye strain. An incandescent dimmer is also sometimes promoted as an energy saving device which can be used to control electricity usage.

A basic incandescent dimmer designed to be used like a light switch is very easy to install, for people who have a basic understanding of electrical circuits and who feel comfortable with wiring. More complex systems such as remote dimmers or dimmer control boards which handle multiple lights can require more expertise. Many electricians can install or provide advice about dimmers for people who want a little help.

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