Lighting controls turn lights on and off or adjust the level of light. They allow you to optimize your use of light in a space while minimizing waste. Here are some ideas for making the best use of lighting controls. Some of the following suggestions are easy retrofits; others may only be practical if you’re building an addition or doing major electrical work.


  • Install individual switches on light fixtures so that people can use what they need without having to turn on lights for the entire room.
  • If you’re rewiring or adding on, locate switches in obvious and convenient places. Install two-way wall switches at every entrance to hallways, staircases, and large rooms.
  • Use separate switches to control lights in areas that are used for different purposes, such as the counter, island, and ambient lights in a kitchen.
  • For safety, make switches near stairs and other critical areas easy to see, with switch plates that glow in the dark or large toggles on pull cords.


  • Use dimmers to change the mood of a room instantly.
  • Use one light for many purposes with a simple adjustment of the dimmer.
  • But a cord dimmer or a socket adapter to dim plug-in lamps.
  • Replace dimmers installed before about 1960 if they dim the light by increasing electrical resistance (released as heat), rather than by decreasing the flow of electricity. Not sure? If the dimmer itself is warm, you’re wasting energy and money.
  • Use dimmers with incandescent lights (including low-voltage systems) or with fluorescents or LEDs labeled as dimmer compatible. (Most CFLs aren’t dimmable, and can be damaged by dimmers.)
  • Don’t buy bulbs for dimming that provide more light than you need. You save more energy by replacing a 100W bulb with a 60W bulb than you do by dimming the 100W bulb to the lower light output.
  • Operate halogen incandescents at full power from time to time. Otherwise, they will become less efficient and may burn out sooner. (Even undimmed, older halogens that contain diodes may flicker noticeably. Dimming the light makes the flicker more pronounced.)


  • Save money and energy by using timers to switch lights off if you tend to forget to do this yourself.
  • Increase your safety while you’re away by using light timers to give the appearance that someone is home. (CFLs or LEDs will cost less to operate and burn cooler than incandescent bulbs.)

Motion Detectors

  • Save energy by using motion detectors or occupancy sensors to turn a light on when you enter the room, and off when the room is unoccupied. (Once used primarily in security systems, these sensors are now available for home use.)
  • Install motion detectors in bathrooms and bedrooms, where lights are frequently left on.
  • Be sure your bulbs are compatible with the sensors (some CFLs should not be used with motion detectors).


  • Install photosensors to turn lights on when it gets dark.
  • Use photosensors to adjust electric lighting levels in daylit areas.
  • Install photosensors at lights you want to keep on all night and turn off automatically when the sun comes up, such as outside lights that illuminate a garden or path.
  • Combine photosensors with motion detectors for security lighting.

Central controls

Central controls monitor lighting and operate switches, sensors, and dimmers throughout the home. The term can refer to many different technologies, from computerized systems you manage remotely to equipment that lets you adjust the lighting or appliances in one room from another part of the house.

Central controls may be integrated with security systems, telephones, and cable TV. They are common in commercial buildings, but may be overkill in your home. Assess how much time and energy you would actually save by installing central controls. Consult a professional to see if the system you want to install calls for upgrading your wiring.

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