Posted by Doug Root on 5th May 2021

Non-Dimmable and Dimmable LED Bulbs: What You Need to Know

Only a few decades ago, LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, were a cost-prohibitive solution for lighting most spaces. The semiconductor materials from which they were made were particularly expensive, making it difficult to work LEDs into most settings on a cost-effective basis.

Still, the draws of LED lighting were significant. They outlasted and outperformed almost all other forms of lighting except in the most specific of unique scenarios, lasted longer than incandescents, and drew far less power - for a longer list of benefits of LED lighting, see the latter half of this article.

Yet the price was a concern - until about 20 years ago, around 2000 when the price of semiconductors dropped off and LEDs started cropping up everywhere. They were rolled out in homes, in commercial settings, and even in specialty applications. Many automotive lighting solutions today are LEDs as well.

As more and more people welcome LEDs into their lives, and into their homes, in particular, they’re looking for ways for LEDs to fill the roles that incandescent and halogen lights used to occupy - and with respect to this subject matter, that means finding suitable dimmable LED bulbs.

How LEDs Work

To understand the popularity of LED bulbs in general and dimmable LED lights in specific, you need to have a basic understanding of how LED lights work in the first place. LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, are significantly different from other forms of lighting, particularly incandescent and halogen lights, which operate by effective the same principle.

Incandescent lights, of which halogen lights are a subclass, are made of a glass bulb, containing a filament, filled with a mix of gases that help to regulate oxidation to prevent the lighting filament from burning out. When a current of electricity is passed through the filament within the bulb, it heats up and releases some energy in the form of light - this basic process is known as electroluminescence and it is how many different types of lightbulbs work.

LEDs are considerably different - in fact, even the term “LED bulb” is something of a misnomer, since LEDs are not really bulbs at all. The “bulb” portion of the LED is either cosmetic or is just a solid epoxy or plastic coating that protects the semiconductor underneath it.

It is the semiconductor that is central to the operation of an LED bulb. Power is applied to the semiconductor material, resulting in a buildup of electrons at one end. When this occurs, the density of electrons “pushes” off of itself and wants to flow to the other side of the semiconductor.

There is a boundary on the semiconductor known as the p-n junction, which electrons must cross in order to reach the other side. When electrons cross the p-n junction on the semiconductor, they release a little bit of energy in the form of light.

The process here, like electroluminescence, also produces light, but in the case of an LED, it does not result in the express production of heat, allowing LEDs to burn much more efficiently and last longer than incandescent bulbs, among other positive attributes.

Armed with an understanding of the basic process by which LEDs produce light, you can then develop an understanding of the methods by which LEDs can be dimmed.

First, Dimmable LED Bulbs: Options

As you are probably well aware, LED bulbs are not the only form of lighting that can be dimmed, and many other domestic lighting solutions are frequently found in dimmable configurations. This is the reason that some homeowners are looking for comparable, dimmable LED lights in the first place.

Some old school dimmer switches actually alter the amount of electricity that flows to the light, affecting its apparent light output, in order to raise or lower it. While this method works, it can shorten the length of a light bulb or cause other problems. Some modern dimmer switches switch on and off very quickly, which has the apparent effect of reducing or increasing the brightness of a light bulb.

However, many LED lights use their own form of dimming and dimmer switches to produce the same basic effect to increase or diminish their light output. LED lights, like other forms of lighting, can be dimmed in a variety of ways, although there are two processes that account for the management of most dimmable LED lights, which are pulse width modulation, or PWM, and analog dimming.

●Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) Dimming

Pulse width modulation is one of the most common forms of dimming technology used with LED lights. Since LED lights are intended to be used with a fixed current or voltage, you cannot simply alter the supply of electricity to them, as this can adversely affect their operation or even shorten their operable lifespans.

Pulse width modulation, or PWM, is very similar to one of the methods of light dimming mentioned in the last section. With pulse width modulation, the dimmer switch controls the flow of electrical current to the LED lights themselves, rapidly turning them on and off in a series of pulses. These pulses are far too rapid for the human eye to detect, being perceived instead as a diminished or dimmed light output.

●Analog Dimming

Analog dimming, by contrast to pulse width modulation, is a separate form of dimming technology that alters the current to the LEDs themselves. As LEDs are designed to operate on a set current and voltage, scaling back the current fed to the bulbs in a carefully controlled manner can have the effect of reducing the light output of the bulbs.

The basic process with analog dimming is that by reducing the current to the LED, the resulting output can be diminished.

●Phase dimming

Phase dimming controls the voltage that is supplied to the LED lights themselves in order to alter the light output, increasing or diminishing the brightness of the array. Phase dimming can be broadly arranged into one of two types; leading and trailing edge dimming.

Both of these types of phase dimming hinge on the fact that voltage is supplied in the form of a wave. In leading-edge dimming, the voltage is cut off as the wave begins to rise, whereas in trailing edge dimming, the voltage is cut off as the supplied voltage wave descends.

Points to Consider in Dimmable LED Bulbs

Regardless of your personal reasons for pursuing dimmable LED light bulbs, the technology can help you accomplish a variety of different objectives, including but not limited to some of the following. While some lights are not dimmable, and others would experience no increase in value even with that technology, there are a number of ways in which the value of a setting can be enhanced with the addition of dimmable lighting, whether LED or otherwise.

●Dimming helps you set the mood

One of the greatest benefits that can be provided by dimmable LED light bulbs - or any dimmable bulbs, really - is that they can help you create accent lighting much more easily. Some homeowners and business owners use lights like Edison bulbs and other soft, lambent lighting to accomplish the setting of a mood. Others lean on the value of dimmer switches to allow lighting to set the mood as required by the circumstances. In other words, with dimmer technology, one size does not need to fit all.

●Dimming can increase the value of a property or setting

Dimming and dimmer switches can also be instrumental in increasing the value of a property like a home or a business. Not that dimmer abilities would make or break a purchase since they can often be retrofitted into a setting, but anything like this that can be used as a bargaining chip may very well be.

●Traditionally, dimming helped to extend lightbulb life and incurred energy savings

While this is not as much of a concern with LED lighting for reasons that will become apparent in the following section, dimmer technology has been used in the past with incandescent and halogen lighting to secure energy savings.

It doesn’t require a degree in rocket science to understand that when a light is dimmed it consumes less energy and that equates to energy savings. With lighting technology such as incandescent and halogen lights that consume more than their share, dimmer switches can actually equate to substantial savings when they are implemented and used effectively.

Dimmable LED Bulbs Not Your Speed? Here Are Some Blanket Benefits to LED Bulbs, Dimmable, or Others

While dimmable LED light bulbs specifically are not typically hailed for their ability to save money (for the specific fact that LEDs are so energy efficient, to begin with) there are a number of benefits that come along with LED bulbs. If you’re weighing your options for retrofitting or replacement, take LEDs seriously - they can provide some of the following wins.

●Excellent light output, CRI, and color temperature

LEDs are beloved for their excellent luminosity and focus, with modern LEDs rivaling all other forms of lighting food brightness, and even directional lighting. There are even modern LED replacements for HID lights, such as corn cob lights.

They also provide a wide range of color temperatures, ranging from stark, bright white light to soft, warm glow of LED filament bulbs. In addition, with such a range of different color temperatures and outputs, LEDs provide a wide range of color rendering values, including full-spectrum LEDs that provide highly faithful marks on the color rendering index, or CRI.

●LEDs may be able to provide energy savings

In addition to their excellent luminosity, color rendering, and color temperature, LEDs draw significantly less power than incandescent and halogen alternatives. They are even more energy-efficient than fluorescent lights, which were the standard of energy efficiency for many years.

For some homes and businesses, a switch over to LED lights can result in big gains in energy savings.

●LEDs last much longer than alternatives

LEDs also outlast all other forms of lighting when it comes to lifespan. Again, for a long time, fluorescent lights were a leader in this area, but a fluorescent light that lasted anywhere close to 50,000 hours was the exception. Nowadays, LEDs that last 25,000 are the norm, with some exceptional LEDs lasting nearly 100,000 hours.

●LEDs do not get nearly as hot as incandescent or halogen lights

Some homes and businesses will be well served by LEDs for the simple reason that LEDs do not generate as much heat as incandescent or halogen lights. For some businesses, in specific, this is a big bonus, because HID lamps (or other lamps for that matter) produce a lot of heat as a byproduct of operation.

This is unfortunate because it can result in higher cooling costs to offset the additional heat produced by the lights, but luckily, with LED replacements, it’s not as much of a problem.

●LEDs do not contain the harmful components of CFLs; in fact, most LEDs are recyclable

Many other forms of lighting, including CFLs and HID lamps, contain mercury or other harmful chemicals that cannot be easily disposed of. What this means is that some businesses and even homeowners can’t just throw their old lights away. They have to dispose of them in an approved fashion which can be expensive or time-consuming. LEDs contain no such harmful chemicals or components, and in fact, many of them can be simply recycled.

●Reliability and instant start-up

Finally, LEDs represent a big bonus over HID and fluorescent lights because they are ultra-reliable and will start right up when you switch the lights on. Other lights have a warm-up period and may not reach their full brightness immediately; some might even be sluggish in extremely cold temperatures.

LEDs are free from these impediments and will start up right away and reach their full brightness nearly instantaneously.

Want More Information? Contact Us!

Still have questions about the different types of LED dimmers and LEDs that we provide here at Atlanta Light Bulbs? Don’t let your questions go unanswered - we’d be happy to help you and we’re just a call away.

Give us a ring at 1-888-988-2852 anytime you have questions about lighting, fixtures, or retrofitting and we’ll let you in on everything you need to know. Whether you’re on the trail of energy savings or just looking to set a better mood with dimmable LED bulbs, Atlanta Light Bulbs can help you out!