Lighting Controls: Energy Saving Tips

Lighting controls, from basic dimmers to daylight-sensing photocells, can cut the amount of light you waste by lowering lighting levels and reducing the amount of time lights are on.

Top Tips

At home

Energy saving lighting controls
  • Exert self-control. The best lighting control is turning off the light yourself, even if you’re just going to be out of the room for a few minutes. This is true of all lamp types: fluorescents, incandescents, halogens, and LEDs.
  • Dim it. Dimming incandescent bulbs only saves a little energy. An incandescent dimmed to 50% of its light output may draw 75% of full power. Fluorescents perform better with dimmers. When you dim a fluorescent’s light output by half, you also reduce its power requirement by half. Be aware that most compact fluorescents can’t be used with dimmers, however.

When shopping, look for

  • Timers. Timer controls are particularly handy for security when you’re out of town. Rather than leaving lights burning all day and night, you can set a few lamps to come on and turn off at different times of the night to fool the bad guys into thinking you’re home.
  • Switches. You can install switches that automatically turn on closet and cabinet lights when you open the door, and turn them off when you close the door. But you still have to remember to close the door!
  • Motion sensors. Also called occupancy sensors, motion sensors work by detecting motion or heat. When someone enters a room, a light will turn on. When everyone leaves the room, the light goes off. Motion sensors are often used for outdoor security lighting. It’s a good idea to choose ones with daylight sensors (see below), so the light only comes on when there is little or no daylight. Good uses for motion sensors are less-frequented areas where a light might accidentally be left on for a long time, like closets and utility rooms.
  • Daylight sensors. Photocells can detect daylight levels and turn lights on at dusk and off at dawn. They’re often used with porch lights and other outdoor lights, but keep in mind that burning outdoor lights for 12 hours or more each night is a big energy waster. Outdoor lighting controls that combine photocells with timers or motion sensors will save more energy.
  • Dimmability. Look for special dimmable compact fluorescents. Linear fluorescents with dimming ballasts are also available.

Other Considerations

It’s easy to find outdoor light fixtures with built-in daylight and motion sensors. Lighting controls are also available as add-on devices that either get wired to the wall switch or the light fixture.


…to you
Lighting controls provide convenience and security. Dimmers can create a relaxed mood.

…to your wallet
Lighting controls can reduce your energy use if they reduce the amount of time you have lights on.

…to the Earth
If used properly, lighting controls can cut demand for fossil fuel-based electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.

Common Mistakes

  • Using standard CFLs with dimmers. Most compact fluorescent lights cannot be used with dimmers. Even special dimmable CFLs may not work with some less expensive dimming switches.
  • Using lighting controls to squander light. If you use timers or photocells to keep outdoor lights on all night long, you’re not doing your wallet or the planet any favors.

Getting Started

For savvy DIYers, adding lighting controls is a straightforward project. Always turn off the power at the circuit breaker before installing lighting controls! Hire an electrician if you’re not handy.

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