It sounds like a joke: How do you find a
light switch in the dark? Illuminate it,
of course. These great little inventions
use a tiny bit of electricity from the circuit
they’re on to light a small LED or
neon bulb. They install as easily as regular
switches, but be aware that these
switches work fine with some CFLs but
not so great with others.
For a broad selection of illuminated
toggle and rocker switches, visit
kyledesigns.com. You’ll find clear, white
and red toggles and black, white, ivory
and other colors of rocker switches.
Prices range from $7 to $40 through our affiliation with amazon.com. The Web
site also carries a huge and reasonably
priced selection of low-voltage lighting, switchplates and other items.
Illuminated toggle switch
Illuminated Switch Options
There are many types of illuminated switches made by many manufacturers. We show two types of toggle switches and a rocker switch here.
Occupancy and vacancy sensors
Residential occupancy and vacancy
sensors have come of age. Most residential
sensors use passive infrared
(PIR) technology to detect heat and
motion and turn lights on and off
accordingly. They can cut lighting costs
by 50 percent in rooms where lights are
frequently left on when no one is in
them. Wall-mount sensors install just
like a light switch and are available as
switches or dimmers. Most require a
neutral wire, but there are a few models
that don’t. The smartest sensors are
designed to screen out background
interference and detect small movements
and natural light. They also work
with LED, CFL, incandescent, halogen
and other bulb and load types.
Occupancy vs. vacancy sensor—What’s the difference?
An occupancy sensor automatically
turns lights ON and OFF. Great for areas
where lights are accidentally left on a
lot, like in a kid’s room, or where your
hands are full, like in a laundry area.
A vacancy sensor has a manual ON
and automatic OFF (you can preset different
times). Good for bedrooms, so
the light doesn’t automatically turn on
if a spouse enters while you’re sleeping,
or in the hallway, so your pet doesn’t
trigger the light.
Lutron's Maestro occupancy/vacancy sensor switch
Leviton's Universal Dimming Sensor switch
2 Occupancy and Vacancy Sensors
Lutron’s Maestro occupancy/vacancy sensor switch functions in both modes
depending how it’s programmed. It’s available
in two models—one for small rooms
(MS-OPS2; about $20) and one for larger rooms
(MS-OPS5; about $40). It includes a push button
manual control switch and is available as a
dimming sensor as well. It does not require
a neutral wire. Learn more at lutron.com. They are available through our affiliation with amazon.com.
Leviton’s Universal Dimming Sensor
(IPSD6-1LZ) is an occupancy sensor and
dimmer in one unit. It has a 180-degree
field of view for up to 900 sq. ft. of coverage
and includes manual presets for
delayed-off time settings (about $40 through our affiliation with amazon.com). Compatible with dimmable LED,
CFL and incandescent bulbs. It does not
require a neutral. Visit leviton.com.
Bath fan timers
Timers for bath fans are important because excess humidity
can cause everything from window condensation and
mildew to moisture and rot inside walls. Timers connected
to exhaust fans must be rated to run electric motors, which
makes them more expensive than those running incandescent
lamps. Some new wall switch timers have dual controls
for turning off both lights and fans after a preset time. For
the ultimate in smart bath fan timers, buy a humidity-sensing
fan designed to automatically turn on and off as moisture
levels at the ceiling rise and fall.
Outside lighting timers
Automated outdoor lighting is convenient, but the
smartest timers are astronomic versions that turn
lights off and on from a memory of 365 days of sunrise
and sunset times based on your home’s location. This feature is particularly useful if you live in a northern climate which has a wide range of daylight hours from summer to winter. Simply find the longitude and latitude of your
home at http://www.worldatlas.com and enter it
into the timer. The timer automatically
calculates the sundown “turn on” time.
Then choose either a set run-time or let
the timer turn the lights off at sunup. Such timers include:
Those with randomized settings can vary on and off
times, which adds a heightened level of security by
fooling burglars into thinking someone is home when
you’re away. The newest (and most expensive) astronomic
timer switches are compatible with CFL and
LED bulbs in addition to incandescent and halogen
bulbs. Non-compatible timers can cause CFLs to
flicker and shorten their life span.
Outdoor Lighting Timers
There are many types of outside timers, but the best ones are programmed to turn lights on according to the time of day and nightfall.
Intermatic’s EI600 Series In-Wall timers
(about $40 through our affiliation with amazon.com). These timers do
not require a neutral wire.
This timer series is highly
recommended by lighting
pros, and users report
they are easy to install
and program. Learn more
Leviton’s Vizia VPT24-1PZ indoor/outdoor programmable timer (about $40
through our affiliation with amazon.com). This timer comes
with three different color
faceplates and a five-year
warranty. It requires
a neutral wire. Learn
more at leviton.com.
Dimmers for CFLs and LEDs
You can save up to $55 a year by replacing
an incandescent bulb with a dimmable
LED and using it regularly at low
levels. Beyond energy savings, dimmers
add comfort and convenience. However,
dimming technology has had a hard time
keeping pace with advances in CFL and
LED bulbs. Problems include:
- Reduced dimming range. Unlike incandescent
bulbs, most CFL and LED bulbs
will not dim to very low levels. Some dimmable
LED bulbs can get close, but it
depends on a specific bulb’s circuitry.
- Lights dropping out. CFL and LED
bulbs will sometimes turn off before the
slider reaches the bottom.
- Lights not turning on. After you dim a
CFL or LED bulb, it sometimes won’t turn
on until you move the dimmer slider up.
This “pop-on” effect can really be frustrating
in a three-way situation where a
light can be controlled from several
switches, not just using the dimmer.
- Lights turn off unexpectedly.
Dimmable CFL and LED bulbs can be
affected by line voltage fluctuations and
they can turn off (not just dim or flicker,
like incandescents) when a hair dryer or
vacuum cleaner is used.
The good news is that dimmer switch
technology is improving. The newest
switches work well and can effectively
dim mixed light sources on the same circuit.
The bad news is these switches are
pricey and they require pricey dimmable
LED and CFL bulbs (they also work fine
with incandescent and halogen bulbs). A
list of compatible bulbs can be found on
manufacturer Web sites. Some require a
neutral and some do not, so check the
Leviton's SureSlide Universal Dimmer 6674
Lutron's C-L Dimmer Collection, Maestro
Lutron's Credenza C-L Lamp dimmer
Dimmers for CFLs and LEDs
Leviton’s SureSlide Universal Dimmer 6674 (about $25 through our affiliation with amazon.com) This dimmer has an on/off
preset function that
remembers your preferred
setting and is
compatible with Decora
wiring devices and wall-plates.
It does require a
neutral. Learn more at
Lutron’s C-L Dimmer Collection includes the
Skylark Contour (about $26) and
Maestro (about $35; shown),
among other models.
These dimmers include
adjustable dials that
accommodate a broad
range of dimmable bulbs.
Available through our affiliation with amazon.com.
Visit lutron.com for a list of
Lutron’s Credenza C-L Lamp dimmer (about $15 through our affiliation with amazon.com) plugs
into any outlet to dim table
and floor lamps with
incandescent and halogen
as well as dimmable CFL
and LED bulbs. The regular
Credenza lamp dimmer
(about $15) lets you use a standard
halogen or incandescent
lightbulb instead of a
more expensive three-way
bulb and also plugs into
standard outlets. Learn more at lutron.com.
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Check the wiring before you buy
Many of the new, sophisticated smart switches require a neutral wire to run
the circuitry inside the switch—particularly those compatible with LED and
CFL bulbs. Before you buy a new switch, check the packaging. Most will specifically
tell you if a neutral is required (Photo).
To see if you have a neutral wire in your switch box:
- Turn off the power and use a noncontact voltage detector to check that
the circuit is off before you remove the cover plate.
- Remove the cover plate and unscrew and remove the switch. The photo shows one common situation without a neutral wire.