While the best dimmer style for recessed lighting is a matter of personal preference, you may not want to choose one based on appearance alone. Each dimmer style actually works slightly different as well, so it’s worth giving it some thought.
There are four styles of dimmers most commonly used today. They are the rocker, slider with switch, slider without switch, and electronic. All four styles fit the standard rectangular (Decora style) switch plates.
Let’s take a look…
Rocker dimmers are the most similar to the standard on/off rocker switches. Their low-profile design makes them hardly noticeable.
- They closely match the modern Decora (rectangle) style switches.
- The dimmer adjustment is low profile and discrete.
- Very durable.
- You can preset the brightness lever, and then turn the lights on or off like a regular switch.
- Great for controlling accent lighting (or any lighting) that you don’t adjust the brightness of too often.
- The adjustment levers can be hard to see. Guests may not even realize it’s there unless you tell them.
- Not as easy to adjust as the other styles.
Slide Style with Preset Switch
Slide dimmers are probably the easiest to use. They basically have a small handle that you raise or lower which adjusts the brightness accordingly. This type of slide dimmer also has an on/off switch, which allows you to preset the handle and then use the switch to turn the lights on or off.
- Easy. You can tell how to use it just by looking at it.
- They fit modern Decora wall plates.
- Like the rocker style, the brightness adjustment is independent which allows you to preset the brightness and then use the switch to turn the lights on and off.
- Not as low profile as the other styles.
- The on/off switch on many of these is horizontal rather than vertical, which can be counter intuitive. Pass and Seymour’s version (shown above) is up and down.
Slide Style without Switch
This style dimmer does not have an on/off switch. To turn it off, you just slide it all the way down.
- Very easy to use.
- Typically cost less than other dimmers.
- Great if you like to adjust the brightness each time you turn on the lights.
- No presetting. Because you slide the dimmer all the way down to turn the lights off, you have to set the brightness each time you turn them on.
- Lights can get left on at a very low level because the dimmer was not pushed all the way down to off.
Electronic or Digital Style
Electronic dimmers are typically flat with a large rectangular Decora-shaped button that you tap to turn the lights on or off. Their capabilities range from simple dimming to sophisticated scenes and automation control.
- Unlike standard dimmers, electronic dimmers can be installed at both control points of a 3-way circuit. This is especially useful to control recessed lighting above staircases where you want to be able to adjust the brightness from the top and bottom of the stairs. If you have a standard dimmer installed in a 3-way circuit, the dimmer goes at one end, and an on/off switch remains at the other. When you turn on the lights from the switch, they will only be as bright as the dimmer is adjusted to at the other end which can be very frustrating.
- They have a modern, streamlined appearance that matches Decora style switches.
- Most have adjustable preset levels.
- Some have adjustable fade on/off rates that adds a little drama to the lighting.
- Many have versions with wireless connectivity built-in. This can be used to link the dimmers to each to create wireless 3-way (or more) circuits without running any new cables. It can also be used to control the dimmer from a wireless remote control, smartphone, or anywhere in the world via the internet.
- Some versions are available with occupancy sensors that can turn lights on or off automatically.
- They have a slight learning curve that can be frustrating to some.
- Their advanced electronics mean they typically cost more than mechanical dimmers.
- Some require a neutral wire in the switch box which can be a problem if your circuit is not wired that way.
Well, there you have it. An overview of the four most common styles of dimmer switches for recessed lighting.