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I've become rather attached to the dimmable lights in my home, but I'm thinking about upgrading with dimmable LED bulbs as the incandescent ones are becoming less available.

I know that it will be a considerable investment of time and money (more-so time) to upgrade, so I wanted to ask if the hardware can do what I want.

Basically, I use my dimmer-switches to turn down the intensity of the lights in the bedroom and bathroom to somewhere near that of a single candleflame so that I can go about my business getting ready for bed and make night-time trips to the bathroom with minimal exposure to light.

I'm wondering if this is possible with dimmable LED bulbs without experiencing flickering or the like.

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  • Have you considered dedicated "nightlight" devices? Feb 3 at 3:54
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    Works fine for me, though not all LED bulbs behave properly -- some of the early ones I got were really awful, but the latest batch seems fine.
    – gbronner
    Feb 3 at 3:59
  • Can you mention a specific product that works well for you, @gbronner? Feb 3 at 4:01
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    Are your existing dimmers "LED compatible"? If you're not sure, see if you can find any model #s. Generally speaking, LED-compatible dimmers + dimmer-compatible-LEDs should do what you want. Older dimmers, no. Non-dimmer-compatible-LEDs absolutely not. Many cheaper LEDs, even if they say dimmer-compatible, not so much. Feb 3 at 4:03
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    @ThreePhaseEel, I'm installing LED bulbs in a place that was built in the early 80s. Feb 3 at 4:12
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Here's what I did:

  1. I went to a certain big box store known for its 'Treasure Hunt' atmosphere and, pre-pandemic, free samples

  2. I bought a 'feit electric dimmer switch 2 pack'

  3. I installed them. It was really easy, though it does require a neutral.

  4. I purchased the a large box of 'feit electric soft white led dimmable bulbs. The new ones light up to the base (similar to the old incandescent bulbs and look much better). Conveniently, my local utility was subsidizing them, so I think that they were really cheap.

Here's a similar product: https://www.feit.com/product/800-lumen-2700k-dimmable-led-8/

Total cost was less than $50, and I think that some of these parts have gotten cheaper since.

Note: I've reliability issues with the LED bulbs with the plastic bases -- perhaps my fixtures are too hot, but I find that they often flicker or crack and die.

On another note: I have a few boxes of incandescent bulbs that I'd be happy to get rid of -- I run a bunch of hallway lights 24/7, and installing LED lights is a huge win, even over compact fluorescent.

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  • When you say a "neutral", do you mean a ground? Feb 3 at 5:15
  • No. You need a hot and a neutral as well as a ground. New junction boxes have them; older switches were wired just with one leg.
    – gbronner
    Feb 3 at 5:38
  • But the interesting twist is that there are some smart/dimmer/timer/etc. switches that actually can work legally using ground instead of neutral. But the normal setup is neutral required. Feb 3 at 5:54
  • Note that "dumb" dimmers are available without the requirement for a neutral. However, because they draw power through the load, the will have a minimum wattage much above a couple of normal LED lights. Also, you may get a flicker or slight glow from the LEDs when the dimmer is off.
    – DoxyLover
    Feb 3 at 7:24
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    Also note that "older switches were wired just with one leg" is a very broad statement that is not true in every case. It all depends on whether the hot power from the panel was brought to the fixture or the switch first. The only way for any individual to know how any particular circuit was wired is to pull the fixtures/switches and look at them. It could be that in one house some have power to the switch while others have power to the fixture, depending on which was more convenient.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 3 at 12:58
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Dimming LEDs (using existing fixtures and wiring) is an extremely ugly hack. It uses triac dimming, a 1960s technology chosen because it is cheap to implement for incandescent bulbs only, and their peculiar characteristics. For LED screw-in bulbs don't want to work with this technology at all; it is incompatible with what they are. However, some LED bulbs are made with some "on-board smarts" to effectively reverse-engineer what the triac dimmer is trying to do; and try to set that brightness level.

TLDR: the existing "don't change anything" dimming scheme is a very ugly hack, and you pay for that in preciseness of control. Expect it to hop from "off" to 20-30% bright, with no fine control in the lower range. Which is what you're after.

If you really want that kind of fine control of LEDs, your best bet is to change technologies. For instance switch to 12V/24V "PWM" dimming, or install additional wires to support 0-10V dimming. None of these are trivial.

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    You're leaving out the one option that is both trivial to install and will dim as much as the OP wants: smart bulbs. They have PWM dimming internally, and receive the dimming signal over wifi (or some other smart home protocol) from a compatible smart switch (or phone app or smart speaker or whatever).
    – Nate S.
    Feb 3 at 17:56
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    @Nate good point, but it's because smart tech is digital and light perception is exponential. Here. Grab a "log scale" and plot 0-255 on it (or even just 0-15). You see where the bottom end is the coarsest. IME you get a choice between "pitch black" and "3 times brighter than I wanted". Another place to see that is in "0-15" volume settings (which also perceive exponentially) on digital devices, surely you've had it were 0 was silence but 1 was too loud. Feb 3 at 18:05
  • ...which is why every digital dimmer ever, even the old incandescent ones, has brightness curves built in that compensate for that. Perhaps the designers of the dimmers you've used put the set point of the first tick 3x higher than you would have liked, but that has nothing to do with the logarithmic perception of light. A setting of 1% can output whatever voltage (or PWM) levels the designers chose, and usually they'll choose something that tries to match most people's perceptions of what 1% light output should be. Most smart bulbs, but perhaps not all, get this right.
    – Nate S.
    Feb 3 at 18:18

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