Dimmers allow you to achieve the exact light level that you desire in a room and consequently alter the mood. There are various types of dimming options available, but the most popular are ‘phase control’ (or phase-cut) dimmers. Phase control dimmers work by chopping out parts of the voltage and reducing power to the light source. The two types of phase control dimmer available are ‘trailing-edge’ and ‘leading-edge’ and they work in different ways which ultimately affects their compatibility with certain light forms:
- Leading-edge: inductive loads (e.g. magnetic low voltage transformers), resistive loads (e.g. incandescent).
- Trailing-edge: capacitive loads (e.g. electronic low voltage transformers, LED drivers), resistive loads (e.g. incandescent).
However, as well as the above, there are also other differences between the two types of dimmers…
Leading Edge Dimming (TRIAC dimming) utilizes a current that is turned off as the AC waveform begins, right after it crosses zero. Leading Edge Dimming is typically used with incandescent bulbs, and produces a rush of voltage every half cycle, resulting in a rush of current to the light source.
Leading-edge dimmer switches are cheaper and simpler than trailing-edge, and were used originally to dim incandescent and halogen bulbs or wirewound magnetic transformers. They use a ‘TRIAC’ (Triode for Alternating Current) switch to control power, and are sometimes called TRIAC dimmers.
Many existing leading-edge dimmer switches have a relatively high minimum load, which often rules out their use with modest LED or CFL lighting circuits. However, leading-edge dimmers are by far the most common dimming control in existence.
Trailing Edge Dimming (electronic dimming) utilizes a current that is turned off as the AC waveform ends, right before it crosses zero. This type of dimming is typically used with electronic drivers, and does not result in a rush of voltage (and in turn, a rush of current) to the light source.
Trailing-edge dimmers are more sophisticated than leading-edge dimmers. They provide a much smoother dimming control, absent of any buzzing noise, and is ideal for use in most premises.
A trailing-edge dimmer has a lower minimum load than leading-edge dimmers, making it a better choice for dimming modestly sized low-powered lighting circuits.
LED lights and dimming
Unlike incandescent bulbs, which are all dimmable by default, LED retrofit bulbs have a built-in driver in their base. The driver converts AC power to DC power and maintains a constant current to the LED. This is at odds with a phase control dimming system, since the driver attempts to compensate for the sliced-out portions of input voltage.
LED fixtures such as downlights usually include the LED driver, either of a ‘constant current’ or ‘constant voltage’ type, depending on the LED array design. In either case, the same issue arises: the LED driver or power supply will try to patch up the missing parts of input voltage.
However, LED compatibility problems can exist, and some dimmable LED driver designs will only work with selective dimming control systems. These problems can show up in a number of ways, including flickering, flashing, and dead travel.