Energy Saver identifier

Lighting controls can help save energy – and money – by automatically turning lights off when they're not needed, by reducing light levels when full brightness isn’t necessary, or otherwise controlling the lighting in and around your home. 

Common types of lighting controls include:

  • Dimmers
  • Motion sensors, occupancy sensors, and photosensors
  • Timers.

Before purchasing and using any lighting controls, it's a good idea to understand basic lighting terms and principles. Also, it helps to explore your indoor and outdoor lighting design options if you haven't already. This will help narrow your selection.


Dimmer controls provide variable indoor lighting and can be operated manually, or with timers or sensors.. When you dim lightbulbs, it reduces their wattage and output, which helps save energy.

Dimmers are generally inexpensive and can increase the service life of certain types of light bulbs, as well as provide some energy savings when lights are used at a reduced level. However, with incandescent lighting, dimming reduces lumen output, or brightness, more than wattage, which makes incandescent bulbs less efficient as they are dimmed.

Dimmers and LEDs

Many light-emitting diode (LED) lightbulbs can be used with dimmers, but they must be designed for dimming. The packaging or accompanying instructions will indicate if the product is dimmable.

Dimmers and CFLs

Unlike incandescents, CFLs do not become less efficient when dimmed. Some CFLs are compatible with standard dimmers, which will be indicated on the package. Others require special dimming ballasts and bulb holders. Fluorescent dimmers are dedicated fixtures and bulbs that provide even greater energy savings than a regular fluorescent bulb. Dimming a CFL that is not designed to work with a dimmer switch is not recommended, as this can shorten its life significantly.

You can change the lightbulbs in fluorescent lighting fixtures rather than replace them.

Motion Sensors

Motion sensors automatically turn lights on when they detect motion and turn them off a short while later. They are especially useful for outdoor security and utility lighting.

Because utility lights and some security lights are needed only when it is dark and people are present, the best way to control might be a combination of a motion sensor and photosensor.

Occupancy Sensors

Occupancy sensors detect indoor activity within a certain area. They provide convenience by turning lights on automatically when someone enters a room, and save energy by turning lights off room or reducing light output when a space is unoccupied. Occupancy sensors must be located where they will detect occupants or occupant activity in all parts of the room.

Ultrasonic sensors detect sound, while infrared sensors detect heat and motion. In addition to controlling ambient lighting in a room, they are useful for task lighting applications such as over kitchen counters. In such applications, task lights are turned on by the motion of a person washing dishes, for instance, and automatically turn off after the person leaves the area.


You can use photosensors to prevent lights from operating during daylight hours. This can help save energy because you don't have to remember to turn off your lights.

Photosensors sense ambient light conditions, making them useful for all types of outdoor lighting. These light-sensitive controls can be less effective inside the home because lighting needs vary with occupant activity rather than ambient lighting levels. Many LED nightlights, however, have this feature built in which makes them effective and easy to use.


Timers can be used to turn lights on and off at specific times. Manual timers plug into an electrical outlet for controlling objects such as lamps or light strings. Programmable digital timers, which can look like digital thermostats, automate indoor or outdoor lighting.

Programmable timers are not often used alone for outdoor lighting because the timer may have to be reset often with the seasonal variation in the length of nighttime. However, they can be used effectively in combination with other controls. For example, the best combination for aesthetic  lighting may be a photosensor that turns lights on in the evening and a timer that turns the lights off at a certain hour of the night (such as 11 p.m.).

For indoor lighting, timers are useful to give an unoccupied house a lived-in look. However, they may have limited use in an occupied home because they do not respond to changes in your day-to-day activities.

Using Timers with CFL and LED Lighting

Timing controls work well with LED and CFL light bulbs, as they do not interrupt the circuitry. This is especially true with manual timers that use pins for setting the on and off times. When using a programmable digital timer, check the package label to be sure it’s compatible with the type of lighting you want to use.