All homes have several application areas for dimmer lighting. Each of these application areas has unique ergonomic and safety requirements. As you walk around your home tonight think of the rooms in your home and how they can benefit from the new lighting control technologies.

Twenty First Century Dimmers

Damon Bruccoleri

Twenty First Century Dimmers
By Damon Bruccoleri
  

All homes have several application areas for dimmer lighting. Each of these application areas has unique ergonomic and safety requirements.  As you walk around your home tonight think of the rooms in your home and how they can benefit from the new lighting control technologies.

Damon Bruccoleri, PE is a designer specializing in automation systems, ergonomics, and is a writer. Over the last 25 years he has led the creation of many successful products for companies such as Lucent, Leviton, Long Island Power Authority, top universities and many others. Damon can assist companies as a design consultant, speaker, or communicating a product or service.


Over the last forty years modern light dimmer technology has progressed from its invention. In the 60's we saw the introduction of the first simple and rotary transistorized dimmers. In the 80's we saw these dimmers incorporate the new computer technology as the power requirements of the chips shrank. Today we see a new revolution in dimmer technology. This revolution is bringing dimmers that are more ergonomic, more attractive, and customizable to the various application areas of a home. These dimmers provide more consumer value than ever and are available from the major lighting controls manufacturers at lower costs. The consumer needs to be prepared however to understand the changes that have happened in this new technology to obtain their best value.

First let's define one term. Ergonomics has the root word Ergon, the Greek word for work. We might expect that ergonomics then would be the study of work, and we would not be far off. According to the Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary ergonomics is "an applied science concerned with the characteristics of people that need to be considered in designing things that they use in order that people and things will interact most effectively and safely". When shopping for a dimmer the consumer should look for a large paddle that is easy for children and seniors to actuate, very important for an aging population. A large paddle provides a large target area for a hand press. A large paddle is easier to actuate with the palm of the hand rather than then finger tips, fingers, or thumb. This is an important feature to actuate the dimmer in a dark room or in areas of the home where visitors are unlikely to be familiar with the layout and placement of the control. This feature is particularly important as we age and some arthritis may set in. The dimmer should also have a status LED to additionally help locate the dimmer or switch in a dark room.

Look for a dimmer that has a 'Fade On'. Research has shown that the human iris has a response time to the intensity of light striking the retina. This response time has both a delay component (processing by brain) and an adjustment time (contracting of muscle). The total response time in a young healthy adult is about 0.5 seconds to about 1.0 seconds in an older adult. Dimmers that provide a Fade On of about 1.5 seconds allow the human eye to acclimatize to a bright light from a dark room and thus not be blinded. Longer Fade On rates become annoying to most homeowners since few people want to wait for the light. Many dimmers provide 'Selectable Fade rates'. The fade on and fade off times can be selectable. This allows the dimmer to be customized to areas of the home, such a stairwell landing, where any type of fade on could be unwanted. Other areas that may benefit from no Fade on may be the workshop, garage and basement areas where a quick lamp turn on could also be a work efficiency or separate ergonomic issue.

Another important feature of the new dimmers is the ability to have a 'Locked Brightness Level with temporary override'. This feature customizes the dimmer to high traffic areas of the home. Normally when a dimmer is turned on it will go to its last set brightness level. This is great for an area like a study that is used by one or two members of a household only. In high traffic areas or where children are likely to play homeowners may find it annoying when the lights turn on to a level they did not set. With this new feature the homeowner is able to program into the dimmer a locked brightness level of their own choosing. The intensity can be changed only temporarily. Every time the dimmer turns on it will go to the locked level. This feature is also a favorite of visitors who may be unfamiliar with a dimmers operation. When a visitor turns on a dimmer with a locked brightness level it will always turn on to an optimum level set by the homeowner rather than an intensity that may be too low and require the visitor to understand that the level can be adjusted or how to adjust it.

Finally, an important new feature is the 'Long delay to off'. This is important for applications in the home where the light switch is not near the final destination of the homeowner after they turn the light off. Examples are a bedroom, where the homeowner would want some light to get into bed after she turned the light off with a switch located near the door. Another example is a home theater where a homeowner would want to sit down in the center of the room and turn on the screen or TV before the lights turned off. A final example is any room with two doors and a single switch. The homeowner may have to traverse the space after pressing the switch to leave the room and would need some light to do this. Some dimmers may have an option to have the long delay to off and no delay to off at the same time. They accomplish this by using different paddle press gestures. A short touch of the paddle would turn the dimmer off with a standard fade, a long press of the paddle would provide the long delay to off.

A dimmer may also have a 'Long Fade to off' rather than the delay to off option. This option allows the homeowner a more visible feedback as the lights slowly fade off than the delay to off. Of course a visitor may not know that the dimmer provides the long touch and short touch options. For this circumstance the dimmer should be able to be set to default to always turn off with the long fade regardless of the keypress gesture.

All homes have several application areas for dimmer lighting. Each of these application areas has unique ergonomic and safety requirements. Example application areas are included in table 1. As you walk around your home tonight think of the rooms in your home and how they can benefit from the new lighting control technologies.

Application

Fade On

Fade Off

Locked Dim

Delayed off

Private bathroom

1.5s

3.0s

None

None

Shared bathroom

1.5s

3.0s

25%-50%

None

Stairwell landing

None

3.0s

75%-100%

None

Workshop or Garage

None

None

100%

Yes

Adult Bedroom

1.5s

5s-10s

None

Yes

Child Bedroom

1.5s

5s-10s

50%

Yes

Main Hallway

None or 1.5s

3.0s

75%

None

TV Room or Home Theatre

1.5s

3.0s

None

Yes

Hall with one control

1.5s

3.0s-10S

None

Yes


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