What do you consider when you are looking for the ideal ceiling fan? Obviously you want a fan that looks good and fits in with the rest of the décor in the room. You may like the convenience of a remote-control unit that allows you to change your fan’s settings from the comfort of your sofa or bed. If you’re like most people, you prefer your ceiling fans with lights so you can illuminate the room. You probably don’t want to be limited to a harsh, glaring light. You probably prefer a light kit that allows you to dim the bulbs with a dimmer switch to set the mood.

What Comes First: The Light Bulb or the Dimmer Switch?

Whether you prefer light bulbs that are CFL, LED, halogen, or incandescent, you are in luck. All of these bulb styles have the capability to be dimmed. However, only some of these common light bulbs are constructed in a way that is compatible with dimmer switches. CFL lights, for example, don’t work will with dimmer switches. Unless you have very strong preference for one style of light bulb, it makes more sense to choose your dimmer switch before you buy your bulbs.

Another consideration is how many bulbs do you want your dimmer to control? For example, say you plan to wire your dimmer to control your patio ceiling fan, decorative sconces, and your outdoor security light. The best option here is for you to install lights that can be dimmed in your fan and sconces, but to stick with a non-dimmable bulb for your security light.

Dimmers Deconstructed

To put it simply, a dimmer works by reducing the amount of electricity reaching the light bulb. This creates a voltage fluctuation that dims the bulb’s light output. Not all dimmers are created equally, though. When you buy a dimmer, the package will indicate what its wattage load is. Before you shop for a dimmer, calculate the total wattage of all of the light bulbs that the dimmer switch will be dimming. That is the wattage load. Look for a dimmer designated to handle that amount of watts or more.

While some “specialty dimmers” are designed to work only with certain light bulb types, most are compatible with common bulbs. Dimmer switches may be made with sliding, rotating, or toggle controls. Basically, the choice here is a matter of personal preference and aesthetics.

While dimmer switches are popular on ceiling fan lights, they also are popular on traditional lamps. Often, lamps have dimmer switches that are built into the fixture. If that’s the case, you are in luck. You won’t need to buy a dimmer switch and (more importantly) you won’t have to go through the hassle of opening up your electrical system to install the switch.