A Guide to LED Lighting Controls

Warehouse lightingFrom our customized coffee to our Spotify playlists, it’s nice to have things exactly the way we like. And LED lighting is no exception: From eco-friendly options to the exact right lighting hue and temperature, customer demand is driving change in commercial LED lighting controls.

Sophisticated smart technology has replaced simple wall switches and dimmers. This new generation of LED lighting controls gives end-users the power to save energy, comply with regulations, and meet a wide range of other needs, with just the push of a button.

But what happens after you push that button? It depends on the method used in the specific control. Below, we’ll look at the most common methods, how they work, and how they might be used.

The Different Methods of LED Lighting Controls

Commercial LED lighting controls ensure that lighting is not just a passive element of our workplaces and institutions, but that it’s also an active participant in our daily comfort, safety, and productivity. These sophisticated systems range from motion-detecting sensors to smart, network-connected setups that can be controlled with a tap on a smartphone screen.

Here’s an overview of the different methods of LED lighting controls and what to consider as you incorporate them into your commercial lighting projects.

Microwave Detection

Using radio signals, microwave sensors detect movement by bouncing signals off objects to determine direction and speed. This technology is especially effective in conjunction with daylight harvesting (adjusting indoor lighting based on the natural light available), ensuring optimal lighting conditions and energy savings.

Daylight harvestingUse Case: In a busy office environment with an open-floor layout, microwave detection can be used to adjust lighting dynamically as employees move throughout different areas of the space.

Considerations: The sensors should be calibrated to avoid false triggers caused by minor movements and should be integrated with daylight harvesting systems for maximum energy efficiency.

Passive Infrared (PIR) Sensors

PIR sensorsThese detect motion by detecting the heat signatures of moving objects. Some systems combine microwave and PIR technologies to enhance detection capabilities, such as in restrooms where occupants may not be directly visible, ensuring lights remain on for comfort and safety.

Use Case: An open-plan office might use PIR sensors to manage lighting based on occupancy, saving energy and money. The sensors effectively detect the presence of employees by sensing their body heat and activate the lighting accordingly. When an area of the office is unoccupied, the lights automatically switch off after a predetermined time, reducing energy consumption.

Considerations: Because of the nature of heat-seeking technology, there’s a lot to keep in mind with PIR sensors, including:

  • Placement and line of sight: Position sensors to ensure a clear view of the office’s busiest areas without obstructions.
  • Sensitivity settings: Adjust sensitivity levels to match the expected level of occupancy and activity within the office space.
  • Field of coverage: Ensure that the sensors’ coverage area corresponds with the office layout and seating arrangements to avoid blind spots.
  • Integration with existing systems: Confirm compatibility with the current lighting infrastructure and potential for integration with broader building systems.
  • Avoiding false triggers: Install sensors away from HVAC vents, machinery, and other sources of heat that could cause false activations.
  • Activity levels: Account for varying levels of motion, ensuring sensors are responsive to the specific activities typical in an office setting.
  • Recognize shortcomings: Sensors aren’t infallible. (Anyone who suddenly found themselves in a dark restroom when the occupancy sensor failed to sense their presence knows that.) But a suddenly dark room could be extremely dangerous. Imagine, for instance, a mechanic is working under a machine, undetected by the sensor.
Feature Microwave Sensor PIR Sensor
Sensitivity High Low
Coverage Range Wide Narrow
Detection Zone Continuous Slotted


Bluetooth Control

You probably use Bluetooth to listen to music from your phone on an external speaker or to connect your keyboard to your laptop, but you can use the same technology to control lighting with an app.

Each light fixture forms part of a mesh network, which allows for seamless communication across buildings or campuses. This method is behind a wide range of controls, from dimming to switching, all controllable from a smartphone or tablet.

Bluetooth control

Use Case: An art gallery might use Bluetooth control for its lighting, allowing curators to adjust the lighting intensity and color to match the ambiance needed for different exhibits directly from a mobile device.

Considerations: The mesh network needs to be robust enough to handle multiple light fixtures, and security measures must be in place to prevent unauthorized access to the lighting system.


DMX (Digital Multiplex)

If you’ve ever seen a live play, you’ve probably experienced DMX protocol. It’s a staple in theatrical and entertainment settings, designed for controlling complex lighting arrangements, including effects machines and animatronics. Because of its robust control capabilities, it’s ideal for creating dramatic lighting scenes and effects.

Use Case: A theater group might use DMX controls to manage complex lighting arrangements for their productions, creating dramatic scenes and effects that change with different acts in the play.

Considerations: The control system should be user-friendly for the technical staff, and there should be backup options in case of system failure to prevent show disruptions.

0-10V Dimming

Dimming switchIf you’ve ever turned a knob to dim a light, you’ve used 0-10V dimming. This widely used method for dimming lights lets users adjust the brightness of lights through a simple voltage scale. Its compatibility with many commercial lighting systems provides a reliable solution for scalable light dimming.

Use Case: A corporate conference room might be equipped with 0-10V dimming to allow for the adjustment of lighting levels to suit different meeting types, from video conferences needing bright light to presentations requiring dimmed lighting for better screen visibility.

Considerations: When installing dimmable LED lighting, remember that the system must be compatible with existing lighting fixtures and should allow for easy transition between different light levels without flickering.

Pulse Width Modulation (PWM)

PWM dimming is an entirely different form of dimming than 0-10V. It actually controls the brightness of LED lights by rapidly turning them on and off at frequencies so fast the human eye typically can’t register them. Brightness is adjusted by varying the duty cycle of these pulses, providing precise control over lighting levels without impacting the lifespan of the LEDs.

Use Case: An electronics manufacturing facility might use PWM to control the brightness of LED lights, ensuring optimal illumination for intricate assembly work without causing eye strain to the workers.

Considerations: The frequency of the PWM should be set to avoid flickering perceived by the human eye, and the system should not interfere with the operation of sensitive electronic equipment.

Want to learn more about LED lighting controls and how to optimize them for your commercial clients? Read our expert Guide to Commercial LED Lighting Controls today!

LED Lighting Controls Help You Build the Perfect System

LED lighting controls are a great example of how today’s demand for customization is pushing technology forward across different areas. Thanks to smart tech, users can now adjust their lighting just the way they like it, all through an easy-to-use interface.

But getting the most out of these systems depends on setting them up right and keeping in mind specific factors to dodge issues like false alarms and inefficiencies. As technology progresses, we can expect these lighting systems to get even smarter and more user-friendly, making them an even more integral part of our daily environments.

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