Light Your Way

Light Switch Timer: Managing Phases of Light

A light switch timer allows you to vary your lighting depending on the time of day.


Using a light switch timer allows you to vary your lighting based on the time of day. Unlike much other interior design, lighting design is deeply affected by the amount of sunlight. In fact, in any room with a reasonably sized window, the single brightest source of light will be the sun by a large margin. While you can turn lights on and off based on the amount of sunlight, it is often far easier to use a timer to have the lights themselves adapt to your needs. In this article, I will discuss three different uses of timers.

Use One: Security

By far the most common sort of use for a light switch timer is security, which requires the application of both indoor and outdoor lighting ideas. Without a light-switch timer, when you are away from home, you either need to leave your indoor lights on all of the time, which is very expensive, or you can advertise to potential burglars that you are not home by leaving them off. Neither solution is ideal, of course. A similar situation exists with outdoor lights. If you don’t use a timer, your outdoors with either be dark at night or you will need to leave your lights on.

Light Switch Timer

Your lighting needs vary depending on the time of day.

A timer allows you to control the lights in your home automatically. You can easily set a few indoor lights to turn on during the evening hours, to make it appear that you are at home, and then to have them automatically turn off around what would be bedtime. Similarly, you can set your outdoor security lights to turn on at night and then turn off during the day, taking the cover of night away from thieves.

In fact, some security light switch timers are very sophisticated. They can turn off lights in the living room and then turn them on again in the bedroom, as though you have gone to bed. So long as you synchronize the clocks, you can program this in yourself by setting switches to turn on a minute after you turned off the last one.

Use Two: External Lights

For non-security external lights, timers are more of a convenience. Rather than need to remember to turn on your lights every night and morning, the light switch timer will do it for you. In addition, external timers can save on your electrical bills. For example, you might want to have some external lighting in the early evening, but not after midnight. Or, you might want your external lights to go out at dawn without waking up at dawn. In either case, you can use a timer to do this.

For solar-powered lighting, a light switch timer is more of a necessity than a convenience. Simply put, without a timer, most solar lights simply can’t turn themselves off. This won’t cost you on your electrical bills, but it will burn out your bulbs faster and will cause increased light pollution. By purchasing solar lighting with inbuilt timers, you will be able to set your solar lights to turn off at a reasonable time, after which you would not expect to come home and need them.

Use Three: Internal Lighting


The sun is the single strongest source of light during the day.

Inside your home, a light switch timer can fill a number of roles. One significant problem for indoor lighting design is that every window functions as an extremely bright light source, but only half of the time. Even that single light source varies depending on the time of day for anything but north-facing windows. As a result, each room should have at least two lighting plans: a day time one and a night time one.

Nonetheless, much lighting design is done as though the sun is either there or not there. Using a light switch timer allows you to set your light levels for different times of day, such that when you turn on your light, you turn on the appropriate light levels. In a way, much use of internal light switch timers is a combination of a dimmer on a timer and a hard light switch. Depending on the time of day, the dimmers have preset levels that compensate for the amount of sunlight in the room. The light is then switched on, and the light goes to the appropriate level.

If your lights are all ready on, a dimmer on a timer will dim your lights automatically. You have two choices here. You can either have the dimming happen so gradually that no one will notice, or you can have it happen all at once, like the houselights going up in a theater. The latter has more dramatic effect, of course, but you may not want the sudden transition (especially if you have accidentally timed it improperly and it happens out of sync).

Sophisticated Light Switch Timers

Sunrise and sunset: One problem with less expensive timers is that they aren’t very adjustable. While you can set them to turn off at midnight every night, they cannot be programmed to turn on at sundown every night. Fortunately, this situation is changing. Based on your latitude, the exact time of sundown and sunset can be calculated within a minute. As a result, with more sophisticated timers, you can set your rooms to change their light levels at the exactly appropriate time. You can also set them to change a certain amount of time before sunset to account for the unique lighting levels and even colors of sunrise and sunset.

Weekly and daily timers: Other systems allow you to set your lights to turn on and off at different times during the day. It might be suspicious to a criminal casing your home if you seem to go to bed at the same time on weeknights and on weekends. With weekly and daily timers, you can set your lights to go on and off at different times during the day. In fact, this is recommended. If your light turns off at exactly 11 p.m. every night to the second, a thief will figure out very quickly that you are not at home.

Sunset Bedroom

With sophisticated timers, you can even have special lighting for sunrise and sunset.

Another option is to centralize all of the control over your light switch timers from a single panel. I have discussed using a centralized remote control light switch in another article. This control need not be manual, but can be set up with timers, including the sophisticated timers mentioned above. Each room can have varied light levels depending on the type of day, all controlled from a single, central location.

Putting It All Together

Using a light switch timer allows you to perform a number of otherwise difficult and disparate lighting tasks:

  • You can increase security by scaring off burglars or fooling them into thinking you are at home.
  • You can set your external lighting so that they only shine when you want them to shine without wasting energy.
  • You can set multiple indoor light settings when you combine a light switch timer with a dimmer.
  • There are a number of sophisticated options that allow you to combine timers, dimmers and even the motion of the sun.

A light switch timer, then, can greatly increase the flexibility of your lighting design options.


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