Understanding Lighting Terminology

Understanding Lighting Terminology

When trying to figure out Lighting for your kitchen or elsewhere in your home, you do your research and come across a lot of different terminology. What is a dimmer controller? What's a mounting block? Why do I care what UL or CE mean?

Listed below are many of the common and not so common lighting terminology you might see when looking at lighting. Hopefully, this list will help make it all a little more understandable for you.

AC Power
AC Power is "Alternating Current" power and it is the power that comes from your wall outlet in your home. AC is an electric current which periodically reverses direction, in contrast to direct current (DC) which flows only in one direction. AC power is pushed to your outlets as 110 Volts and 220 Volts for large appliances.
 
Amps
Amps are Amperes of electricity. An Amp in itself is a measurement of the number of electrons the voltage pushes past a given point in one second.

Most modern homes have a 200 Amp electrical service coming into the home. Your circuit box divides that 200 Amps into smaller pieces that provide electricity to different parts of your home. A single 15-Amp circuit can provide enough electricity for an entire bedroom whereas, a kitchen that has more appliances and electric powered tools may need two 20-Amp circuits feeding enough power.
 
CE
The CE marking permits a product to be sold throughout the European Union. It is a conformity mark noting the product complies with all applicable European directives. CE is an abbreviation of Conformité Européenne, meaning "European Conformity".
 
DC Power
DC Power is "Direct Current" power. DC power flows only in one direction whereas AC power, or Alternating Current, periodically reverses direction. A DC power supply converts AC power down to a safer level for general use so a person is less likely to get electrocuted.
 
Dimmable Power Supply
A Dimmable Power Supply is a power supply itself that can be dimmed. When working with a lighting design where the setup is controlled by a dimmer wall switch, we need a dimmable power supply. Because the wall switch is directly connected to the AC power, the power supply that comes after the switch is dimmable.
 
Dimmer Controller
A Dimmer Controller is a touch on/off switch with 1-100% dimming control power. Dimmer controllers are normally connected to a power supply after the AC to DC conversion takes place. But, you may also have a wall dimmer switch that is connected to the AC power. Then, your power supply for your lighting needs to be a dimmable power supply.
 
Door Sensor Controller
A door sensor controller controls a light based on the opening and closing of a door. When the door opens, the light goes On. When the door is closed, the light turns Off.
 
Electricity
Electricity, in its most simple form, is a chain of electrons.
 
ETL Certified
ETL stands for Electrical Testing Laboratories. ETL or UL marks serve as proof of product compliance to Canadian and U.S. safety standards. When products bear these marks, this indicates to the consumer that the products have passed a complete and thorough set of tests and certification requirements.
 
FreeDim Micro Dimmer
A FreeDim Micro Dimmer is a single zone wireless dimmer that can either be mountd to a flat surface or mounted on a refrigerator via a magnet.
 
FreeDim Remote Control Dimmer
A FreeDim Remote Control Dimmer is a multi-zone remote control for controlling your lighting. Available in 3-zone and 6-zone models.
 
FreeDim Wall Dimmer
A FreeDim Wall Dimmer looks like a wall switch dimmer but is actually controlled wirelessly.
 
Keychain Remote Control Dimmer
A KeyChain Remote control dimmer is, as the name implies, a portable remote control dimmer on a keychain.
 
Lead Cord
A Lead cord, also called a Starter cord, connects the LED light to the power block directly or to the mounting block if present. Most LED lights come with a lead cord except for LED tape lighting.
 
LED Driver
LED Drivers are low voltage DC, or Direct Current, transformers that take the 120V AC from your wall outlets and step it down to a manageable 12V or other voltage and regulates it so it is safer for your lighting needs. The transformer keeps you from being electrocuted. A power zap from a 12V DC transformer will shock you but most likely won’t kill you. LED Driver is another name for LED Transformer or Power Supply.
 
LED Link Wire
A LED Link wire allows multiple LED lights to be daisy-chained together. After the initial light is connected to the power supply, the Link wire can be used to link the next few lights together and carry the power from light-to-light.
 
Lumens
Lumens are a measurement of the amount of light or brightness a lighting unit provides. In the past, we used to buy lightbulbs based on Watts but watts are a measurement of the amount of energy used by the unit. Nowadays, more efficient LED lighting uses less energy (watts) to produce the same amount of brightness. A better measurement is to understand the amount of lumens produced.
 
Manual Rotary Dimmer
A manual rotary dimmer is a simple controller that allows you to turn the knob to dim the lights.
 
Motion Controller
A motion controller turns the lights on when human motion is detected.
 
Mounting Block
A mounting block is a connector/junction for your lighting that has multiple ports on it allowing you to connect multiple lights or devices at that junction point. The mounting block may also be called a terminal block.
 
Port
A port is a connection point on a mounting block. A mounting block may have 6 ports on it allowing you to connect up to 6 devices / lights to the block.
 
Power Supply / Power Supply Block
A power supply or power supply block is a device that transforms 120V AC current to a lower voltage DC current. This transformation makes the current safer for use for your devices and, in the event of electrical shock, a person will be less likely to die from the lower voltage. DC power supplies or transformers only supply electricity 20 feet in any one direction away from itself. Also called Transformers or Drivers.
 
Proximity Controller
The Proximity Controller allows you to simply swipe your hand in front of the sensor to power lights on/off.
 
Puck Light
Puck lights are small round light fixtures shaped like a hockey puck. They can be surface-mounted or recessed and are a versatile light for use in cabinets or as under cabinet task lighting. The pucks create pools of light on the surface they are lighting.
 
Remote Control
See Keychain Remote Control above.
 
Simple Round Switch
A simple round switch is a basic circle-shaped toggle on/off control.
 
Starter Cord
A Starter cord connects the LED light to the power supply directly or to the mounting block if present (the mounting block connects to the power supply). Most LED lights come with a starter cord except for LED tape lighting. A starter cord may also be called a lead cord.
 
Terminal Block
A terminal block is a connector/junction for your lighting that has multiple ports on it allowing you to connect multiple lights or devices at that junction point. The terminal block is also called a mounting block.
 
Transformer
A transformer, as its name implies transforms 120V AC current to a lower strength DC current. This transformation makes the current safer for use for your devices and, in the event of electrical shock, a person will be less likely to die from the lower voltage. For example, you might have a 12V DC Power Supply. Also called a Power Supply or Driver.
 
UL (Underwriters Laboratory)
UL means "Underwriters Laboratory". UL tests consumer electrical products to make sure they meet standards for safety and usability. ETL or UL marks serve as proof of product compliance to Canadian and U.S. standards. When products bear these marks, this indicates to the consumer that the products have passed a complete and thorough set of tests and certification requirements.
 
Volts
Volts, or Voltage, is the pressure under which electricity moves. Most household current is pushed at 120 volts. Current for large appliances is pushed at 240 volts.
 
Wall Switch
A Wall Switch is a wired switch mounted on a wall for turning the lights on and off.
 
Watts
Watts is a unit of measurement of electrical power. It is used as an indicator of how many electrons, electricity, were pushed through an electric device to make it work. Watts is used as a general term to figure out how bright the light provided by a lighting unit is, i.e., 3W tape lighting is brighter than 1.5W tape lights. Lumens is really the correct measurement of light brightness. We mainly use the number of watts to determine how many lights will work with a specific power supply. See How Many Lights Can I Install to understand the basic math involved.
 

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