So I tested every recessed downlight from The Home Depot

Short version. I tried every slim recessed downlight I could find at Home Depot Canada (we call them “pot lights”). Most of them kind of works, probably even good enough for most people. But in the end I went with a more expensive option option from somewhere else.

Here is the full journey.

Going into this, I was hoping to find something that checks all of these boxes:

  • Warm colored, ideally 2700K.
  • Can be dimmed to a very low %.
  • Dims up and down smoothly.

Specifically, I was hoping to automate these as motion-triggered night lights, so it’d need to come up gently to the lowest possible level, giving just enough light that you can find your way around to the bathroom, but doesn’t wake you up completely.

Having dabbled a little bit in stage lighting in school, it also turned out that I was quite sensitive to the smoothness of the dimming so that’s also important to me.

So I tested out all the options I could find at the local (Canadian) Home Depot. Here are the contenders, in no particular order (all prices are CAD):

  1. Commercial Electric 4" 3000K G1TP120RT4P30 ($9.95)
  2. Commercial Electric 4" 3000K/4000K/5000K I-PROCCT4WH ($24.98)
  3. Illume Essential 4" 3000K I-ESP4WH ($24.98)
  4. Illume 4" 3000K/4000K/5000K I-CCMDPN4 ($34.98)
  5. SPEX by Liteline 4" 2700K/3000K/3500K/4000K/5000K SL-SLM4-CCT5-90WH ($39.98)
  6. HALO (Cooper/Eaton) 4" 2700K/3000K/3500K/4000K/5000K HLB4069FS1EMWR-C ($34.98)
  7. Canarm 4" 3000K LED-SR4P-WT-HD ($21.98)
  8. ORTECH 4" 3000K (supplied by contractor)

Here is video of them fading from 0-100% over 10 seconds, then from 100%-0% over 10 seconds.

Here is what I learned.

Avoid the Canarm unless you are picking something for a disco. Otherwise, the generally all worked, and most of them worked reliably and predictably at the upper half of the dimming range (say, above 50%), despite some of them asking for an ELV dimmer on the spec sheets. Some of them do buzz a little but it’s pretty minimal and probably won’t be audible once the driver is hidden away in the ceiling.

At the lower half of the dimming range, that’s when things get inconsistent.

For starter, all of them requires at least 20%+ (most closer to 30%) to turn on. Some of them would turn on immediately as soon as a certain minimum threshold is hit. Some would take up to a second to warm up when turned on at their lowest possible power level. Some would turn on with an initial burst of brightness and then dims back down to where it’s supposed to be. It’s kind of all over the place.

I think this actually accounts for a lot of the complaints about a “delay” with the Inovelli dimmers on the Amazon reviews and maybe some of the forum posts. The 700ms delay is part of it, certainly, but with the default dimming speed set to 3 seconds and most of these not turning on until 30% power, that adds an extra second of perceivable delay out-of-the-box. I noticed the Lutron dumb dimmer switch I used as a control doesn’t actually let you go nearly as low as the Inovelli, even when you adjust the trim lever on the switch to the lowest setting. I wonder if they would be better off setting the default min power level to 25% or so out-of-the-box, and let the power users adjust the setting later, for a better on-boarding experience (cc @Eric_Inovelli).

The threshold is also asymmetrical. Once turned on, most of these lights can actually dim to a lower level. A firmware update that takes this into account would be nice (cc @Eric_Inovelli). Most of them also have some built-in fade off thing in them, so that even if you are using an on/off switch, they would still have a one second (or so) fade off which is nice. Probably something something capacitors in the drivers.

That minimum threshold obviously vary (quite a bit) depending on the manufacturer, but even within the same brand/model, things could still vary quite a bit within a few % points. My contractor installed four of the ORTECH in one room as a sample (on the same switch/circuit), and when I turn them on at their lowest level, only 2 of them would turn on initially, and if you wait long enough, maybe another one will decide to join the party.

And that was just lights from the same 6-pack box. I initially tested one of the HALO lights with an Eaton logo on the box and was quite impressed by it, but when I did this round of testing, the one I got had a Cooper logo on the box and performed much worse.

That being said, they generally start performing consistently at a few % above the minimum, so if you are no particularly picky, setting the minimum a but higher than that (therefore losing a bit of the dimmable range) should basically solve all the problems for all of these lights I tested, except the Canarm.

The spec sheets would indicate something like “5-100%”, “10-100%”, “15-100%”, etc, but I found that it had no real correlation with how they actually perform. Also, the dimming “percentage”, as indicated on the box and reported by the switches, are quite arbitrary. I’m not exactly sure what the “1%” or “50%” means – it certainly didn’t mean 1% or 50% of the 120V RMS voltage, nor does it mean the 1% or 50% “brightness”. It just seemed like some arbitrary unit with no real standard meaning.

But at the end of the day, that doesn’t really matter. You don’t actually care what is the lowest “percentage” where it starts to turn on, because you are able to trim that on the switch. As long as it turns on with a minimal amount of perceivable light, you can still achieve smooth dimming once you configure the switch correctly. However, even if the light only takes 10% power to turn on, if it gives out 30% of the perceived brightness at that power level, it will still turn on rather abruptly instead of smoothly fade on.

The blue graph represent a fixable problem with the right configuration on the switch, the rest are problems that are unfixable (with the current firmware at least):

This wasn’t really apparent to me until later on in the testing, as I was originally focused on finding the LED that would turn on at the lowest power level, which didn’t actually turn out to be that important.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find something that matches the ideal blue graph. All the lights I tested are exhibiting some combination of the red lines. Some are better than the other. The ORTECH and SPEX are both reasonably good, though still noticeably “step-y” when fading – they all do to a certain extent.

Ultimately, I figured what I want is not really feasible. Not that the LEDs themselves can’t do it, but because the “signaling” of the desired level is coupled to the AC power level supplied to the drivers, that combination makes things quite tricky. Perhaps something like the blue curve that “remaps” the power level after the minimum threshold of the driver is reached is theoretically possible, but that would probably require dumping the excess power at the lower level as heat which would have other undesirable consequences I imagine.

Eventually I found this product from Liteline (SLM4I-3020DTW):

It is an “indirect” light – it lights are hidden on the rim and reflects off of the concave dome. You don’t really notice the dome when the lights are on, it just softens the light a bit. It also has dim to warm so the CCT is closer to 2000K on the lowest levels and then more on the 3000K side at full brightness.

It definitely still doesn’t check all the boxes still (notably it’s quite “step-y”, but maybe not the worst offender), but it’s the best option I could find, plus I am really into the DTW CCT.

Sorry for the meandering post. Hopefully there is enough useful tidbits in there to be helpful!


Great writeup!

You are seriously a hero. I thought about doing the same thing for lights from Lowes, but never got around to it.

I will say in my limited research with recessed lights, I really wish Inovelli could give us the option to toggle their soft start / slow ramp on off to improve time to on at low levels. The drivers in many recessed lights have their own internal slow start whether through design or through cost cutting.

If this is what I think it is, you can control that by changing the ramp rate on the device through your z-wave hub. I believe it defaults to 3 seconds, but it can be set as low as 0 to make the device jump virtually instantly to the desired output level when the switch is turning on or off.

This particular parameter can also be set on the switch itself using the config button. I set it to 10s in the video to show the slow fade performance.

This is seriously impressive and SO helpful! You should see the rewards points you earned for submitting the bulbs in our Rewards Points Opportunity | Compatible Bulb & Fan Survey

Thanks again!


In previous threads I’ve seen it referred to, I thought it was a different feature. It may be I’m just seeing a built in slow start in the LEDs.

You can try setting the minimum level on the switch itself using the config key combo code. While in that mode, the up and down switches give you precise control of the power level at 1% increment without additional delays from the switch, so you can just keep pressing up until the light start to grow. If there is indeed a built-in slow start (I noticed that on some of the lights I tested), then it would be quite noticeable when changing the setting this way.

Generally, I also find that it only happens if you give it close to the minimal power, so if you didn’t mind losing a few % of dimming range, setting the minimum a few % higher than the absolute minimum seem to make the problem go away for the lights I tested. (Which isn’t really an ideal solution for me given my goals.)

When you tap up on the paddle, there’s

  1. A delay (700ms) so that the switch can make sure you’re done tapping and not doing a multi-tap gesture
  2. A ramp from 0 to the target power level (default 3 seconds, but configurable)
  3. At some point, power crosses the LED’s minimum threshold (which is often not 0) and the LED comes on.

When I disable the delay (and multi-tap support) and set the ramp rate time to 0, my lights come on instantly, the same as if I was using a dumb switch, so there doesn’t seem to be any inherent switch-induced delay that can’t be removed.

With default configuration, it takes close to 2.2 seconds for my lights to come on at all, because it first waits for the delay, then does a 3-second ramp, but my LEDs don’t turn on until they reach ~45% power, so even though it’s ramping up, there’s no response from the LED for almost 1.5s.

To fix this, I set the ramp rate to 0, and I set the minimum level to 45, so that when the switch turns on, even at 1%, it’s enough to give immediate response on the bulb.

You can find the correct minimum for your bulbs either through experimentation, or through the Bulb Compatibility list if someone else has found it and posted it in that thread.

Unfortunately getting that minimum dim level down is a huge priority in two spots, and in particular on my back patio the minimum is very dependent on the temperature of the driver. I actually have the minimum dim parameter changing based on weather forecast now because I’m a huge dork.

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Sounds more like an awesome engineer to me :stuck_out_tongue:

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I’m going to print that out and put it on the wall in my office. Remind my employees who they are dealing with.

Yeah, I noticed that in my testing as well (e.g. it will successfully start back up at a lower percentage after having it on for a while).

In the end I decided this is too unreliable to count on (it even varies between units of the same model/batch as I mentioned), which is why I went with the DTW lights in the end. They may not be the faintest, but they compensate for that with the nice indirect warm glow which mostly accomplishes what I wanted, albeit in a different way than I originally hoped for.

But still, even if you don’t want to change the minimum, the minimum setting config mode is still a good way to test whether there is a built-in fade on behavior (which is probably somewhat temperature dependent also) independent of the other factors.

@chancancode - you are awesome for doing this! I have been looking at recessed LED lighting for my remodel, so your timing is great for me. Appreciate that you wrote it all down.

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As annoying as they are to install (particularly in old work), this is why I’m putting in old school 4” IC recessed fixtures instead of puck lights as I reno my house. I really dislike the idea of having to choose one type of light for the lifetime of my ceiling. With a standard fixture, I can still put in a retrofit puck-style trim if I want the look, but I can also use standalone LED bulbs, smart bulbs, etc. A bit more work to install, but way less limiting down the road, especially as better technology becomes available.

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