DIY Installing Dimmer Switches on New or Existent Lighting

Bored with your lighting scheme? Tired of the on/off limitations that regular light switches offer? Then installing dimmer switches on your lighting is the most cost effective and easiest way to make changes. Let’s get started! Before you begin shopping for switches and making decisions about the different types, you first need to make sure installing dimmer switches is both feasible and cost effective. Fluorescent lighting is not dimmable unless it is designed and made for such an application. Dimmable fluorescent are very costly so more than likely you don’t have them unless you had this design in your plans. The only way to “dim” a fluorescent fixture is to change the standard ballast to a “dimmable” ballast. By the time you purchase the ballast and dimmer the cost has increased considerably so be sure that it’s worth the investment to you.

The second thing you have to be sure of is that you have the needed room in the switch box. Other switches, wires or wire “nuts” can take up space very quickly and dimmer switches are larger than a standard switch. Unless you’re sure you have the room, don’t take on this project!

If neither of those problems cause you concern then you are ready to control some lighting!

Dimmer switches all work primarily the same. They may look different, but the operation is standard. There are however three different types of switches and identification is a must in order for you to purchase the right dimmer switch. What’s called a “Single Pole”, “Three Way” and “Four Way” switch are the three prominent types of switches. The easiest way to identify the type of switch you have is as follows:

Single Pole is the only source of control for a light.

Three Way is when you can control a light from 2 different locations.

Four Way switches are only involved if you have more than 2 locations to control a light from.

If you are not able to identify the type of switch you have, then as a “do it yourself” worker, you may need to seek the help of an electrician. However, if you have identified the type of switch then let’s continue on.

Now then, what’s left is to determine what kind of control you want. There are many different types of dimmer design. Some slide up and down, some are a rotating knob and some are a regular switch with a slide control underneath. Regardless of the style you pick, the wiring is the same.

So we are ready to install a dimmer switch! Here are the steps to follow.

1. Turn Off The Power
Nobody needs a hero and you don’t need to prove how tough you are. Turn off the power to the switch. Period. You can do this easily by turning on the light controlled by the switch you are changing and having someone watch the light while you turn circuit breakers off until you find the right circuit. If you can’t find the individual circuit, then turn off power to the whole house.

2. Remove The Existing Switch.
Take the cover screws out, remove cover, and then remove the two screws top and bottom of the switch you are replacing. Carefully pull the switch out of the box by grabbing the two tabs at the top and bottom of the switch and pulling evenly towards you. Now you can look and see how many wires are attached.
Side Note: Whatever you do, don’t start removing wires from a switch without first marking down which one goes where. IT DOES MATTER. On a single pole switch, one is the “hot” or the wire that brings power, and one is the “switch leg” or the wire that goes to the switch. On a three way, one is the hot or switch leg, while two of them are “travelers” that go to the other switch. On a four way all four of them are travelers but two go to one switch and two to another. You DO NOT want to get these wires mixed up, especially on the three way or four way.

3. Installing the new dimmer switch.
The good thing about dimmer switches for installation is that most of them come with wires pre-made. Instead of putting wires under screws you actually get to make wire nut connections. Read instructions carefully on the new switch, and make your wiring connections accordingly. After connections are made, gently push switch back into box. This is where you will notice the space differences. Install two device screws and tighten them evenly. Re-install cover and voila you are ready to test your new switch. Obviously you need to turn power back on first. 🙂

Every job can be different so this obviously is just a general guide. Switches are relatively easy if you do your homework first and make sure you are getting the right thing.

I trust that this has helped you, now, Happy Dimming!!

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