Many people are, rightfully so, somewhat frightened of electricity. I have heard several friends state that “If it takes more to fix an electrical problem than changing a light bulb or resetting a breaker, I call a professional electrician”. If you are one of these folks, perhaps the following will help you on the path towards at least a moderate sense of comfort with simple, around the homestead electrical system work. Light dimming switches, also known as dimmer switches, are an added feature found in many homes. They effectively control the amount of power a particular bulb or fixture can draw. With a properly functioning dimmer switch, you can control the intensity of a light bulb(s) in a lamp or chandelier. Depending upon how your house circuits are wired, one switch may control more than one fixture. A dimmer switch will allow you to (wonder of wonders) dim the lights
to whatever level you desire. Intensity control is great for viewing TV or setting a romantic mood for dining or other activities.
Ok, now you have decided to add a light dimming switch to one of your dull, boring, on-off light fixtures. You have your dimmer switch and cover plate in hand. The very first thing you must do is Shut off the power to the circuit involved. This is accomplished by finding the proper breaker in your breaker panel, and moving it to the OFF position. How do you know which one to turn OFF? Well, hopefully your breakers have suitable labels. I now say, with very straight eyebrows, MAKE SURE you shut off the correct breaker. It is a great idea to have the light you are concerned with to be ON when you shut the breaker off. Thus if you have shut off the right breaker, the light you want to dim will be off. Make sense? Note #1: If for some reason your breakers are not labeled at the panel, you may turn off the breakers one by one until you discover the correct breaker. Note #2: Ensure that while you are replacing the switch no one turns the breaker back on. Put a sign on the panel or put a piece of electrical tape on the breaker to warn anyone that the breaker is NOT to be touched. This is in lieu of a lock out tag out system used in OHSA regulated job sites.
Now that you have the breaker turned off, you can begin the installation of your new dimmer switch. Step one is to remove the screw from the center of the face plate of the existing on-off switch. Remove the face plate. Step two is to remove the two small screws that hold the switch assembly in the metal box that is attached to one of the wall studs. Carefully remove the assembly, noting the location of the wires attached to same. Step three is another safety precaution: use a circuit tester to ensure there is no power going to the switch. Circuit testers are very inexpensive and may be purchased where you bought your new dimmer switch.
Step four requires your screwdriver again. Remove the existing wires from the terminals by unscrewing the screws holding the wires in place. Note: Some switch boxes have “grabber” type systems that hold the wires in place without a screw terminal. Simply pull the wires loose if your old switch has this type of termination point.
Step five is the connection of the wires from the existing circuit to your new light dimming switch. How this will be accomplished will be dependent upon the new dimmer you have purchased. If your switch has either a screw connection or “grabber” type connections, then you will simply attach the existing wires to the new switch. However, some switches come with new wire leads protruding out of the switch. In this case, you will need to take the old wire, straighten it out with needle nose pliers, twist the two wire ends together, and twist on a “wire nut” to make the connection. Always check with your hardware store at the time of purchase to make sure of the type of dimmer switch you are buying. It’s embarrassing to get home, and half ways through the job realize another trip to the store is in order to buy those pesky wire nuts you now see that you need! I know.
Step six comes after you have double checked your wiring, based on both your observation of the wire placement on the original single pole switch, and directions that came with your new switch. You will now carefully fold the wires (similar to an accordion) and place them into the box in the wall. Then place the new dimmer switch into the box and replace the two small screws that hold the switch in the box. You didn’t lose them, did you? Then place the new cover plate in place, and attach it with the single screw.
Step seven returns you to your garage or utility closet to remove the sign or electrical tape from the breaker. Turn the breaker back on!
Step eight is the most enjoyable step. Go and try out your newly self-installed light dimming switch. Go ahead, play around with it and try the full range of light intensity. Now stand back and admire your work. Then wait until dark, when you are able to show off your work to other family members. See, with the proper tools, parts, and safety precautions, you can perform simple but desirable electrical do it your self projects.
May you and yours enjoy your new lighting experience!