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Hey, you're in the home improvement zone--YOUR HANDYMAN ZONE!

Electrical Category: Switches

Improvement Project:

How to install a dimmer switch.

Tools / Materials (See Below for Applicability):

  • Appropriate dimmer switch (single-pole version if the existing light switch has two terminal screws; three-way version if the existing light switch has three terminal screws)

  • Voltage meter

  • Screwdriver

  • Pliers

  • Long-nose multi-purpose tool (wire cutter/stripper multi-purpose tool)

  • Wire nuts™ by Ideal Industries/ wire connectors



Going with a dimmer switch as opposed to a regular light switch has its benefits:  It has been said that dimmer switches will cause light bulbs, particularly incandescent light bulbs, to last longer if such light bulbs are turned on by the dimmer switches at the voltages that are lower than what is considered normal. Also, dimmer switches, inherently, lessen the incidence of a bulb blowing out because dimmer switches cause light bulbs to turn on more smoothly than when turned on by regular light switches.  So, in this light (pun intended), installing a dimmer switch makes a lot of sense.

Caution: When dealing with any device that requires electrical power, make sure you take precautions before you work on it, including disconnecting the power; in this light (pun intended), before disconnecting any old/existing light switch and replacing it with an appropriate dimmer switch (designed to accommodate the intended usage of wattage), make sure you turn off the main power, specifically the power to the circuit of the light switch.  (Again, do not work on the light switch without first turning off the electrical power to it.)  Be sure to use a voltage meter to confirm that the power to the light switch has been turned off.

Installing a dimmer switch can be done in a few steps, and here's how:

  1. With the main power turned off, use a screwdriver to unscrew the screws of the light switch faceplate and then remove the faceplate, itself.

  1. Next, use the screwdriver to unscrew the two mounting screws that hold the light switch, itself, in place in the switch box, and then pull out the light switch just enough to remove the electrical wires attached to it.

  1. Now, remove the two black electrical wires that are attached to the existing light switch in your hands.  When working with light switches, remember that switches are always attached to hot/live (black) wires, and you'll always be working with such hot/live wires. (In rare cases, the previous installer may have used a white wire as a hot/live wire that should be noted as such with black electrical tape around it, so be cautious and careful.)  Because you'll be working with the hot/live (black) wires, you will always leave the neutral (white) and ground (bare or green) wires alone; you do not need to deal with the neutral and ground wires at all.

To disconnect the two black wires attached to the existing light switch, do the following: With a screwdriver, loosen the two brass terminal screws on the side of the light switch counterclockwise, and then undo the loop of each of the two black wires around the two loosened terminal screws in order to detach the black wires from the light switch.

  1. Now, with the old light switch discarded, you'll need to attach the new wires of the dimmer switch with the (circuit) wires you removed from the discarded old light switch.  Before you do this, make sure the (circuit) wires you just detached have their ends straightened with pliers and that about a half of inch of the very end of each wire is bare, containing no insulation; if needed, use a long-nose multi-purpose tool to strip off the necessary amount of insulation. 

With the above preparatory work done, use wire nuts/connectors to have the dimmer switch wires correspondingly combined with the circuit wires together at their respective wire ends (capped together at such ends with the wire nuts), and attach the ground wire, all per the dimmer switch manufacturer's instructions.

Make sure that all wire connections are tightly secured with the wire nuts/connectors, then tuck all of the wires (that are attached to this dimmer switch) into the switch box, carefully folding them into the box, in order to position the dimmer switch into the switch box so that it can be secured with the two mounting screws, using a screwdriver to properly screw in such screws.  See the dimmer switch manufacturer's instructions, as applicable.

  1. Reinstall the faceplate, screwing in the two screws to secure it against the dimmer switch.

  2. Restore the electrical power.

  3. Use the dimmer switch that you just installed, per the dimmer switch manufacturer's instructions, to test that it works.

That's what it takes to install a dimmer switch.

Ed the Handyman


Your Handyman Zone Team


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