How to Install A Light Dimmer

how to install a dimmer

How to Install a Light Dimmer

Instead of switching your lights on and off, you can get a light dimmer that enables you to navigate through a wide range of light. Light dimmers are typically designed to fit the regular wall box opening, so replacing regular switches for incandescent or halogen lights is simple. There are two wire configurations that dimmers come with: single-pole standard dimmers and three-way dimmers. Single-pole dimmers enable you to control the light with a single switch. Three-way dimmers on the other hand, enable you to control the light with two switches. One switch lets you to turn the lights on and off and the other lets you dim the lights. You should use a three-way dimmer switch if you currently have two switches for controlling lights or even a group of lights.

Safety Precautions

Shut power to the circuit off at the breaker box before starting. Always use rubber-grip tools and wear proper shoes with rubber soles when handling wires. If the lights you currently have installed are regular compact fluorescent lights, you may want to consider swapping them out. Most dimmer switches are not intended to be used with fluorescent lights unless the packaging labels the CFLs as “dimmable.” Another thing to consider is if the switch is attached to a ceiling fan, as current fluctuations can burn ceiling fan motors out rather quickly.

The Tools

  • Wire cutters
  • Voltage tester
  • Slotted screwdriver
  • Philips-head screwdriver
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Wire Strippers

The Materials

  • Dimmers
  • Wall plates
  • Wire connectors
  • Electrical tape

Remove Existing Switch

After confirming that power to the circuit is shut off, remove the existing wall plate and the screws attaching the switch to the wall box. Pull the switch away from the wall carefully and leave any bundles of white wires you may see in the back of the wall. Test the wires with a voltage tester to verify that they aren’t carrying an electrical current. Switch off the correct circuit breaker if the tester detects voltage and then test again. If you are removing a three-way switch, one wire will be connected to a screw labeled “common” or a screw that has a different color. This is not to be confused with the ground wire which is usually connected to a green screw. Disconnect all of the wire from the old switch, removing any wire nuts around the switch wires in the process.

Connect New Dimmer

Use a wire stripper to cut off twisted ends of bent house wires and remove ¾ inch of casing from the end of the house wires if necessary. Connect the ground wire from the dimmer to the bare copper or green wire in the wall box then twist the ends together and cap them with a wire connector nut. Grip the wire ends from the dimmer and connect each one to a house wire by twisting them together. Dimmer wires are usually black, while the house wires could be red, white, black or have black marking. Twist a wire nut over each pair of wire ends securely. Trim the ends of bare exposed wires by unscrewing the wire connector and trimming the ends with a wire cutter. Re-cap the wires when finished trimming.

If installing a three-way switch, follow the same steps as above but connect the black dimmer wire to the common wire discussed previously. Then connect the two remaining dimmer wires, known as traveler wires, separately to the remaining wires in the wall. Mount the dimmer to the wall with the provided screws and then attach the wall plate.


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