Can You Dim The Lights? Tips To Install A Dimmer Switch In Your Home

The lighting in a room can make a dramatic difference in the way the whole room feels. If you're remodeling, you should give as much thought to the lighting as you do the paint and other decor. For example, the installation of a dimmer switch gives you complete control over the level of light in the room and allows you to adjust it at will. Most household dimmer switches can fit easily in a traditional light switch receptacle, which makes them easy to install. Here are the steps you'll need to know in order to install that dimmer switch properly.

Selecting the Switch

The first thing you need to do is select the switch that's the best fit for what you need. There are two primary styles to consider.

  • Single-Pole Dimmer Switches – these fit well in spaces where you have a single switch to control the light. If you can turn the light on from one entrance to the room and then turn it off on your way out the other side of the room, this isn't the best option.
  • Three-Way Dimmer Switches – these switches are more versatile, allowing you to control a light that's wired to multiple switches. If you need a three-way dimmer switch, make sure that you also purchase a three-way switch. This gives you the ability to dim the light using the installed dimmer and still turn the light off and on using a standard light switch.

Installing the Dimmer

Once you've selected the dimmer you want, you'll need to be sure that it's installed correctly. You can work with a residential electrician, or you can follow these steps to do the work on your own.

Shut Down the Power

Before you do any electrical work in your house, you should be sure that the power to that area is shut off. Turn the power off at the breaker panel so that there's no electricity running in those wires. Test the lights in the room to make sure that the power is off before proceeding.

Removing the Existing Switch

Use a small screwdriver to remove the screws holding the faceplate on the wall switch. Then, pull the switch forward gently to pull it out of the wall without damaging the wiring. If the switch you're replacing is a three-way switch, you'll find a wire on the back that's attached to a separate screw. The screw is typically labeled with a tag that says "COMMON" or it's a different color than the other screws. Mark this wire with tape or something so that you can easily identify it when you install the new switch.

Disconnect all of the wires from the switch. You may need to loosen screws to do this, or you might have to remove existing wire nuts from around the wires. Look at how the wires are connected to your switch to determine the safest way to disconnect them without damaging them.

Installing a New Switch

For a single-pole dimmer switch, start by connecting the dimmer's green ground wire to the copper or green wire that's in the wall. Twist the wires together clockwise, then secure them with a wire connection nut. Once the ground wire is connected, you can connect the rest of the dimmer wires to the wires in the wall in the same manner. The dimmer switch wires will typically be black, while the wires in your wall could be black, red or white. If there are any unused wires in the wall, cap them with a wire nut.

Installing a three-way switch requires a little bit more effort. Start by connecting the green ground wire from the dimmer switch to the ground in the wall in the same manner as described for the single-pole switch. Then, attach the wire that you flagged earlier from the "common" switch to the black wire on the dimmer switch. The two red wires then attach to the remaining two wires in the wall.

Secure the Switch and Wall Plate

Slide the dimmer switch into the wall receptacle, making sure that the wires are secured behind it. Then, secure the switch into the wall using the screws that come with the switch. Once it's in place, replace the wall plate. Only tighten the screws on the wall plate until they stop turning easily. If you tighten them too much, you could crack the plate. Once the fixture is in place, restore the power and test your lights.

Installing a dimmer switch is a great afternoon project if you're comfortable working with wiring. If you're not confident in your skills, you might prefer to work with an electrician from a company like All American Air & Electric, Inc.