Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to install a dimmer switch

If you read this blog waaaay back when, you know how much I luuuuv me some dimmers. I think lighting is one of the most inexpensive and easiest ways to create a mood in your home. And I just cannot express how much a dimmer switch will change the lighting in your room -- for as little as $7.

OK, now STOP shaking your head, thinking, "This Chick has gone and lost. her. mind. I cannot (and will not) do anything electrical."

Yes, you can! I swear. Just look at how easy it is.

If the light you are placing the dimmer on only has ONE switch that operates it, you'll need the single pole dimmer, like this one. This is GOOD because these are CHEAP -- less than $7 (edited to add that the cost has gone up over the years -- I can now find them for about $12).

Dimmers come in a mad selection of styles and you'll pay more for more bells and whistles:

If your light is controlled by more than one switch, you will need the 3-way version. You need to look when you purchase -- the packages are almost identical.
When you open it up, this is what you'll see:
(Stop shaking. It's easy, I SWEAR.)
The only tools you should need are a Phillips head screw driver and a flat head screwdriver:
Go to the switch for the light you are changing out and turn it on -- first so you can tell if you get the right breaker and second, it's a real PITA when you've run down a set of stairs, through the house and to the garage, turned off the breaker, run back through the house, up the stairs and then realized YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHICH SWITCH YOU ARE WORKING WITH! Whew.

Go to the breaker box, and turn the switch to off:
Make sure the light is NOT working. Now you are free to use your flat head screwdriver to take off the switch plate. This is what you'll see:

Stop hyperventilating. It's going TO BE OK!!
Use your Phillips screwdriver to take the actual switch off the wall:
Then pull the whole switch out. There will be a wire connected to the green ground screw, and two wires connected to the switch -- either stuck inside it or tightened under the screws:
See that little bitty slat below? You'll want to use the flathead screwdriver and push it in while you pull the wire out of the little hole above it. (If your wires are in there. See above.)
Next, just follow the directions. Wrap the copper ground wire around the green wire on the dimmer:
Cap it off with the enclosed nut. Just stick it on the end and twist it. This ensures the wires stay connected and protected:
Then simply connect the other two black wires to the two left over wires. Twist together and twist the nut on:
Gently push all the wires back into the wall box:
That's it!! Told you it was easy. Screw the dimmer switch back onto the plate:
Go to turn on the breaker switch to make sure it is working. Then get completely sidetracked by your Decorating ADD and peruse the new Ballard catalog that just came in the mail:
Sorry. Make sure the light works:


Then go ahead and put the plate back on. Make sure all the little screws go the same way:
Oh, sorry. That's just me. I think I like this way better:
So many issues, so little time.

That's it! You are done!! I have installed dimmers in pretty much every room in our house. The kitchen: The dining room is a necessity!!
I have all of our ceiling fan lights on dimmers. Our master bath light is on a dimmer -- FABULOUS on dark mornings. All of our recessed lighting is on dimmers. I tell you what -- they say dimmers save on electricity and I believe it. We've been in this house five years and just last week changed out two recessed lights. They lasted FIVE years people!

You won't be disappointed! I challenge you to make this a quick and easy weekend project!

Disclaimer: MAKE SURE SURE SURE the breaker is turned off. Please! If you've not tried this project, do your own research as well and try this at your own risk. 


  1. I love me some dimmers. I have one in every room too. Although that is the one thing I can get my hubby to do. I rewired my dryer when we were first married and zapped myself good and now hubs won't let me do anything electrical ;-)

  2. Thanks for the great tutorial. I'm definitely installing dimmers when we buy our own house.

  3. I love dimmers and want more in our house! However, I was still hyperventilating when it came to the wires part. Why do wires scare me? I want to put a dimmer in our bathroom first. I'll buy the kit, and if DH won't do it, I'll give it a try. I think.


  4. My husband, an electrician, would be so proud of you for lining up the screws on the switch plate. He always says that you can tell when an electrician takes pride in their work because all the screws will be vertical. Great tutorial on how easy it is to change to dimmers!

  5. You lost me at electrical. lol.

    I LOVE your decorating ADD. I have the same thing, and I was like, "uh-huh, uh-uh, uh-huh, OH PRETTY PILLOWS!, uh-huh, uh-huh." :)

    I also love your little video demonstration. I was making sound effects in my head, especially when you were going up & down, up & down. lol

  6. Oh, this makes me so happy! I was just telling DH how nice a dimmer switch would be in our media room but I didn't think I could do it. Thanks for the tutorial :) AWESOME!

  7. Oh, wow, I am so impressed. I would love to put dimmers in the kitchen, but have to admit that I'm a little bit afraid of electricity. I don't want to get shocked. But hubby is out of town, and how fun would it be to prove I could do something like this without him around?! Might have to try it... Thanks!

  8. I needed you know that I found my dimmer switch that I bought years ago, but never put up since I didn't know how (and neither did my hubby). Now we will. :)

  9. I love this idea!

    We haven't changed out our recessed lights either and it's been three years.

    Got that catalog yesterday too!

    Happy weekend to you.
    ~Melissa :)

  10. Dimmers aren't usually compact florescent bulb safe, so you might not want to install dimmers on the fixtures that you use those bulbs in or you'll start wondering why you're going through lightbulbs so fast *L*

    1. Ugh. This is coming soon, too! To dim, or not to dim, THAT is the question.

  11. Love this post. I had mentioned to my hubby that I would like him to put a dimmer in the dining when he gets a chance. He has a HUGE honey-do list at the moment. After your kickin' tutorial I think this is one of those jobs I can handle myself. Thanks.

  12. Great tutorial! But I am still a little scared. I may give it a try though

    Love Ballard - just got my catalog too! Oh, the possibilities!!!

  13. I let Hubby do it since he's the electrical engineer in this family... otherwise you'd hear zzzzttt. That would be me with smoke coming from my ears and falling to the floor upon being electrocuted...LOL

    The Blue RIdge Gal

  14. Thank goodness I married an electrician and don't have to do any of this stuff on my own. I actually tried to change a switch out by myself (because the hubby couldn't find 5 minutes to do it for me), but I didn't get the memo about turning off the breaker. So after I complained to him of being electrocuted he decided to help me out and change it.

  15. I get made fun of for making sure the screws in my switch plates are turned the glad to see there's somebody else who has OCD, too..ha! ha!

  16. We have some dimmers in our living room and our basement and I love them, especially when we are watching a movie or something and want them turned down a bit.

  17. What a great tutorial! Hubs showed me what he was doing when he installed our dimmer, so I think I could actually feel comfortable doing this. Thanks for posting this!

  18. Look at you and your handy little self! Great tutorial! Now I'm thinking of rooms in my house that would be perfect with a dinner switch...hmmm, the possiblities.

    On another note, I chose a horrible day to have a giveaway. Everyone's unplugged! I've made a note to self to plan better next time :).

  19. My husband & I just installed nice, fresh looking outlets & switches in our 1950's house the other day. What a difference!! But, now I wish I would have thought about dimmers...

  20. I'm loving the idea of dimmers in the bathroom! Great idea. And, thanks for making sure the screws are all "pointing" the same direction. That kind of thing makes me c-r-a-z-y!!!!

  21. Hi, I'm a follower. I had a little time this morning and I was poking around some of your old posts on molding. You seriously, seriously, seriously need to have your own show on HGTV!! You do some amazing stuff!! Glad I found you!

  22. L-U-V this post...I've always wanted to install a dimmer light but didn't want to pay an electrician $50 bucks an hour. You just save me some serious bucks!
    Merci beaucoup!

  23. I'm on it!! Get back to you on Monday!!

  24. Great tutorial--thanks for getting so detailed. Some people (cough, cough) have nervous breakdowns about handy stuff like that...I want to learn so I don't have to wait 5 years for T to get around to my "honey-do" list. ;)

  25. I love dimmers too, but they won't work with flourescent light bulbs! Boo-hoo!

  26. Great tutorial! My personal fave was the way you lined up those screws. I have been known to go around my entire house to make sure those screws are all going the same way. Wow, maybe I need a hobby? I also love some dim lighting - I will be adding dimmers to my bathroom - great idea.

  27. I love all of your ideas...especially the hemming tape!!

    I left an award for you on my blog. Have a great weekend!

  28. I ♥ how you wrote this post. Perfect for someone like me. Keep the how-to's comin' girl!

  29. This lesson came at a great time for me. I had just bought a new
    vanity light for a bathroom to replace one that I HATED for years, but hated to have to call an
    electrician...etc. ( my husband canNOT do those things...)
    Decided I KNOW I can do that myself, read up on the internet, and your tutorial just reinforced
    what I was fixing to do ! Got it done today with NO PROBLEM and it
    looks great! Thanks for the boost!
    looks great!

  30. Thank you for this instructional post. I've a;ways wanted to know how to install a dimmer switch. I need to know how to install a chandelier.

  31. Fun read! You've made it look real easy. Thank you!

  32. Oh yea! We just bought our FIRST HOME and I'm so excited to decorate, but am clueless! I'll be using your site!

  33. Working with electrical wiring can really be intimidating, but I found out recently that it's not too hard after all. I installed & hung a chandelier - I was so proud :)

  34. Luckily, the hubs handles all things electrical aroundhere, but bless your little heart for taking all those pictures!!!

  35. I LOVE dimmers and have them installed all over the house. One thing that is not favorable to dimmers is the new light bulbs. Unless the new "energy saving" light bulbs say that they are DIMMABLE, they probably are not! Be sure to check when you buy them. The ONLY dimmable new light bulbs I have found are a flood light shape. I hope more are going to be made available.

  36. OMG, we are sistas ;)

    Ask my husband, the electrician, how much I whine and whine until I get a dimmer switch put into a room. I want them on ALL lights, even lamps, I just hate harsh light.

    Those things are expensive though and it seems that everytime we need one, it's a $20 or more kind, ugh! We live in a quad style home with lots of steps, so there are lots of 'double' switchs for the same light..if that makes sense...and they are more expensive.

    I found this post from Jon's blog from CSN Lighting :)

  37. Not sure if I'd attempt this but I do love to learn to do things myself instead of having to badger my dh!

  38. Did this over the weekend. This was cake considering I've wired at least two ceiling fans by myself. I just never even thought of putting dimmers on the extreme lights in my home until I read this. My husband sits in the TV room with the ceiling fan light on all the time and it is GLARING. I hate that thing!

  39. I knew someday I'd come back to this post, and that day was TODAY! It only took me 11 months.... My husband installed a dimmer in our bathroom over the summer and it took him and a friend an hour. (and 3 months of me prodding before that one hour) I decided to buy 3 today at the store and just installed the first one. Probably took me 10 min. Thanks for the tutorial and the pictures!

  40. Thank you! I just put dimmer switches on my shopping list. I'll be putting them into our dining room, living room ceiling fan light, master bedroom, and bathrooms.

    Now if it were only so easy to put recessed lights in our kitchen!!!

  41. Just purchased a nice dimmer switch for .97 and installed it in the dining room using your like a charm! Thanks so much - I have really enjoyed your blog and now visit frequently. You have wonderfully creative ideas! I appreciate all the great information and inspiration! :-)


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