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Add a Dimmer Switch

One of the easiest electrical improvements you can make in a room is replacing a standard on-off light switch with a dimmer switch. And you'll find a new generation of dimmers that are as stylish as they are high-tech. One of the most popular dimmer switches has a touch pad that responds to the placement of your finger. Slide it up and the light goes on, slide it down the pad and the light get dimmer.

To replace a standard light switch with a dimmer, an electrician charges $41, but you can do the job for $15, the cost of the dimmer switch, and save 64 percent. You need a neon circuit tester, screwdriver, wire cutter/stripper and electrical tape. If wire connectors aren't packaged in with the dimmer switch, you'll need some. You can do the job in less than an hour.

The project involves removing the old switch and then determining the capacity you need, a single-pole for one location, or 3-way for a circuit controlled from two switch locations. The total maximum wattage allowed for all the light fixtures in the room can't exceed the maximum wattage rating on the dimmer.

Before you begin any electrical project, turn off the power to the circuit breaker that controls the outlet.

Step-by-step Instructions

Dimmer switch

Voltage tester

Before you begin
Check the rating of the dimmer switch to find out how many watts of power it can handle. Then count the number of bulbs that the switch controls and add up the wattage of each bulb. Most can handle about 600 watts of power. That means that the typical dimmer switch can control five or six 100-watt light bulbs. If you have a fluorescent fixture you want to purchase a dimmer switch designed to work with certain types of fluorescent fixtures.

Step 1: Turn off the power
Turn off the power to the switch at the circuit or fuse panel.

Step 2: Remove the switch plate cover and test
Use a screwdriver to unscrew the two screws that hold the cover to the wall. Then remove the screws located at the top and bottom of the switch that hold the switch in the electrical box. Carefully pull the switch out of the box and, before you begin, touch any of the wires to make sure there is no voltage Then test the circuit with a voltage test to make sure the power is turned off.

Step 3: Remove the wires on the old switch
Use the screwdriver to loosen the screws on the side of the switch. Then remove the wires from the switch. Note which wire is connected to the copper colored screw. This is the hot wire and is usually black or colored.

Step 4. Attach the wires of the new fixture
Depending on the type of dimmer switch you purchased, the new switch may have terminal screws on the body like the old switch you just removed, or it may have a set of wires coming out of the switch body.

If the switch has wires, use the wire nuts supplied to attach the black wire to the colored wire. Twist the wires together and then screw on the wire nut. Do the same with the white (neutral wire) and the green or bare copper (ground) wire.

If the switch has screw terminals, wrap the black or colored wire around the copper colored screw in a clockwise direction and then tighten with a screwdriver. Connect the white wire to the silver terminal and the green or bare copper wire to the green ground terminal.

Step 5: Attach the new dimmer
Push the new switch back into the electrical box and screw it in place. Then screw on the switch plate and turn on the power.

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