Installing a Dimmer Switch Boosts Ambiance

Written by Joe Perritt
Updated September 29, 2015
light switch in open electrical box without cover
Installing a dimmer light switch can help homeowners set the ambiance in a room. (Photo by Summer Galyan)

Installing a dimmer switch can set the mood in any room.

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

Installing a dimmer switch will add an extra touch of functionality to any room by providing adjustable illumination, which is great for anything from setting moods to displaying art to slumbering peacefully. Or you can crank it up and perform surgery.

Unfortunately, regular dimmer switches only work with incandescent bulbs. Don't bother trying to hook a regular dimmer up to fluorescent or ecofriendly bulbs. These types of bulbs need a specific amount of wattage and only a specific — usually more expensive — dimmer switch works for them.

Not only are dimmer switches great for creating ambiance, they can also decrease energy usage drastically if turned down.

How to install a dimmer switch

Any DIY job presents safety risks — especially electrical projects. If you are not experienced working with home electrical systems, consider calling an electrician to avoid dying while DIYing.

If you think you can handle installing a dimmer switch, you will need these tools:

• Pliers

• Flathead screwdriver

• Flashlight (maybe)

• Voltage meter or electrical current tester

Before you even think about messing around with live electricity, find the appropriate circuit breaker for that area of your home and shut it off.

Once you shut off the correct breaker, unscrew the face plate of the light switch you're replacing. The face plate removed, test for an electrical current by touching the two electrodes on your meter or tester to the two main wires that are attached to the switch. Ignore the bare ground wire for now. The two main wires will be visible and they should each have a different color.

If an electrical charge isn't present, it's safe. Release the three wires from the switch. This requires either loosening the appropriate screws or clamps. Make sure to keep track of which wire goes where. You can use a marked piece of a tape to ensure correct installation.

To install the new dimmer switch, simply reverse these instructions, but make sure to pay attention to the dimmer's user manual. Although dimmer switch installation is typically very easy and straightforward, some models might be more complicated, and the manual will advise you as to which wire goes where.

Each switch should only take a few minutes to swap out, and you could reasonably do your whole house, as dimmer switches are fairly cheap — just a couple of bucks each.

Hiring an Electrician to Install Dimmer Switches

If you aren't very handy or don't have the time, an electrician can help you with your switch transitions. Depending on who you hire, you can reasonably expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $120 per switch, which is fairly expensive considering the time involved, but don't feel bad, because ensuring your own safety is often worth the high price.

Before you hire an electrician, make sure that they have the appropriate licenses for such a task. Electricity can be extremely dangerous, so don't spend your time or money on untrained handymen or other people who claim they can perform electrician duties.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.