Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dimmer Switch

After my last super long post about the house, where I admitted I'd been putting off installing the dimmer switch in the kitchen overhead light fixture, I got a Monday off and decided to just go for it. It was really easy! I think anything electrical can be intimidating for a lot of people, but it's not hard. You just need to have access to your breaker switch and make sure it's turned off!

When I first took the cover off the old switch I was most intimidated, as the screws in my new plate would in no way be able to attach to the wall or the current regular switch box. I shouldn't have fretted because the friendly guy at Ace had already been through this with me twice, and because the new light switch box has differently placed screw holes.

The interior of the wall is, as expected in this house, truly horrible. The wires are wrapped in this gross dusty cloth. I ignored that. Basically you unscrew the original switch in it's little plate, which is easy, pull it gently a little out of the wall so you can get at the screws. In my case the screws were on the side of the original switch and the wires that came out of the wall were pretty thick and substantial, and they just bent around screws coming in the side of the switch box and the screws had been tightened over them to make the electric connection. This is much like the inside of a light socket, how the wires connect. The new switch had an easier kind of connection, where you twist a more flexible multi-strand copper wire around the thicker wall wire, making sure they are making a solid connection, and then you place the little orange plastic wire cap on the connected wires and twist it on.

Ours was a little more complex because it was a three-way switch, meaning there is another switch on the other end of the room that also connects to the overhead light. I didn't realize this the first time I bought a dimmer switch so that's why I had to go back to Ace. Basically in the three-way box, there's a black wire that was also labelled "common." This connects to the black wire from your switch box. The two other wires go to either of the two red wires. It doesn't matter which is which. I didn't have a ground wire which made me nervous, but also, whatever. Anyway after all the wires are connected you just shove them all back there in the box, carefully, not tearing out your connections, and then screw the switchplate back into the wall. Then the cover fits nicely with it's tiny little screws.

Here's the finished product! So neat and tidy. I tried taking a photo of the difference when it's dimmed but it's hard to tell, and the kitchen is super messy since I also just rearranged the stuff in the cabinets, so it's not worth showing. But you know what a dimmer does! I'm excited to have a nice dinner with less harsh, more romantic lighting. The whole project cost about $35 including the fancy 100W equivalent dimmable LED bulb. Not all LED or CFL bulbs are dimmable, so you have to make sure everything is going to work together. Old-school incandescents are of course dimmable but this is the 21st century so that wasn't an option for me. LEDs (and CFLs) do have a bit more blue light, which is less mellow, but you can get them pretty warm, just look for a K around 2700-3000K. These pictures are taken with flash so they don't represent the color of light at all, obviously the light was out while I was poking around the live wires.

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