Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I installed a light dimmer! DIY lady!

I'm so stoked. I just installed my first ever electrical home project. ALL BY MYSELF.

Why not ask my husband? Because I know he'd probably get annoyed by me asking him to do some fix-it project on a rental house (although I see these as practice for owning down the line), and he'd get pissed off halfway through it and ask his father to come over and do it. To which would amuse FIL greatly, as (according to him) I have these grandiose ideas about building things or making things instead of buying them (think bookcase or organizer for the kitchen or a sign for the wedding, or... well you get the point) and never do them or finish them. Like the entertainment center I bought unfinished and stained dark brown... yeah, it took like a few months, but I was just so tired of painting that damn thing! LOL. And the last few nights I've gotten a housecleaning/improvement kick around 10 or 11pm and just decided that I would have at it.

ANYHOW! For the last two years in this house, we've had issues with the light in the room we utilize as a dining room being way way too hot and bright. When we have it on, it is burning up in there. Typically this wouldn't be a major issue, as dining rooms are rarely used, however this room leads to our back porch AND contains the thermostat. So, my only options are to A, replace the light fixture (to something that puts out less light, but then vanity instead of practicality would kick in), or B, install a dimmer switch to dim the light and conserve energy (I'm on a green kick).

Some of you may say that installing a light dimmer or even a switch is quite easy, but alas, it was not as simple as the 4 steps on the packaging. See, our house is old. OLD. And so is the electrical. So old, that the wiring caused an electrical burnout of the washing machine cord a month or so back. Thinking about that, I realized I would have to shut off the power at the breaker box... oh great this is sooo gonna suck. We rent our house and our landlady tries to maintain a low maintainence budget (oh I should tell the fridge story, but I'll save that for another time). I understand that she wants a profit... there's just a few too many bootleg things in this house that her son has tried to fix himself... And then in the 40 or 50 years since this house has been built, multiple updates or changes. See picture below.

Now if you can see, the original wiring for the box was written in pencil on the right hand side- the paper inside the box. Well, I hit the corresponding switch and it didn't turn off the light in what we utilize as a dining room. So, I'm thinking, SHIT! It took about an hour to figure out the ones I labeled on the LEFT (blue sharpie) because just about none of these matched up, and since I was already messing with it, might as well get it as best done as I can.

Once I finished this portion of the project, which I did not anticipate the actual time involved, it was time to remove the old switch box. There was no switch plate because when we moved in it was cracked and overtime, somehow it fell off. So at least that saved me a step... we'd just been going on about our business with exposed wiring... And two of the three switches didn't work for anything (which I learned later!).

Now according to the package instructions, there are wires that comes from the house that is connected to the box... not so in my case. This switch was WIRED directly to the house. So I had to remove that. I tried to maintain as much of the wire as possible and not cut it because there isn't extra since it was wired into the wall. But I couldn't get the switch to release it (this thing was OLD), even removing the screws entirely, etc. So I just said "eff it" and cut them off.

This thing hadn't seen a dusting in forever. (see pic below on bottom R). The actual wiring was somewhat easy. There were two wires and a grounding wire. I connected the two black wires and went to hit the breaker box, with no avail. I then remembered the common wire connecting to a bundle of 4 other wires. Shit, I have to close this circuit... I realized that I was going to have to make a bootleg to one of the random "common" wires to complete the circuit because this switch also connects to another switch on the other side of the room for multiple locations of control. I guess that physics class came in handy when looking at these circuits! So, ever the Macguyver, I just cut a wire from the old switch box, used it to connect the one of the black wires in the new switch to the old COMMON grouping that likely connected to the rest of the wiring in the room(s). Thus creating a new common wire. The box said I should buy a three way dimmer (has an additional wire coming out of the switch box), but I'd gotten this far, there was no way I was going back to the "depot" to get a new switch after spending over an hour on the breaker box. And plus at this time it was 1 or so AM. (and a 3 way dimmer costs about 10 bucks more) I figured at least I was just rigging it like the landlady's son would have!
When I went to hit the breaker box this time- YAYYYY it worked!

So, now my idea was to figure out what those other wires were for- some were capped off and one was connected to a circular dimmer that has never worked. So knowing the room we use for dining and the living room with fan are connected on the breaker box, I turn on all the lights and fans and then remove the common wire I just installed from the dining room dimmer. Alas, the living room light AND fan shut off! So, now that I know what these mystery two switch locations were for (and all this capped off wiring), I've decided that my next home project is to complete the entire 3 part and replace the old broken circle dimmer and fan switches for the living room so we can actually just shut it off at the wall instead of having to stand and try to reach, as well as have the dimmer for energy efficiency.

Random... yes, but I feel so accomplished. I'll update once I complete the entire box!


  1. Congratulations! Are you ready for the end of regular light bulbs?

  2. Congratulations. are you ready for the end of regular light bulbs?


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