How to Troubleshoot a Dimmer Switch

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Creating ambiance in the home is a worthy and trendy endeavor most often accomplished with a bit of mood lighting. Dimmer switches are a seemingly easy way to create a bit of appealing or artistic lighting where it can have a big impact in an inexpensive way. If you have a dimmer that isn't getting the job done or creating a flickering scene, a little troubleshooting will shed some light on the problem.

How to Troubleshoot a Dimmer Switch
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Dimmer Switch Breakdown

There are many types of dimmer switches available for the do-it-yourself enthusiast. Incandescent, fluorescent, LED, single-pole and three-way configurations offer individual lighting options for your space. If you are looking for warm lighting, an incandescent bulb gives off the warmest light, while an LED brightens a room without gouging your wallet. Fluorescent lights use a ballast that is designed for its output and isn't interchangeable. If you need to control lights from more than one switch, a single pole or three-way needs to be installed.

Damage Control

Overlamping a dimmer switch is the most common reason a dimmer switch fails. A dimmer can't control too many lights or it will surpass its maximum wattage. If a dimmer is equipped for 500 watts and is given the task of turning on seven lights at 100 watts each, it will work overtime and reach burnout relatively early in its suggested life span. If a fixture requires less than 4 watts or more than 600 watts, you may want to reconsider using a dimmer. When a dimmer switch fails, the lights might not go out but remain on, burning up electricity and requiring a change out of the dimmer switch. A power surge can also take down your dimmer. The actual installation can be problematic or cause future issues if not done correctly from the first lighting face plate removal. If you are having issues with an older dimmer, you may want to replace it or double check the wiring.

LED Issues

There are many configurations, styles and colors to choose from if you decide to buy a new dimmer. But you'll want to take home one that works well with your specific fixtures and wiring. If you have LED lights or have switched to LED lights on an old dimmer switch, you could run into issues. LED dimmers have a smaller range, up to 30 percent less than an incandescent bulb. LEDs consume less wattage than their high wattage incandescent counterparts. If you don't use the correct dimmer, your lights may not shut off when the dimmer switch is turned all the way down. Also, check the bulbs themselves. Some LED bulbs do not dim, and those that do don't function well with traditional dimmers.


Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at

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