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Is it ok to replace dimmer switches myself or do I need an electrician?

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  • Jul 22nd, 2020 5:55 pm
[OP]
Deal Addict
May 23, 2017
1357 posts
1343 upvotes

Is it ok to replace dimmer switches myself or do I need an electrician?

We want to get some potlights put in our house (3 rooms). Electrician charges $50 for a dimmer switch while I can just buy one at a hardware store for $30 and switch it out myself. Doesn't look that difficult.

However, my husband is concerned and thinks this could be dangerous because if not wired properly it could potentially short-circuit and cause a fire? And he doesn't think an electrician will want to do work in a house where amateurs have messed around with the circuitry...saying the ESA checks electricians' work for a reason. He'd rather pay $60 to the electrician to do the work.

So, I'd like advice on just how dangerous this is? Again, it seems like pretty easy and straightforward wiring work to me.
21 replies
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Dec 29, 2008
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Im pretty sure you can change your own light fixtures and switches, you just can't run a new outlet/switch or move a light fixture or changing the existing wiring in any way.

Having said that it seems you and your husband have not done electrical work before so if i was in your position I would pay the extra $$ and get it done right.

When i had potlights installed for one of the rooms they had to rewire the light switch that was controlling an outlet so that it would control the potlights instead. So again it depends but it seems like it's better to pay and have it done correctly.

My potlights only work with certain dimmers and I'm faily experienced with changing out an outlet etc but i still paid to get the dimmers installed. With CV and lifes headache it's one less thing to deal with.
Deal Addict
May 23, 2009
3344 posts
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Mississauga
It is a simple job if you understand electrical light switches but asuming you are in Ontario, for Legal DIY electrical work you can swap out a regular switch for a regular switch but you need to pull a permit to change a regular switch to a dimmer.

https://oldsite.esasafe.com/consumers/h ... -yourself/

Either the homeowner pulls the permit and does the work themselves OR the Licensed Electrical contractor pulls the permit and does the job.
Member
Jan 10, 2017
296 posts
224 upvotes
Most decent dimmer switches are relatively easy to install and come with decent instructions eg Lutron.

It’s relatively straightforward but you can run into issues which you won’t know until you open up the box. If you are keen on trying, find a switch which controls one light and have a go, take off the existing one and install a dimmer and then do everything back in reverse. It will give you a taste of the work at hand. If any of the switches are 3 way, eg you can control a light from more than one switch, those can be a nuisance at times.

Just make sure you turn OFF the breaker for the switch as you don’t want to get electrocuted. Maybe also get a tester to verify that there is no current on the lines once you turned off the breaker. Coffee is a much better alternative to get a wake up jolt than from the wires.

And as JonSnow said, get the right dimmer. Not all work with LEDs so double check. The Maestro and Caséta are nice from Lutron as they gradually fade in and out the lights, Caséta can also be tied into home automation eg Alexa, Siri, Google Home.
Member
Jan 10, 2017
296 posts
224 upvotes
I am confused, I thought a homeowner can as per their bulletin

https://esasafe.com/assets/files/esasaf ... 2-3-17.pdf


Question 7
Can a single dwelling owner replace a general-use switch with a dimmer, timer or a motion sensor light switch in his/her own single dwelling without filing a notification?

You Answer 7
Yes. Subrule b) allows the single dwelling owner to replace the general-use switch without filing a notification.
Deal Addict
May 23, 2009
3344 posts
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Mississauga
keddie2 wrote: I am confused, I thought a homeowner can as per their bulletin

https://esasafe.com/assets/files/esasaf ... 2-3-17.pdf


Question 7
Can a single dwelling owner replace a general-use switch with a dimmer, timer or a motion sensor light switch in his/her own single dwelling without filing a notification?

You Answer 7
Yes. Subrule b) allows the single dwelling owner to replace the general-use switch without filing a notification.
Seems they split the rule to exempt home owner occupied single dwelling unit. See questions 9 and 10.
[OP]
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May 23, 2017
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Thank you everyone for all the helpful replies. So, I take it by that exemption that we are ok to proceed without permit? (But we can't do it for a rental property?) And electrician will have no issues doing the potlights with a switch we did ourselves?

So we ended up just trying it today. We got the Lutron Diva C.L., hope that is a good one. It was pretty easy as I expected...only problem was the dimmer was way bulkier than the regular switch. We had to cut some wires down to reduce bulk and it was still a pain pushing it in.

Just wondering if there are any dangers if we didn't do it properly or if we pushed too hard to get it in? No danger of house burning down like my husband is worried about, is there?
Sr. Member
Dec 12, 2007
908 posts
415 upvotes
Toronto
I changed all my switches and outlets to decora style and also added timer switches to the bath. Some were dimmers, I didn’t pull any permits.

In fact I may have done an even better job than the shitty builder with a licence because when I took out each outlet they were all pushed in backstabbed where as when I re did each outlet switch I made sure to use the screw in terminals and did each one by the book. I doubt any builder would have taken that time to do what I did.
[OP]
Deal Addict
May 23, 2017
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phoenix_bladen wrote: I changed all my switches and outlets to decora style and also added timer switches to the bath. Some were dimmers, I didn’t pull any permits.

In fact I may have done an even better job than the shitty builder with a licence because when I took out each outlet they were all pushed in backstabbed where as when I re did each outlet switch I made sure to use the screw in terminals and did each one by the book. I doubt any builder would have taken that time to do what I did.
Thanks for sharing! I noticed when I took out the previous switch that the ground copper wire was not hooked onto the green screw...which I assume is the correct way to do it? I'm guessing it's not a big deal to miss it but looks like the builder also took some shortcuts. Wires were screwed in properly though.

Now I really hope I did an ok job installing it...
[OP]
Deal Addict
May 23, 2017
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jackrabbit000 wrote: I changed all mine out to Lutron dimmers. If you couldn’t change them yourself, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Rona etc wouldn’t be selling them.
Perhaps a valid point, but then again these stores sell all kinds of things involved in major renovations that require permits so I figured it was safer to ask and double check!
Sr. Member
Dec 12, 2007
908 posts
415 upvotes
Toronto
jk9088 wrote: Thanks for sharing! I noticed when I took out the previous switch that the ground copper wire was not hooked onto the green screw...which I assume is the correct way to do it? I'm guessing it's not a big deal to miss it but looks like the builder also took some shortcuts. Wires were screwed in properly though.

Now I really hope I did an ok job installing it...
I am not an electrician by any means but it was the same when I took off the cover the first time. I believe this was done by the builder on purpose. However, I believe if your junction boxes are metal then the metal box can act as a conductor which means it is not necessary for grounding as long as the switch is screen into the metal box (I could be wrong).
Deal Addict
Jan 19, 2008
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Etobicoke
jackrabbit000 wrote: If you couldn’t change them yourself, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Rona etc wouldn’t be selling them.
I don't think that is true.
Sr. Member
Dec 12, 2007
908 posts
415 upvotes
Toronto
I also added GFCI outlets to my kitchen where it was not there before ( just a regular outlet).I believe at the time my home was built in 2007 it was not code that there needed to have GFCI protection. Technically you would need a permit for this but again I took the old ones out and put in new ones by the book. I was even able to identify out of the 2 switches which one was the downstream GFCI and hooked it up properly.

In the end I didn’t get the permits where technically I would have needed. But If I do plan to sell my home in the future I doubt any potential buyer would even notice it was switched.

I am also not concerned about safety since I did it by the book and I corrected the backstab wiring method by the builder to use the screw in terminals so I don’t think I’ll have a hazard.
Member
Jan 10, 2017
296 posts
224 upvotes
jk9088 wrote: Thank you everyone for all the helpful replies. So, I take it by that exemption that we are ok to proceed without permit? (But we can't do it for a rental property?) And electrician will have no issues doing the potlights with a switch we did ourselves?

So we ended up just trying it today. We got the Lutron Diva C.L., hope that is a good one. It was pretty easy as I expected...only problem was the dimmer was way bulkier than the regular switch. We had to cut some wires down to reduce bulk and it was still a pain pushing it in.

Just wondering if there are any dangers if we didn't do it properly or if we pushed too hard to get it in? No danger of house burning down like my husband is worried about, is there?
As long as any part of the wires aren't exposed, you should be fine. Sometimes you can fiddle with the wire positions to get it in smoother but I wouldn't worry too much about applying some pressure to get the switch in. Congrats on the work, you've saved yourself some money and learned something new in the process. :)
Member
Jan 10, 2017
296 posts
224 upvotes
phoenix_bladen wrote: I changed all my switches and outlets to decora style and also added timer switches to the bath. Some were dimmers, I didn’t pull any permits.

In fact I may have done an even better job than the shitty builder with a licence because when I took out each outlet they were all pushed in backstabbed where as when I re did each outlet switch I made sure to use the screw in terminals and did each one by the book. I doubt any builder would have taken that time to do what I did.
I was told builders assign most work to whoever comes in with the cheapest bid and the contractor in turn tries to use the cheapest apprentices to do the work. At the end of the day, its the licensed electrician who puts his ass on the line when something goes wrong but clearly the inspectors can not verify every house and outlet. The worst is when you had a few guys come through and do the work, you can see how everyone added their own interpretation of the various codes and things differ from each floor or room.

Would be nice if houses in the future would come with a scan of the innards of the structure - I know a few companies in the USA offer that option though I haven't heard of it here yet. Just imagine how much time it would save for owners if you knew where exactly each stud is, what wires run near it, where the piping is and so on. It would be nirvana for any contractor coming into your house or even for the homeowner who wants to run a new cable between floors.
Deal Guru
Jan 25, 2007
11957 posts
7123 upvotes
Paris
phoenix_bladen wrote: I changed all my switches and outlets to decora style and also added timer switches to the bath. Some were dimmers, I didn’t pull any permits.

In fact I may have done an even better job than the shitty builder with a licence because when I took out each outlet they were all pushed in backstabbed where as when I re did each outlet switch I made sure to use the screw in terminals and did each one by the book. I doubt any builder would have taken that time to do what I did.
Sadly, you don’t need to be an electrician to work on new construction. The electrician just slips in at the end to connect the panel and sign off on the whole house.
[OP]
Deal Addict
May 23, 2017
1357 posts
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keddie2 wrote: As long as any part of the wires aren't exposed, you should be fine. Sometimes you can fiddle with the wire positions to get it in smoother but I wouldn't worry too much about applying some pressure to get the switch in. Congrats on the work, you've saved yourself some money and learned something new in the process. :)
Thanks! Although, the exposed wires is exactly what we are worried about...we actually had to take it out after the first try (because the bulky dimmer wasn't going in so we had to rearrange the wires) and when we did that we found one of the wires had come loose out of the wire nut (so clearly I hadn't tightened it enough). Obviously in this case we will know right away because the light won't turn on, but what happens if over time it loosens and wires become exposed? (I mean, it's so tight in there now I don't think that will happen...but one can never be too careful!
keddie2 wrote: Would be nice if houses in the future would come with a scan of the innards of the structure - I know a few companies in the USA offer that option though I haven't heard of it here yet. Just imagine how much time it would save for owners if you knew where exactly each stud is, what wires run near it, where the piping is and so on. It would be nirvana for any contractor coming into your house or even for the homeowner who wants to run a new cable between floors.
Damn, they can do that?? Indeed, it would be so amazing to have this info! Agree, hopefully it becomes standard in the future...
Jerico wrote: Sadly, you don’t need to be an electrician to work on new construction. The electrician just slips in at the end to connect the panel and sign off on the whole house.
Well that's kind of scary. I didn't know that...really hope my home is wired properly...
[OP]
Deal Addict
May 23, 2017
1357 posts
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Also, is there a trick to getting the wires stuffed in back there tightly? We want to put two dimmers side-by-side, but it's already so stuffed after one dimmer. I can't imagine doing it with another set of 4 wires and nuts with the bulky dimmer!
Sr. Member
Jan 7, 2013
828 posts
499 upvotes
Oshawa, Ontario
Tbh if you are this worried about doing it yourself, you probably should just spend the extra 20$ for the electrician. For your own peace of mind.

There is some skill of the trade to ensure the wires are pigtailed and wire-nutted together properly. Forcing improperly secured wires into a box does have the potential for wires to become exposed to things they shouldn't be.

If a live wire touches the metal box, it will short to ground and if sustained then your breaker will trip. It will probably spark and leave a burn mark on the metal.

If you want extra caution, you can wrap the back of the wire nuts in electrical tape.

It helps to gently fold/wind and ease the wires back into place. Some boxes can be tight for sure, especially when other circuits use the same box to tie together. Also take an "as found" photo in case you get turned around later where each of the wires in your box went

Although all my builder ones all used the lazy stab-in connectors on the back of the outlets.
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Mar 23, 2008
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jackrabbit000 wrote: I changed all mine out to Lutron dimmers. If you couldn’t change them yourself, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Rona etc wouldn’t be selling them.
HD and all also sells main electrical panels and breakers. Doesn’t mean your average homeowner should be installing them themselves, nor can they do that without a permit.

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