Dimmer Not Working? Check This Out

Dimmers are super useful little tools that, well, dim your lights. But like all electronics, they have a lifespan and a multitude of things that can go wrong with them. DreamyHome has covered a lot of related things, like a light switch not working or how to replace a switch with a dimmer, so I think we’re likely the best place you could be right now!

The most common issues with dimmer switches are age, overuse, loose or poor wiring, power supply, or a faulty dimming unit.

We have a lot of ground to cover here, so let’s get into it.

Dimmer Lifespan and Wear

First things first – how long should your average light dimmer last? Well, I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news is that dimmers often last upwards of 15 years when installed and used properly. The bad news is that they’re often misused or installed amateurishly, resulting in a reduced life.

And if you bought a cheap, discount dimmer, they will die much more quickly than a high-quality, modern one.

If you’re using the dimmer day in, day out, they’ll wear out much more quickly than if you use them occasionally, turning them off when not needed. That means don’t substitute turning off your lights for simply dimming them – not only is it expensive, but it will kill your dimmer.

All electrical bits and bobs, as with all things in life, will wear out over time. Often, the voltage being supplied to your dimmer will be too much if it’s installed poorly, leading to an overload and broken dimmer. If you notice a humming or buzzing sound coming from the dimmer, flickering lights, poor performance, or worst of all, a physically hot dimmer – it’s time for a replacement.

Signs Your Dimmer Needs Replacement

There are a few things I mentioned above that are signs that your dimmer is nearing the end of its life. Read the below list, and be sure to take note of any familiar issues, as some of these are actually pretty serious.

Dimmer is Hot

This could mean one of two things – either your dimmer is wired poorly, or there’s a serious issue with your home’s wiring. Either way, keep an eye out for a dimmer or switch that’s physically hot to the touch.

Dimmers will get hot with extended use (usually around 60°C) while others can run as warm as 90°C without a problem. But if your dimmer is burning you, it points to one of two things:

  1. The wiring for your dimmer was installed poorly or has been knocked loose. This is a fire hazard and should be adressed right away. Turn off power at the breaker and call an electrician.
  2. The voltage running to your dimmer is too much for it to handle. Again, this is a fire hazard and should be addressed immediately.

If you’re comfortable working with wiring, you can click the link in the introduction for a guide on how to replace a dimmer or light switch. You can also check out the wiring by simply removing the plate cover and taking a look – is anything clearly loose or frayed? Either replace it or call a professional for help.

Dimmer Not Dimming Lights at All

This is an obvious sign that something stopped working. Sometimes this is caused by something simple – the bulb you’re using isn’t capable of dimming. Other times, it’s a sign that you either have a dead or defective dimmer. You can test this by replacing the light bulb with one that you know is capable of dimming.

Alternatively, you can replace the dimmer altogether, using our handy guide linked above. Your last stop should be calling a professional. If you can’t figure out what’s wrong, they will.

Dimmer is Buzzing

You may normally hear a slight buzzing coming from your dimmer – that’s okay. But if it’s begun to buzz loudly, or it’s making a new noise, that’s a sign of something being wrong.

If your dimmer controls multiple lights or switches, the voltage running through it may be too much for the device. You can test this out by pulling a light bulb or two out of the fixture to which the dimmer is attached and listening to see if that changes the sound. If so, you need a dimmer that is rated for the voltage coming through the outlet. This can be tested with a multimeter if you have one, or by an electrician.

LED Issues

If you’re using LED lights in your dimmer, there are a few things to look for. LEDs are generally not compatible with dimmers, though that’s changed as they have grown more popular in recent years.

Make sure your LED lights are capable of dimming and compatible (voltage-wise) with the dimmer you have in place. After that, keep an eye out for:

  1. Flickering, strobing, or flashing LED lights are a sign of issues with the dimmer.
  2. Pop-on is when your lights turn on at max brightness suddenly when trying to change the level of dimming. This is a sign that your lights are not compatible with dimmers.
  3. Drop-out is the opposite of pop-on. In other words, they turn off randomly while trying to dim.
  4. Dead travel is when your LED responds to only particular commands. That’s a sign that there’s an issue with the wiring somewhere.

All of these issues can be fixed by ensuring you have the proper dimmable LED lights installed at the proper voltage. Don’t try to push your dimmer’s voltage capacity – it’s dangerous.

Lutron (Maestro) Dimmers

Now, these are the fancy, modern dimmers. They replace the entire switch, allowing you to change colour, light intensity, and more. They’re more complicated in terms of wiring and function, meaning there’s more that can go wrong with them if installed improperly.

If you notice that your new Lutron dimmer isn’t working properly, it’s likely that the wiring was installed poorly somewhere along the line. Because these dimmers are not only complicated but pricey, it’s important that you have a professional (well-rated) electrician install them.

If, however, it’s been installed and working properly for a while, there’s one more thing to look for. This goes double for if you’ve not replaced a bulb recently, either.

Check your breaker box. You could have a) a blown fuse that needs replacement, or b) a tripped breaker. If this is the issue and you find yourself replacing fuses left and right, or constantly flipping breakers, it’s a sign you need to find another place for your dimmer – it’s too much for that circuit to handle safely.

Final Thoughts

If your light dimmer isn’t working, there are a few things to keep an eye out for. First and foremost – ensure your light bulbs (LED or not) are compatible with dimmers; some bulbs simply can’t be dimmed. Second, check your breaker to ensure it’s not flipped or burnt a fuse. Finally, ensure that your dimmer isn’t getting voltage higher than its max rating.

And if you notice a physically hot dimmer, loose or frayed wiring, or a sudden increase in tripped breakers, call an electrician.

These are all signs of more serious issues that can not only be difficult to fix, but life-threatening. There is no sense in putting off issues with wiring in your home – that’s how homes burn down. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. Do not delay fixing wiring issues in your home. It can literally be the difference between life and death, and no bill is so high that it’s worth risking that.

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About the Author Harry Thompson

Involved in home renovations throughout his life, Harry is an expert in everything to do with home and garden DIY. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking and tending to his garden.