Help me diagnose my problematic dimmer switches
June 2, 2010 10:04 PM   Subscribe

YANME – You are not my electrician – Help me diagnose a problem with my new dimmer switches.

The electrician installed two dimmer switches for lights in the same room - two recessed lights on one switch, one chandelier on the other. The switches are next to each other on the wall (Lutron 1-way 600W switches, if relevant) and are the only switches controlling those lights.

The problem: The chandelier can only be dimmed if the recessed lights are on. The recessed lights can be dimmed regardless of whether the chandelier is on. What went wrong? How is it fixed?
posted by cecic to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Do they both turn on/off independently? Is it just the dimming function that's affected?

What happens when you try to dim the chandelier without the recessed stuff on? Does it just snap on and off? Or does it stay on?
posted by Netzapper at 10:24 PM on June 2, 2010

Sounds like your electrician wired the circuits in series rather than parallel. A good (different?) electrician can probably fix the problem in about fifteen minutes.
posted by leafwoman at 10:25 PM on June 2, 2010

On second thought, can the chandelier be turned on when the others are off? I think i missed some info there.
posted by leafwoman at 10:26 PM on June 2, 2010

I get the feeling that your 'electrician' was not really an electrician but just somebody you know.

A real electrician would have tested things to make sure they work.

I suspect things were miss wired. If you don't want to call your electrician back to remedy the botched job, what you could do is turn of the circuit breaker for those circuits, remove the covers, and and take a picture or draw a picture of how things are wired, and post it. Here is a diagram of how one dimmer should look.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:50 PM on June 2, 2010

Not exactly in series, I'd guess, but close to that.

The hot comes in directly to the recessed light switch, and your electrician jumpered the hot over to the chandelier switch from a terminal on the recessed light switch; the problem is, he jumpered from the wrong side of the power switch of the recessed light switch (putting them in series would have been jumpering to the hot of the chandelier switch from the wire returning from the recessed lights, rather than the wire after the switch but before it goes to the recessed lights dimmer module, as it probably is now).

If I'm right, switching the jumper over to the other side of the recessed lighting switch should fix the problem.
posted by jamjam at 11:15 PM on June 2, 2010

Netzapper: Yes, the lights turn on/off independently and just the dimming function is affected. When I try to dim the chandelier, it just stays on with no change in brightness.

MonkeySaltedNuts: No, they were "real" licensed electricians. I saw them dimming the lights (both had been turned on when I saw the dimming) and assumed it was working and it wasn't until later that I was playing with them and realized they didn't dim independently. Dumb consumer move on my part - I was rushing to another appointment.

Thanks all for the input everyone! I'll have them come back out and make it right. I know enough not to mess with electricity, but I have a deep seated need to know how things work and what's wrong when they don't.
posted by cecic at 11:31 PM on June 2, 2010

Thanks for giving me a best answer, but my answer is wrong.

I interpreted your original statement of the problem as meaning that the chandelier would not go on unless the recessed lighting was on (though actually that's not what you said).

Please let us know what exactly turns out to be the nature of the miswiring.
posted by jamjam at 12:55 AM on June 3, 2010

If you leave the chandelier's dimmer at full, does dimming the recessed lights change the intensity of the chandelier?
posted by Netzapper at 1:09 AM on June 3, 2010

If you leave the chandelier's dimmer at full, does dimming the recessed lights change the intensity of the chandelier?

No. When both lights are on, the dimmers each work as one would expect. The only effect one switch seems to have on the other is that both switches must be on for the chandelier dimming function to be responsive.

I'll repost with the answer once I get them to fix the problem. Thank you!
posted by cecic at 6:52 AM on June 3, 2010

Was there a resolution to the weird problem?
posted by Mitheral at 7:38 AM on June 17, 2010

Resolution: It's an unsatisfactory resolution to this problem, but I had the electricians come out again and after recreating the issue repeatedly the previous day over several hours, when the electricians came back out the following day they could not recreate it and neither could I. I can't explain it. And trust me, I felt like an idiot when they made the trip and I couldn't make it do it again. Sigh.
posted by cecic at 8:47 PM on July 3, 2010

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