Minor electrical repairs and improvement aren’t difficult . . . if you know how! Watch this video to find out how to work on home wiring safely, and see how to tackle five common electrical improvement and repair project around your home.
Electrical projects include:
- Install Dimmer Switch: How to replace a standard switch with a dimmer switch.
- Refinish Light Fixture: How to remove, clean, and paint an outdoor porch light fixture.
- Install Under Cabinet Lighting: See how to install battery powered LED lights under the kitchen cabinets in your home.
- Replace Ceiling Fan Switch: Learn how to replace the light switch on a paddle ceiling fan.
- Add Wireless Remote Control Lighting: Find out how easy it is to install wireless lighting to control multiple lamps in your home.
Read episode article to find out more.
- Dealing with Circuit Breakers and Fuses (article)
- DIY Electrical Toolkit Essentials (article)
- How to Replace an Electrical Wall Outlet (article)
- How to Replace a Wall Switch (article)
- How to Install a Dimmer Switch (video)
Danny Lipford: This week Today’s Homeowner is shedding a little light on, well, lighting. We’ll help you control it, color it, and improve it; but only if you stick around.
Mary Green: Here we go. Good job, Wade!
Danny Lipford: Lighting is a big part of our home. This week we’re helping homeowner, Mary Green with some simple lighting upgrades and minor repairs in the 1950s era home she shares with her son, Wade.
Mary Green: I love the house because it’s small, and it’s just enough for me and my little boy. Wade is my 5-year-old. At the age of two, he was diagnosed with autism.
Danny Lipford: Like many people with autism spectrum disorder, Wade is extremely sensitive to bright light.
Mary Green: He doesn’t like for the room to be totally dark. But now if it’s really bright, he’ll turn the light off.
Danny Lipford: So controlling the light in her home is very important to Mary.
Mary Green: I did buy a dimmer for the dining room. I didn’t put it in because I was afraid that I would get shocked. But now if I had someone to help me or show me how to do it, I think I could do it by myself.
Danny Lipford: So that dimmer for the dining room is where we start our list of things to do. Then, it’s on to the kitchen, and its glaring blue light.
Wow, what a difference, huh?
Mary Green: I know!
Danny Lipford: Because that type of lighting is so much more, you know, warm. And then you come in here, and, wow, it’s bright!
Mary Green: I know, I feel like I’m in the airport on the runway.
Danny Lipford: Well, also, so you got a couple of different colors of bulbs up in there.
Mary Green: Yeah. I would like to go with a warmer color. And I didn’t realize you had the warm and the cool.
Danny Lipford: I know it, I know it. We will, we’ll experiment with it little bit and put a couple of different bulbs up there and see what works for you.
Mary Green: Great. And guess what?
Danny Lipford: All right?
Mary Green: Got something else.
Danny Lipford: Oh, you have another thing on your list, all right.
Back in the master bedroom, Mary has a ceiling fan problem that’s all too common.
Mary Green: This light switch has not worked in about a year.
Danny Lipford: Oh, really? Because of the vibration of fans, a lot of times those wire nuts will come loose. So, it might be just one wire going back together. It may be, I mean worst case scenario, just this little switch right here. Wouldn’t that be easy if that’s all it is, you know, as simple as it is.
Mary Green: Yes.
Danny Lipford: Out on the front porch, Mary’s concern about the lighting is more about aesthetics than operation.
Mary Green: This light, I love.
Danny Lipford: Uh-huh.
Mary Green: It’s just rusted and yucky looking.
Danny Lipford: It is so easy to take this light down, if it works fine. Take it down, do a little sanding and painting. I think it’s a great job for Allen, he loves doing the refinishing of the fixtures like that.
Speaking of Allen, while I head to the store, he has some pointers on how to do these projects safely.
Allen Lyle: Any time you’re working on an electrical project, you want to play it safe; and it starts with knowing the basics.
Power coming to your house, whether it’s an underground or overhead like we have here, comes to your meter, from there to the main box.
Now, inside, you got your main breaker right here. It’s going to be the biggest one there, usually, and it may say “Main” on it. You turn this off, you’re fine. Everything in the house is off.
However, most people don’t want to turn the entire house off when you’re looking at just small projects, so from there you go to your sub panel. Now, a lot of times you’ll actually see this on the inside. Here we have it on the outside because this was a retrofit.
These breakers, you want to just find the right breaker. Hopefully the electrician has them marked, which the breakers will operate, but unfortunately that is not always helpful. I found that the case many times. So, you have to actually shut the breakers off one by one.
Now, when you’re working by yourself, that’s a little difficult. If you’ve got a power—let’s say you’re talking about a plug that you’re wanting to change out—that’s easy. Get a radio with the music on really loud, plug it into that one outlet and then start turning off your breakers. When the music goes off, you’ve found the right breaker.
In this case, we’ve got Danny and Mary inside working on a light fixture. You can’t put music in that. So the best thing on that, you just take your cell phone, give one of them a call in the inside, and flip those breakers off one by one until you find the right one, and they’ll let you know.
Danny Lipford: Now a quick trip to the home center to get this project started.
I’ll bet you had no idea that there were so many different types of dimmers that are available, and I’m not going to make the decision. I’m going to buy three different kinds and let Mary decide what’s best for her dining room.
Now, in her kitchen, the fluorescent fixture that she has on the ceiling seems like it has two different types of fluorescent tubes. So I bought two different types, and if we’re lucky, they’ll all blend in. Now I need to find that switch we need for the ceiling fan.
Hey, I was able to find a little replacement switch for the fan light. If this is all it takes to fix that fan, we’re in great shape.
Hey, you know another thing, Mary mentioned all these different lamps she had throughout her house. I thought she would appreciate a way to kind of control a lot of those lamps from one location. It’s a wireless remote control.
You can plug these into the outlets and then plug the lamp into them, and then with the remote control, control all of them, on and off. She’s going to love that.
Joe Truini: If you’ve ever mounted a power strip, you know the frustration of using keyhole slots. On the back of almost every power strip are these slots that hold the screws. But if the holes aren’t exactly in the right place, the screws won’t hold the power strip to the wall.
So here’s the trick. Take the power strip over to a copying machine and make a photocopy of the back of the power strip. Now you have a precise layout that shows exactly where you need to mark the screw holes. Isn’t that cool?
So, now we’re just going to take the photocopy. We’re going to mount this strip to the back of this desk. We’re going to take the photocopy and hold it in place. To mark this screw holes, you can use an awl, or in this case I’m just using a nail set.
And what you want to do is mark around the center of the round part right there. That one, there are three of them in this case. Usually there’s only two keyhole slots, we have three in this power strip. There you go.
Remove it, and there are the holes, precisely where you need to drive in the screws.
Danny Lipford: This week we’re tackling some simple lighting issues with homeowner Mary Green.
There were several different dimmers that were available.
And the first one is the addition of a dimmer switch to her dining room. So, you got the slide dimmer, some people like that. And then you have this one, that’s just the switch. It also has a little slide dimmer beside it.
Then this is the old traditional rotary dimmer that you, you know, you push and you turn. Whichever one you want, what do you think?
Mary Green: I think I want to try the slide dimmer.
Danny Lipford: Okay, all right. It also has a push button on the bottom so that you can turn it on and off, and that’s easy enough.
Once the power is off, we start by scoring around the switch plate with a razor knife. I’ve seen a lot of people take the plate off and pull it and just, pop. Then all of a sudden you have to break out your paintbrush.
Even though we have the breaker off, I always suggest treating it like it’s hot. Now look at there, it’s broken. Look at that, you see that? See how it’s broken in there?
Mary Green: Yeah.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, so this thing needed to be replaced anyway.
Mary Green: Holy cow!
Danny Lipford: Look at that.
This switch also had a third wire attached, and it isn’t a ground wire. Nonstandard arrangements like this are not uncommon in older houses. So it’s important to remember where each wire was connected and replicate that when you hook up the new switch or dimmer.
Now, the tricky part is, will we be able to get all of this to fit in this little bitty box.
After a little finagling, it all fits into the box, and we’re ready for the plate. See how nimble your fingers are with the little bitty screws. Okay, how confident are you?
Mary Green: I’m a little bit more confident.
Danny Lipford: Now to turn on the breaker and…
Mary Green: Oh, perfect!
Danny Lipford: That works perfect, I think it will be just right for you to be able to turn the light down just like you need when you and Wade are doing all the homework. So, next we’ll tackle the kitchen.
Mary recently replaced some of these tubes, and obviously the new ones just don’t match. So instead of buying four, you bought just the two that had burned out. Any idea whatsoever what you bought? Any idea of the kind that you bought in terms of type?
Mary Green: As a matter of fact, I happened to have kept the package.
Danny Lipford: Oh, really?
Mary Green: Yes!
Danny Lipford: How organized are you, then? There’s what we need right there, where it talks about the color temperature. This is 3000 Kelvin, which is the temperature of these bulbs. And I would guess those outside ones are a lot higher because the lower the number, the more, kind of, yellow or warm feel to the fluorescent bulbs.
So, if we match the color temperature of the new tubes, we can replace the older ones and warm up the look of the whole kitchen.
That should do it. Let’s turn the switch, see what it looks like. There we go, all right. All four lights on, a lot more balanced, huh?
Mary Green: Yes, much nicer.
Danny Lipford: Little warmer in here.
While we’ve been busy inside, Allen has turned off the breaker for that porch light, and removed it from the wall so he can start prepping it for paint.
Allen Lyle: We want to take this entire thing apart because it is so much easier to paint this without the glass in place. Otherwise you’re going to have to mask off all the glass. So, it’s a lot easier to just take everything apart.
With any paint job, preparation is key, and there’s a lot of ways you can do this. I know people who just take sandpaper and start sanding it down.
I do a three-part process. I like to clean it first, then sand it, then clean it again. I always use denatured alcohol because it evaporates fast.
But, instead of sandpaper—you can use sandpaper if you like—I just like using steel wool. And the reason why, when we talk about a light fixture, you look at all the contours on this, the curves, the little grooves. It’s hard to get sandpaper down in there, so I get double-aught, that’s two zero, double-aught steel wool, and use that to rough it up.
The reason you’re roughing it up is that you want a surface that your paint can bond to.
Danny Lipford: While Allen continues prepping and masking the porch fixture for paint, Mary and I are installing a pair of battery-powered LED under-cabinet lights in the kitchen.
These things are great for do-it-yourselfers because there’s no wiring to do, and the installation options are so flexible.
Danny Lipford: Go, go, go.
Mary Green: Whoa! How about that.
Danny Lipford: Yep, yep. All right, one more.
Mary Green: Okay.
Danny Lipford: Can you handle it?
Mary Green: I got this.
Danny Lipford: Okay. You did, you did it. It wasn’t me. I think this one may go up with adhesive.
Which is a big deal if you have very thin cabinets.
Well, I tell you, you did such a great job at installing these, you can install them all around the house.
Mary Green: I know!
It’s fantastic, that looks great.
Mary Green: It does look good. Hey, Wade.
Wade Green: What?
Mary Green: Look a there.
Danny Lipford: You can use it as a light saber, or a flashlight. What do you think? No, this is mine. This is mine.
Wade Green: I just want two of them.
Danny Lipford: Okay.
Jodi Marks: You know, recessed lighting is really cool. But you can get recessed lighting in a blink of an eye with this little fixture I’ve got right here. Now, this is a Commercial Electric LED disk light. And how does this work, you say?
Well, this is perfect if you already have an existing junction box, say, up in your ceiling. You could take the light fixture down, and this can be hardwired to that junction box and popped into place, and you have an instant recessed looking light.
The nice thing about this, too, is it’s got an LED light. Well, what does that mean? It’s not going to overheat, it’s energy efficient, and you get a nice, warm glow of an LED light that looks like an incandescent light.
Now, what if you already have recessed lighting in your house or in your kitchen, and let’s say you want to switch it out for an LED recessed light? Well, all you have to do is take this, right here, it’s a little adapter that comes in this kit. And you just pop it right into place, and it will clip right into your existing can.
Well, you know that existing cans operate on the old light bulb that you screw up into the socket. Well, this kit also comes with this little pigtail. And all you do is you screw it up into the can. And now all you have to do, you just connect this right here, and look how bright that light is.
Again, this is just a quick and easy way to get a recessed looking light in no time.
Mary Green: He’s hard at work, look at that sweat rolling down.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, good for him.
Homeowner Mary Green had some lighting challenges in her 60-year-old home, and we’ve been working hard to solve them, one by one.
Allen Lyle: Certainly this is the right time to remember how you took everything apart. Don’t want to get in the middle of it and say, “Oops!”
In essence we’ve got a brand new light fixture. And all it cost was about six dollars for a can of paint, a little bit of steel wool, denatured alcohol, and patience. Let’s go put this back up on the wall.
Danny Lipford: Next on the list is a broken light on the ceiling fan in Mary’s bedroom.
Mary Green: I pulled the chain, and nothing happened. Nothing came on. So, I thought, well surely not all four bulbs blew out at one time.
Danny Lipford: Yeah.
Mary Green: So I took one out and put a new one in and decided, well, it’s not the bulbs.
Danny Lipford: I see. Danny Lipford: Once the canopy is off, I could see that there are no loose wires. So I remove the wire nuts to see if there’s power below the switch.
To do this we have to turn the breaker back on temporarily and use a multimeter to check for voltage. There’s none there, so I remove the switch to check the wires coming into it from above.
What we want to see is something around 120 volts on that.
Mary Green: Okay.
Danny Lipford: How about that? You seeing something?
Mary Green: You’re right on it. Yeah.
Danny Lipford: So it is, it is hot. OK. So that means that we have power coming down, but the switch wouldn’t allow it to transfer to all of the bulbs, so that should be as simple as it is. Let me go cut the breaker back off, and I got the switch, so we’re good
Mary Green: Okay.
Danny Lipford: The new switch mounts in the housing just like the old one. One wire goes to the black hot wire coming from the fan, and the other connects to the black wires going to the light sockets.
Then we join all of the white, or common, wires together. Turn on the power, and we’re ready to test.
Mary Green: Yay, I have light!
Danny Lipford: Once we add the chain extension, tuck the wires into the canopy, and replace the cover, this ceiling fan is as good as new.
When you think about it, you know, a fan like this costs about a hundred dollars, and we were able to save it by simple buying a four dollar switch. Great when everything works out that way.
But basically, Mary, that’s the way almost all the projects that we do work out that way, it just works, no problem.
Mary Green: Oh, I know, I’m so happy.
Danny Lipford: My project was a success. Now let’s see how Allen is doing outside.
Mary Green: Hey, Allen.
Allen Lyle: What do you think?
Mary Green: Oh, is that the same one?
Allen Lyle: Isn’t that amazing how just a little bit of paint can make a difference like that?
Mary Green: I can’t believe it’s the same one, it’s beautiful.
Allen Lyle: OK.
Mary Green: Man, that thing looks brand new.
Allen Lyle: If I could just change Danny Lipford that easily.
Danny Lipford: So, what do you think about the light fixture, huh?
Mary Green: Oh, I love it. It’s wonderful, looks brand new.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, kind of amazing what a little bit of paint will do to a fixture like that.
Mary Green: I know.
Danny Lipford: That’s good. Hey, you know when we got here this morning, I noticed that you were scurrying around this room turning on all of the lamps. And of course you’ve got a lot of lamps around here.
Mary Green: Yeah.
Danny Lipford: And it made me think of something when I was at the home center that you might like. This is a remote control for interior lighting that you can actually use the remote control to control these lights. Come on, let me show it to you.
Mary Green: Oh, yeah!
Danny Lipford: So you see, you see how it will work, so you have five in here.
Mary Green: Yeah.
Danny Lipford: So, here’s how it works. You take one of these modules, plug it into the wall. Then you plug the lamp into the module, and then you take the remote control to control the different ones.
And this has three different zones. So what we’ll do is we’ll plug one in, and then I have this to convert it to the two lamps.
Mary Green: Oh, great!
Danny Lipford: So we’ll put these two on one button, these two on one, and then this one over here on another. What do you think about that?
Mary Green: Oh, that’s going to save me so much walking.
Danny Lipford: That’ll save you at least a mile a week right there.
Mary Green: Exactly.
Danny Lipford: The beauty of this system is that it’s as simple as plugging in a lamp.
Mary Green: Oh!
Danny Lipford: It works like a charm, so all we have to do is plug in two more modules and three more lamps…
Mary Green: Oh, there it is!
Danny Lipford: …project complete.
So, it’s that simple. One, two and three. And I’ll bet Wade will enjoy playing with this a little bit, too. These lights will be going on and off, I bet.
Mary Green: Oh, yeah. He’ll have a blast with that. And it will also help him overcome his fear of the dark.
Danny Lipford: I see.
Mary Green: You know, going and coming in and being in a dark room.
Danny Lipford: And also, even in his bedroom, to have this right by his bed to turn on the lamp, that’s pretty good. And I bet Allen has one by his bed, because he’s scared of the dark, too.
Danny Lipford: Steven has this question, “Our landscape lights have stopped working. What’s the problem?”
Usually when homeowners are having trouble with landscape lighting, the first thing you think about is a burned out bulb. But the bulbs in these things last a long, long time. Usually the problem: either a connection or moisture or both.
So, the first thing you want to check on is where this fixture connects to your main line, which will be slightly underground or sometimes just under the mulch. Make sure there is no corrosion on it, make sure it’s nice and tight. Then encase it with silicon caulk to really keep it nice and dry.
Then you’ll want to take the bulb out very carefully, and look for any corrosion where the bulb contacts are. You may need to use an emery board or a little bit of sandpaper to sand any corrosion off. Then spray it with a little contact cleaner to really keep it clean for a long, long time.
Do a few little maintenance things like this, landscape lights will last forever.
This week we’ve solved some problems, added some convenience, and made things a little brighter for Mary and Wade. I hope we’ve done the same for you.
Allen Lyle: Oh, yeah, I like this style dimmer a lot better than the rotary one.
Danny Lipford: Oh, yeah. No doubt about it. And you know the thing that I liked about doing these kind of electrical projects. Of course, it’s a lot of fun, but also the only tools you need fit in one pack. And then, of course, you know, a ladder there as well. Usually we’ll have tools stretched out all over the house. But did we take a little bit of mystery out of electricity for you?
Mary Green: Oh, absolutely, this has been so much fun. I have thoroughly enjoyed it, I’ve learned a lot.
Danny Lipford: Well, good. That’s great.
Mary Green: Thank you so much, guys. Oh, and Allen?
Allen Lyle: Mmm-hmm? Oh, a new toy. Yeah! I heard you all did this.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, that will keep him occupied for a little while. You know, the most important thing that you need to know when you’re doing anything electrically around your house is to make sure you turn the power off. Then take your tester and make sure that it is off, so that everybody’s nice and safe.
And I hope you enjoyed this week’s show, and we’ll be back next week, right here on Today’s Homeowner. I’m Danny Lipford. It’s not working, is it?
Allen Lyle: It didn’t work at all. Works on the lights.
Mary Green: Refund.
Danny Lipford: I’m Danny. Oh, you’re not Wade?
Voice of Darth Vader: You don’t know the power of the Dark Side.