Expert advice from Bob Vila, the most trusted name in home improvement, home remodeling, home repair, and DIY.

Bob's Bloggers

A community of bloggers who live and die to DIY

lighting, diy

How To: Install a 3-Way Dimmer Switch

By House of Gold on Mar 13, 2014

We had a nice electrician man come to redo some lights for our kitchen.To be specific, we had a lovely fluorescent box hanging from the ceiling, and we wanted LED recessed lights instead. (They save on energy, don't look so hideous, etc etc.) Oh, and we wanted them on a dimmer. And just to make it one step more complicated, they're on a three-way switch. Which means there are two different switches that control the same set of lights.

At the same time, we had the electrician install wiring for a dishwasher and a garbage disposal, a hallway light, outlets in the bathroom, and an extra light in the bathroom. All that to say, he was busy at our house for a couple of days.

I went out and purchased the can lights - retrofit (meaning they were to be installed after the ceiling was finished) LED lights. The Electrician-Man purchased the dimmer switch. After about a day of use, the lights started flickering every single time they were turned on. It was mostly terrible to be in the kitchen with the lights flickering. I thought I was drunk every time I stepped in there. And we let it continue for about 6 months before I lost it. Yelling was involved. (At the lights.)

So here it is. How I saved my sanity.


I was planning a trip to Home Depot anyway, so I picked up a new dimmer switch while I was there. These puppies are not cheap (around $30), but this situation needed to be rectified. I bit the bullet and bought the dang thing. This time, I made sure the switch was specifically for LED lights and a 3-way switch. I had a sneaking suspicion that the existing dimmer was not made for LED lights.


**As with any project involving electricity, make sure you turn the breaker off. And just to be safe, I always test to see if a current is still traveling through with a voltage tester.**

So here's my biggest tip I can offer. Once you remove the faceplate, just barely pull the existing switch out of the wall. DO NOT ACTUALLY DISCONNECT IT. If you disconnect all the wires, you can plan on spending upwards of 2 hours trying to figure out which wire goes where. It's pure misery. Not like I'm speaking from experience, or anything. Okay, I am. cac2019a5d671e6c64921141b8efdb165bc9bf62

So first, disconnect the wires and reconnect them one at a time. And take note of where each of the wires come out of the switch. That's important, as far as circuitry goes. It was in this particular step that I discovered that my suspicions were correct. The dimmer that was installed was specified for incandescent or fluorescent lights... not LED-specific.


Once you get all the wires disconnected/ reconnected, shove them back in the hole and screw (or in this case, snap) your faceplate on. Bam! 15 minute project that saved my eyeballs from the constant flickering. And it's awesome.


blog comments powered by Disqus