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How to Fix Electrical

You can do this! And we’re here to help.

Some homeowners can be intimidated by plumbing, and others by electrical. It’s important to know your own limits, but there’s so much you can do with some research and a few tips! We’re here to demystify, to teach, and to support you in learning home repairs as best we can. Plus, we’re here if you need to hire it out instead.

2,193+

Fixtures Installed

4.8/5

Average Stars

$10

Average Materials

14-129

Minutes

Total time: 14-39 minutes for most light fixtures. A little longer for ceiling fans and troubleshooting.

How to wire a light switch

Wiring a light switch can be really straightforward if you consider that they all work on the same principle: Power comes in through the hot wire, and the switch controls whether or not it continues past the switch to the fixture on the other side. Knowing how to change a light switch can make easy work out of updating old or unmatched switches in a home. Another pro tip: how to install a light switch and how to install a dimmer switch are the same thing with only one catch! When you install a dimmer switch, you want to make sure you use dimmable bulbs or else you’ll get a terrible buzzing noise.

Safety first: Don’t ever work on a live electrical circuit. Turn your light on, then shut off the corresponding breaker — you should see the light turn off when you do.

How to replace light switches:

Remove the cover plate, and use your non-contact tester to make sure there’s no power in the box. Then unscrew the old switch from the box. Use your non-contact tester once again now that you can reach a little further back in the box.

Using the old switch as a guide, move one wire at a time from the old switch onto the new one, making sure to keep the wire curled around the corresponding screw in a clockwise fashion. Once you’ve moved all the wires over to the new switch, wrap your new switch in electrical tape and screw it back into the box. Replace the cover plate, turn the breaker back on, and check your work! Now that you know how to wire a switch, we’ll take it one step further and talk about 3-way switches.

How to wire a 3-way switch

A “3-way switch” refers to two light switches that go to a single light. Each switch may be on opposite ends of a hallway, staircase, or room, to allow you to turn the light on and off from either location. If improperly configured, sometimes only one switch will work, or only if one of the switches is in a certain position. This creates the kind of puzzle we like at Fixer, but since not everyone is a fiend for electrical puzzles, we’ll show you how to wire a 3 way switch using a multimeter.

How does a 3 way switch work? Three way switches have a hot wire from the breaker on one switch and a load wire to the light on the other switch. Then they have two traveler wires that run between the switches. These travelers allow the power to flow through the circuit in a number of switch on/ off combinations. If a three way switch is miss-wired, it will take several steps to fix the circuit. Learning how to wire a 3 way switch can be frustrating, but with the following method we make the tools do all the work.

When the switch is wired properly, the hot wire will be connected to the black screw on one of the switches. So in order to figure out how to wire a three way switch, we first want to identify the hot wire from the breaker.

Safety first: Never work on a live electrical circuit. Turn the power off at the breaker, and use your non-contact voltage tester with gusto at every step.

Remove the cover plate, the switch, and the wires from the first switch. Do the same with the second switch, and then group all of the wires on this second switch together while you test for continuity.

Back at switch 1, with your multimeter on ‘continuity’ hold the left probe on one of the wires and touch the right probe to each of the other wires. Continue testing combinations until you find continuity, and then pair those two wires together temporarily. That 3rd wire is your common wire, so you can connect it to the black screw on your switch.

Repeat the continuity test on the second switch, and when you identify the 3rd wire connect that to the black screw. The other two wires can now be connected to the remaining two screws on the switch in any configuration.

Connect the remaining two wires on switch #1 to each of the screws on that switch, in any configuration. Wrap your switches with electrical tape, reinstall them into their respective junction boxes, add the cover plate, and you’re ready to test! If you’ve just learned how to hook up a 3 way switch on your own, it’s time to write home. You’ve just majorly upgraded your DIY status.

How to Install a GFCI Outlet

The first step in learning how to wire a gfci outlet (and most electrical projects) is to turn off your breaker. Use a non-contact voltage tester to ensure the outlet is off, then use it again when you have the faceplate off before unscrewing the old outlet.

How to install a GFCI outlet with just two wires:

Identify the hot and neutral wires on the old receptacle, and move them over to the new GFCI outlet where it’s labeled “LINE.” Similarly, if you’re looking for how to replace a gfci outlet with another gfci outlet, just move the wires one-by-one from the screws on the old outlet to their counterparts on the new outlet, noting the labels for “line” and “load.”

How to install a GFCI outlet with 4 wires:

The reason you’ve got 4 wires in this instance is that the receptacle you’re dealing with powers and protects more in its series. The wires you hook up to “LINE” come from the source, and the ones you hook up to “LOAD” carry the power through to the other outlets downstream.

You may now be a pro, ready to show off your knowledge of how to change a GFCI outlet, but we’re all guilty of this now and then: Don’t forget to hit the ‘Reset’ button!

How to change a light fixture

One of the easiest home upgrades you can do is to swap out old light fixtures. And if you know how to replace a light fixture yourself, you can save a lot of money doing it! We’ll tackle this in a few steps.

Safety first:

Turn your light on, and then turn off the corresponding breaker. You should see the light turn off when you’ve flipped the correct breaker. When you’re removing the fixture, use your non-contact tester to verify that all power is off as soon as you see wire, and as soon as you can reach the back of the box.

How to remove light fixture cover:

The first thing you need to do is to expose the mounting hardware, which is typically hidden behind a cover, shade, or cover plate. Look for small knobs or set screws and gently remove the decorative cover. If there aren’t any screws exposed, the shade may remove by twisting (and for extra fun, these can twist clockwise or counterclockwise, every light is different).

Now that you’ve exposed the light fixture mounting bracket, you can remove the fixture and unscrew the caps on the wires. If the fixture is especially heavy, it may help to uncap the wires first, or to have a friend hold the fixture while you perform the wire surgery. If your light fixture has no ground wire, don’t let it dangle from the ceiling from just the wires in the box.

How to install a light fixture:

Start by reading the instructions for your specific light fixture. Typically, you’ll need to install the new mounting bracket first, and then connect the ground wire. For heavier fixtures you should be able to relieve yourself from holding it while you wire it, by using the nipple provided.

How to wire a light fixture:

Connect the hot and neutral wires to the wires coming from the junction box, twisting them with a cap. Make sure that you tug on each wire to verify that they’re well connected, then wrap them with electrical tape. Tuck them into the box and you’re ready to finish assembling the rest of your fixture.

Now that you’re done wiring a light fixture, turn your breaker back on and test your switch. Congratulations, you now know how to install light fixtures!

Be prepared for your next fix! Get a new lesson in your inbox weekly:

How to remove a ceiling fan

A ceiling fan can start to wobble over the course of its life, but that’s no reason to replace it right away. Of course how to stop a ceiling fan from wobbling depends on what’s making it wobble in the first place:

How to Tighten a Ceiling Fan

With the power turned off, loosen the set screws on the canopy (the part against the ceiling) to reveal the mounting bracket. Although the ceiling fan should hang loosely in a cradle of sorts, make sure the bracket is securely attached to the junction box above it. Then go around and make sure each of the screws holding up the blades is tight; you may need to remove the light cover to access these. See how to remove a ceiling fan if you need help with this section.

If everything seems secure, then you can turn the power back on and move along to the next step:

How to Rebalance a Ceiling Fan

New fans usually come with a balancing kit; you can also purchase a ceiling fan balancing kit for a few dollars if you didn’t keep the original. The basics of how to fix a wobbly ceiling fan are to identify the troublesome blade and add weight in the proper spot to stabilize it. It takes some patience, but it’s not difficult.

Start by attaching the clip to the center of one of the blades. Turn the fan on the lowest setting and check for a wobble. Do this for each of the blades — you’re looking for the one with the least wobble. Once you identify the right blade, place the clip at the end of the blade, once again turn the fan on to the lowest speed, and check for balance. Move the clip in towards the center a few inches each test until you find the location without any movement; the center of that blade, at the distance from center where the clip is, is where you want to adhere your weight.

Bonus tips: How to Balance a Ceiling Fan Without a Kit (AKA How to Balance a Ceiling Fan With Coins)

You can use the same principles described above using coins as weights! It’s not preferred, because the wrong adhesive can turn that coin into a flying object — hey, we’ve all been there — but as long as you promise to secure your cash we won’t tell anyone where you hid it.

How to balance a ceiling fan

A ceiling fan can start to wobble over the course of its life, but that’s no reason to replace it right away. Of course how to stop a ceiling fan from wobbling depends on what’s making it wobble in the first place:

How to Tighten a Ceiling Fan

With the power turned off, loosen the set screws on the canopy (the part against the ceiling) to reveal the mounting bracket. Although the ceiling fan should hang loosely in a cradle of sorts, make sure the bracket is securely attached to the junction box above it. Then go around and make sure each of the screws holding up the blades is tight; you may need to remove the light cover to access these. See how to remove a ceiling fan if you need help with this section.

If everything seems secure, then you can turn the power back on and move along to the next step:

How to Rebalance a Ceiling Fan

New fans usually come with a balancing kit; you can also purchase a ceiling fan balancing kit for a few dollars if you didn’t keep the original. The basics of how to fix a wobbly ceiling fan are to identify the troublesome blade and add weight in the proper spot to stabilize it. It takes some patience, but it’s not difficult.

Start by attaching the clip to the center of one of the blades. Turn the fan on the lowest setting and check for a wobble. Do this for each of the blades — you’re looking for the one with the least wobble. Once you identify the right blade, place the clip at the end of the blade, once again turn the fan on to the lowest speed, and check for balance. Move the clip in towards the center a few inches each test until you find the location without any movement; the center of that blade, at the distance from center where the clip is, is where you want to adhere your weight.

Bonus tips: How to Balance a Ceiling Fan Without a Kit (AKA How to Balance a Ceiling Fan With Coins)

You can use the same principles described above using coins as weights! It’s not preferred, because the wrong adhesive can turn that coin into a flying object — hey, we’ve all been there — but as long as you promise to secure your cash we won’t tell anyone where you hid it.

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