Dimmer Switch Not Working: Troubleshooting, Tips, & Lifespan

dimmer low lg

Nowadays, dimmers are widely used in CFLs, LEDs, halogens, and resistive incandescent lights to give you the atmosphere in your home you desire. However, there can be several issues that come along when using dimmers with these lights. 

A dimmer switch that is not working is often caused by a loss of power or a faulty dimmer. First, check to see if you have a tripped circuit breaker causing you to lose power in the room. Next, we need to check the dimmer. Dimmers operate at about 60°C (140°F), much warmer than standard switches. Dimmer switches typically last 15 years. However, a dimmer can fail due to age, repeated use, or loose wire connections that cause them to short circuit.

In this article, we will be listing down some of the commonly observed issues related to dimmer switches and provide you with some handy tips on how to overcome them.

How Long Do Dimmer Switches Last?

Dimmer switches can be a great way to save money and reduce the amount of electrical waste you produce. In addition, these devices are easy to install and extremely easy to maintain, as they do not require any special maintenance.

Dimmer switches can last 15 years or longer. Dimmers have built-in electrical components that control the power output required to soften or brighter a light. However, as the dimmer ages, you may start to hear a buzzing sound, a reduction in output, flickering, or a dimmer that is hot to touch. When these issues arise, it’s likely time to replace the dimmer.

The good news is that dimmer switches can last quite a long time. They are durable, as long as the dimmer itself is of high quality. Low-quality dimmer switches can start to burn out fairly quickly. Good-quality dimmer switches should last you many years. However, there isn’t a set time frame for how long dimmer switches will last. The main factor to how long your dimmer switches will last is how often it is used. 

All these factors, alongside instances such as voltage surges, can impact dimmer switches’ lifespan. However, modern-day dimmer switches are designed to be long-lasting and will surely provide value for money as a general rule. 

Do Dimmer Switches Wear Out?

As with almost every other electrical component, dimmer switches are not immune to wear out. Although these devices have come a long way since their invention, and there have been great innovative additions to dimmer switches, they still wear out and have to be replaced after a while. 

Usually, if the dimmer starts to wear out after being used for an extended time, that is quite normal. However, in certain instances, switches may become ineffective even if they haven’t been used for too long. There are many different reasons why this can occur, but the most common cause is if the voltage being supplied to the dimmer switch is more than the load the switch was designed to control. 

Voltage overload is a common mistake that users of dimmer switches can make, leading to their dimmers wearing out faster and losing their efficiency rather quickly. Another common reason as to why dimmers can start to wear out is power or voltage surges. For example, when a power surge occurs, the dimmer receives more power than it’s designed for, which can lead to significant damage to the device and cause it to wear out. 

How To Determine If Your Dimmer is Bad?

Although dimmers can be relatively easy to install and can last you a long time without needing much maintenance, there are still chances that your dimmer might be ineffective or even dangerous in some cases. 

The Dimmer Won’t Dim Lights

The inefficiency of dimmer switches comes from them not dimming the lights correctly, precisely what they are designed to do. In some cases, although, the fault might be our own rather than the dimmer itself. It is essential to ensure that the light that you use the dimmer switch with is dimmable. If the light and the dimmer are not compatible, the dimmer will be inefficient and will not dim the lights. It is essential to check that the type of light you have can be dimmed using the dimmer. 

However, if you’ve checked for compatibility and the dimmer’s installation was done correctly. However, the dimmer is still unable to dim the lights appropriately. It might be an indication that the dimmer switch itself is ineffective or faulty. In this case, your best bet would be to either get an electrician to take a look at possible faults in the switch or purchase a new dimmer switch altogether. 

Dimmer is Hot (loose wires)

Another area of concern when it comes to an understanding of whether or not your dimmer is bad or not is if the dimmer gets hot when in use. Dimmers operate at about 60°C (140°F) and will be warm to the touch. Some dimmers can operate at a maximum temperature of 90°C (195°F)

So, if the dimmer feels warm to the touch, that is not necessarily a problem. However, if the dimmer switch is hot, it can signify a fault within the dimmer’s installation and functioning. One of the primary reasons your dimmer might feel hot is if the receiving voltage is more than what it was designed for, which can be a big mistake made while installing the dimmer. 

Heat can significantly damage the switch itself. In addition, a hot dimmer switch can melt any plastic components and cause a bigger problem. Loose wires in the outlet that the dimmer switch is connected to can also cause the dimmer to get hot, which can be dangerous. Having loose wires behind your outlets can be extremely risky, leading to potentially hazardous situations such as fires. Thus, if you feel that the dimmer switch is very hot, be sure to check the wires connecting the outlet and replace any loose wires to be safe and secure. 

The Dimmer is Buzzing

A dimmer switch emitting a buzzing or humming sound when in use might signify something being wrong with the dimmer. While it is common to hear a slight buzz, a loud humming or buzz is an indication that something may be faulty with the dimmer.  

One of the main reasons behind this noise is the potential overloading of the dimmer. If the dimmer controls several lights, the voltage running through the dimmer may be more than it can handle, and that’s why it is producing the buzzing sound. The best way to fix this problem would be to take a few bulbs or lights out from the dimmer’s connection and see if it reduces the buzzing sound. But, again, the buzzing sound is usually quite normal and does not mean anything wrong with the dimmer itself. 

Dimmer Not Working After Bulb Replacement

Many issues can occur within dimmer switches. Sometimes you can hear a constant buzzing sound, sometimes the dimmer switch fails to dim the light down, and in some cases, the dimmer switch might even stop working after replacing the bulb. One of the main reasons can be loose wiring. As mentioned before, loose wiring can be dangerous, and they are the main reason your lights flicker.

There is a high chance that these loose wires are the reason why your dimmers are not functioning. The best way to solve this would be to contact a licensed electrician in your area and get the wiring fixed. Subsequently, this may fix the dimmer switch not working issue as well. 

If your dimmer switch fails to work even after fixing the loose wiring, replacing the dimmer would be your best bet. To replace the dimmer switch, make sure there is no power running through the socket you’re working on. Do this by turning the power supply off at the mains. Now, unscrew the screws and take off the plate. Next, slightly pull out the dimmer in such a way that you can see the wires. 

Using a screwdriver, disconnect the wires and connect the new dimmer’s wires to the same wires to connect the previous dimmer. To ensure that the wires aren’t loose, slightly pull the wires and check. Now, put the wires back in and turn the simmer switch on by screwing it back in. 

Lastly, turn on the power supply and test your dimmer switch. Do this by adjusting the brightness. If there is no constant buzzing sound, flickering lights, the lights not dimming, then your dimmer switch is good to go! 

LED Compatibility Issues

LED lights are quite popular nowadays due to their energy-efficient nature, their long life span, and the way they enhance your room’s entire ambiance. However, some challenges can occur that come with LED lights. 

When it comes to the compatibility between LED, controls, and drivers, it can be unclear, and these things are often not considered when buying LED lights. Not all LEDs are the same. The dimming range of any LED depends entirely on the driver. In some cases, the dimming range of the LED products is not specified. In these cases, it’s always smart to contact the manufacturer and obtain the necessary information to avoid issues such as: 

  • Flickering: When your LEDs begin to pulse when paired with dimmers rapidly. 
  • Flashing: When your lights rapidly turn on and off when connected to a dimmer switch.
  • Strobing: When your LED’s rhythmically flash at less frequent rates.
  • Drop-out: This occurs when you’re trying to dim the lights down, and they suddenly cut out before you reach the lowest power on the switch. 
  • Pop-on: This occurs when your LED’s turn on at a very bright level suddenly when you’re trying to increase the light levels. 
  • Dead Travel: In this symptom, your LEDs fail to respond to specific sorts of adjustments you’re making on the dimmer switch. 

Specific dimmers have specific life spans, which means that there is always a range for dimmers that should not be exceeded. Doing so will not only result in poor performance but also reduce the life spans of your dimmers. 

Hence, it is pretty essential to take into regard the technicalities of LEDs. To avoid compatibility issues, always remember that not all LEDs are dimmable. At the same time, not all controls work with dimmable LEDs. Moreover, make sure you’re going for the best product in the market that is well tested and proven. 

Lutron Dimmer Not Working

The Lutron dimmer, also known as the Lutron Maestro, is an advanced dimmer switch that allows you to adjust your lights to various intensities and functions. Replacing your standard On/Off switch, the Lutron dimmer enables you to toggle between multiple brightness settings and also allows you to program the system. 

Regardless of Lutron dimmers’ high quality, you might find yourself in a position where the dimmer stops working. However, if your dimmer is relatively new, there is a high chance that the problem does not exist with the dimmer itself. Instead, the main reason why your Lutron dimmer might have stopped working is a wiring error. 

If the wiring behind your Lutron dimmer is not done according to the company’s instructions, it can lead to the dimmers stopping working. Generally, there is no doubt that faulty wiring can lead to many issues in the long run. Hence, it is best to ensure that the wiring behind your electrical outlets, especially a dimmer switch, is done by a good electrician. 

Another reason your Lutron dimmer may suddenly stop working is a lack of power supply from the breaker panel. Sometimes the breaker can trip and cut off the power supplied to all the outlets under that breaker. Therefore, if your dimmer stops working without any other reason, take a look at the breaker panel and check if it has tripped or has been turned off. 

Dimmer Switch Not Dimming All The Way?

As the name suggests, the primary purpose of a dimmer switch is to reduce your light’s brightness and make the room seem dark than it would have been without the dimmer. However, sometimes you might feel that the dimmer does not reduce the light brightness all that much, and even at the lowest setting, the bulb shines quite brightly. 

One of the most apparent reasons for dimmer switches not being able to dim all the way is the lack of compatibility between the dimmer and bulb you have used. There are dimmable bulbs and non-dimmable bulbs; if you were to use a non-dimmable bulb with a dimmer switch, it wouldn’t work out at all. However, even when using a bulb that claims to be dimmable, there is still a chance that your dimmer might not be compatible with it, leading to the dimmer being ineffective and not dimming the light all the way. 

Another primary reason you might feel that the dimmer cannot dim the lights too much is that either the dimmer or the bulb itself can’t go down very low. Some dimmers are not made to dim the lights down, and you cannot dim some bulbs after a certain level. This does not mean that either of the components is faulty; it just means they were not designed to be dimmed down. So we recommend buying the right kind of light bulbs and the right kind of dimmers for your needs and requirements. 

Dimmer Switch Still Not Working?

If, after troubleshooting, your dimmer is still not functioning correctly, it’s time to call in an electrician. For example, you could have a wiring issue within your light fixture or another issue that requires a professional’s expertise.


Hubert Miles | Licensed Home Inspector, CMI, CPI

Hubert Miles is a licensed home inspector (RBI# 2556) with more than two decades of experience in inspection and construction. Since 2008, he has been serving South Carolina through his company, Patriot Home Inspections LLC. As a Certified Master Inspector, Hubert is dedicated to providing his expertise in home inspections, repairs, maintenance, and DIY projects.