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Subject: Home Improvement: Dim Possibilities rss

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Kelsey Rinella
United States
Rochester
New York
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Presumably because he didn't like wasting bits, the previous owner of my house decided to wire my bathroom so that the two switches could put the light into three states rather than the usual two--never mind that they were at different entrances and therefore that the state of a switch on the far side could prevent you from being able to turn the lights all the way off (or to turn them on above "nightlight").

What I would like would be for both switches to be able to make the light all the way on or all the way off, and also for at least one of them to have a dimmer. Best of all would be if that switch used the dimmer exclusively (no additional buttons), so that stumbling into the bathroom in the dark would not require remembering to hit a different switch than muscle memory wants to push me toward, letting the discomfort from the brightness of the light remind me to stop making it brighter.

Is this possible?

P.S. I really wanted to work a pun on "Procrustean" and "Kuhrusty" in there somewhere, but it seemed awfully labored. I worked hard to make it fit my preconceived notion of where the humor ought to be, but I seem to have cut the funny off at the knees.
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George Kinney
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Bellefontaine
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Sure. If both switches already affect the lights, then there is a good chance they are three-way switches with three conductor (or a pair of two conductor) wire between them. Changing how the behave is just a matter of re-arranging how the hot and traveler wires are hooked up. I've seen three-way dimmers at Lowes, so you're good there.

Just google 'install three way switch' and there are oodles of pages covering them.
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Kelsey Rinella
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Rochester
New York
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Gecko23 wrote:
Sure. If both switches already affect the lights, then there is a good chance they are three-way switches with three conductor (or a pair of two conductor) wire between them. Changing how the behave is just a matter of re-arranging how the hot and traveler wires are hooked up. I've seen three-way dimmers at Lowes, so you're good there.

Just google 'install three way switch' and there are oodles of pages covering them.
Ah, but what these appear to do is allow one dimmer to have two controls: a button and a dimmer. The dimmer sets the brightness of the light if it is on, while the button turns it to that level or off. The other switch is apparently supposed to work exactly like the button on the dimmer. As a result, if you use the dimmer routinely to turn it on and off, when it is off the buttons don't do anything.

It's possible this is not the way it's supposed to work, and that I've both misread the instructions on my three-way switch and that the oddity of my predecessor's wiring choices happens to conform to my mistaken mental model. The way he had it, if both switches were down, the lights were off. If one was up and the other down, the main light was on, while if both were up, only the nightlight was on. This was not good, but it didn't get bad enough to be worth replacing until one of the switches (apparently) started to fail, such that it became possible to push it down enough to turn off the light, but not down enough to count as down for the purposes of the other switch. This left the other switch unable to do anything to turn the light all the way on, which sucked.

I swooped in with my grand plan to replace the failing switch with a dimmer. Now the dimmer does exactly the same bad thing the failing switch did, only worse because now it's my own stupid fault.
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David
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Simple multiway switching only allows for two states: on and off.

If you want to dim as well things get complicated. If I understand you correctly then you've already realized that if you use the dimmer to shut off the lights then none of the other buttons will do anything.

I'm pretty sure there are some electronic solutions where you have one regulating box on the way to the light and one or more controls connected to that. Whether or not you'll find that at your DIY shop is another question.

You could solve this the traditional way if you find a dimmer that won't go all the way to off. Then you would always have at least some light when you turn it on.
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fightcitymayor
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speaking of dimmers...
FUN FACT:
Most CFL bulbs (the new twisty spiral kind we must all buy) are not dimmable!
You can get dimmable (more expensive) CFL bulbs, they will say "Dimmable" on the base next to the wattage.

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fightcitymayor wrote:
speaking of dimmers...
FUN FACT:
Most CFL bulbs (the new twisty spiral kind we must all buy) are not dimmable!
You can get dimmable (more expensive) CFL bulbs, they will say "Dimmable" on the base next to the wattage.

Hey, the CLF bulb in my computer room is dimmable! It's one of those that's supposed to be bright from the get go. It starts out perfectly bright, then goes annoyingly dim. Too bad it never gets bright again.
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Kelsey Rinella
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Rochester
New York
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fightcitymayor wrote:
speaking of dimmers...
FUN FACT:
Most CFL bulbs (the new twisty spiral kind we must all buy) are not dimmable!
You can get dimmable (more expensive) CFL bulbs, they will say "Dimmable" on the base next to the wattage.

You also have to get special dimmers, but they're easy to install. I think I'm just about ready to go all-LED with my future light purchases, anyway, but they have the same problem of needing a special dimmer.
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Kelsey Rinella
United States
Rochester
New York
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AHA (almost): the Lutron Maestro is designed to do exactly what I want. You set the light level with two small side buttons, and then tap once to go to that level or twice to go full on. Fully dimmable from two locations.

Or it would be if my predecessor in this home hadn't wired up the light "cleverly". So, in my particular case, it didn't work. But the dimmer part works fine, and I think it's close enough that I'm not going to mess with it further unless my electrical engineer brother-in-law expresses an interest the next time he visits.

But for anyone else looking for a dimmer which works from multiple locations and turns to dim first using the same control method normally used to turn it all the way on, the Maestro should work for you.
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