How To Repair Your Door Bell
Imagine this scenario: A very special friend just called to tell you that he had gone to a nearby market the afternoon before and purchased a bag-full of fresh groceries, a bouquet of incredibly fragrant flowers and a bottle of ten year old Cabernet. He went on to tell you how excited he had been about the thought of preparing a gourmet dinner especially for you, after which, he wanted you to be his guest at a swanky local theater to attend an award winning play. You were flabbergasted by his comments! You have no idea why he missed you — mainly because you spent the entire afternoon and evening at home watching television and waiting to hear from him. He mentioned that he had stood at the front door for over 15 minutes ringing your door bell – and there was no answer.
Suddenly you remembered that the doorbell wasn’t working and that you had intended to repair it several days before, but just hadn’t gotten around to it. How important is a doorbell. Not very important – until you need one.
Diagnosing any repair usually involves 1) knowing what could go wrong, and 2) making repairs in order of least expense or the most simple aspect to test (also, usually the least expensive item to test). You may be relieved to know that a doorbell system is low voltage – 10 to 24 volts – and is pretty safe to work on. In any event, we recommend that power be turned off before taking on any electrical project.
With a doorbell, there are 4 basic system components: 1) the button, 2) the chimes, 3) the transformer, 4) and the wire. Testing the button is easiest. First, remove the mounting screws. Next, use a screwdriver to loosen the terminal screws on the back so that the two wires can be removed. With the wires completely removed, touch them together. If the chimes sound the system is operational and the button will need to be replaced.
The second step involves testing the chimes. If you were an electrician you would own a volt meter which would make testing the system a breeze. Also, if you were an electrician you wouldn’t need to read this column to find out how to repair a door chime system. So, we will assume that you are not an electrician and that you do not have a voltmeter. We will also make the assumption that you are not “Mr. Money Pockets” and that you have no intention of purchasing a new set of doorbell chimes unit you are sure that you need to. Chimes are electrical devises that some stores will not allow you to return. So, don’t assume that you will be able to purchase new chimes to make the test and then return them if they are not needed.
By the way, if you have two sets of chimes on your system and both have stopped working, there is a very good chance that something else is wrong. Two chimes breaking at the same time is highly unlikely. On the other hand, if you have two sets of chimes and only one has stopped working it is very likely that the chimes that have stopped working are damaged. Swapping the chimes – each to the other location – will tell the tale.
If it is discovered that the good chime also works at the location where the other wasn’t working then it should be obvious that one new set of chimes is needed. If the good chimes don’t work at the bad location then the wiring is probably damaged or the transformer has burned out. More about that in a moment. If you only have one chime ask a neighbor if you can borrow theirs long enough to test your system. There is little or no chance that your neighbor’s chimes will be damaged in a test. However, if you drop their unit during transport or testing be prepared to purchase two sets of chimes – or get out of town before high noon. If your neighbor’s chime works where yours doesn’t, then yours needs replacement. If your neighbor’s chime doesn’t work when connected to your wiring then your chimes are probably OK and you wiring or transformer may be shot.
With the chimes and button tested the problem is narrowed down to either the wiring or the transformer. The transformer is normally located in the ceiling of a closet or in the garage. In some cases it is mounted in the attic, but this is rare. Purchasing and replacing the transformer is far less expensive than hiring an electrician, but it does mean working on the high voltage part of the electrical system. Two terminals on the transformer hold the wires that make up the chime circuit. There also are two wires (not terminals) that come out of the transformer which connect to the house electrical system – normally 110 volts. The nice thing is that – just like a light fixture — it doesn’t make any difference which way the wires are connected as long as the high voltage wires are connected to high voltage lines and light gauge wires are connected to the screw terminals. That’s right, this is a replacement that you can’t get backwards unless you are a real klutz. Unlike the chimes, we do not recommend that you borrow your neighbor’s transformer – keep fooling around with high voltage in your own back yard.
If the transformer has been replaced and the system still doesn’t work then there is probably a broken wire somewhere. If all of the wiring that is visible seems to be in good condition then most folks have done just about all that can be done to facilitate a repair short of calling in an electrician. To a died in the wool DIY’er we suggest an ohm or bell test and rewiring. For everyone else we suggest looking into a wireless system. Considering the cost of an electrician and the many hours that it can take the best technician to find a break in the wire and/or replace it, the average consumer is going to be dollars ahead with an easy to install wireless system. And, good luck!