What We're Working On: My Doorbell

Talking the talk and walking the walk… Do It Yourself staff chime in on their after-hours DIY.

Imagine this. It’s 2am on a foggy night. I’m deep asleep, warm in the covers. DING DONG! I jolt awake, the dog goes ballistic and the doorbell rings again. Get up, shuffle to the front door, peek through the peep hole, no one there. The ring of the bell has been replaced by an electric hum from the doorbell speaker. Moisture from the air invaded the faulty old wiring in the doorbell button and set the thing off.

In the light of day, it’s a pretty quick repair. At the home center there’s a whole aisle of doorbells, but all you need is the little button. It has two posts with screws on the bottom, like a tiny light socket, to attach the low voltage wiring. I choose one that lights up.

Back home I grab the only tool I need for this, a small flathead screwdriver, and shut off the breaker that runs the doorbell. Yes, it’s only low voltage, but I don’t want to get zapped… again. The faceplate of the button is held in place by two tiny screws. Unscrew them and the plate and button pull away from the wall, revealing a little hole in the wall and the old wiring. I can see that the back of the button is corroded, after maybe 50 years of exposure to the sea air—the house is about a mile from the Pacific.

The button easily pops out of the plate. Slide the plate up the wires, so they project through the hole in the plate. If you forget this, you can’t get the plate back on after the new button is wired.

Loosen the screws on the back of the old button and remove the wires. Wrap one wire around each of the posts on the new button and screw them down tight. Don’t worry about polarity or anything. It doesn’t matter. With the wires tightly secured, slide the plate up and push the new button so it sits in the hole. It should pop into place.

Now I gently push the wires back into the hole in the wall and cover them and the hole with the plate. Find the little screws and screw them back through the plate into the wall, just like the cover on a light switch. I flip the power back on. The button lights up and the doorbell now rings only when it should. The dog sleeps much better too.