Doorbell Repair – How to Fix a Broken Doorbell or Doorbell ButtonJason Warren
Dude…It’s Time to Fix Your Doorbell
Most doorbells are easy to figure out. But you’ve been too busy to take on the task of repairing your doorbell or doorbell button. Perhaps you’re just not sure how to get started, especially the somewhat complicated hardwired doorbell. You’ve got two realistic choices: 1) troubleshooting and fixing the unit – or 2) simply replacing it with an easy-to-install wireless decorative doorbell for your home or perhaps choosing a small and sleek wireless doorbell chime for your business.
With a new, wireless door chime, you can update your current doorbell with a new one that provides many different doorbell sound choices to fit your personality and your home’s decor and ambiance – or sounds to help you to brand your business. Or you can go for a manual or vintage doorbell.
For convenience and simple installation, consider battery operated wireless doorbells with your choice of designs and features.
The Sad Tale of the Broken Doorbell
In the current situation, with a broken unit, you’re probably frustrating the friends visiting your home and/or missing important customers for your business. Here’s the kind of thing that may be happening,
There’s a handy button to the right of the front door that beckons any visitor to push it hopefully, whether it’s working or not. So, your visitor pushes it. Just put yourself in the shoes of the person waiting at your door…
In a perfect scenario, when visiting someone’s home, you immediately hear the bell ringing inside of the residence as soon as you press the button. You take a step back waiting for the door to be opened. Sometimes a person appears in the doorway, opening it to welcome you. But, too often no one appears, so you approach the doorbell button once more and press it – slightly firmer than the first time. You may even hold the faulty doorbell button down for an extended period of time. If you’ve had a really bad day, most likely you ring the bell 2-3 times in rapid succession – because YOU NEED this door to be opened, but still – nothing.
Are you pressing the right button? Is it disconnected? Perhaps the volume is too low?
You start banging on the doorbell at this point, pressing it hard, multiple times (okay let’s be honest, you press it like it’s connected to your oxygen tank and you need to press it to breathe). You press that doorbell with your elbow and you might even kick it, but nothing happens.
FINALLY you start banging on the door as if you’re being chased by that crazy guy from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and you NEED TO BE LET IN NOW. At last, you start to hear some activity from within the dwelling !!!! finally….
Your friend answers the door and looks at you befuddled, wondering what all the crazy banging is about, and he lets you in.
Turns out his doorbell isn’t working. Maybe it got rained on one too many times? (You could suggest that your friend replace it with a weatherproof doorbell.) All bets are that your buddy knows his door chime isn’t working and if you ask, he will probably say it’s too hard to replace a hardwired doorbell. After reading this article, you’ll know all about doorbell repair – and you can tell him, because that’s what friends are for, “it’s time to fix your doorbell dude.”
Problems with a Hardwired Doorbell: Troubleshooting Guide for Your Door Chime Repair
When your standard wired unit is busted, your problem will be in one of 4 areas:
- The button itself (outdoors)
- The chime or bell that serves as a speaker, which should be emitting the sound of your chime (indoors – you may have more than one)
- The doorbell wiring (connecting all parts) OR
- The transformer (connects doorbell to your home’s wiring)
Safety note: Don’t do anything – other than multimeter testing – with the doorbell transformer without first cutting off power. If electrical work needs to be done, call in a licensed electrician due to shock or fire hazards if work is not done properly and to code.) To cut power, you must remove appropriate fuse, trip the correct circuit breaker, or throw main electrical switch to shut off all electricity in your home.
If you would rather not check all of your existing doorbell’s components to find the problem, and you have a big home or area to cover, consider a long range wireless doorbell.
If you are short on time or patience, you can avoid this repair task entirely – by purchasing a wireless doorbell. They are multi-functional, inexpensive, easy to install and come with a wide variety of sounds and features.
Got a Broken Doorbell? How to Fix a Hard Wired Doorbell
If you’re planning to fix your doorbell, here are the tools you will need:
- Multimeter circuit tester (purchase a basic meter for about $20 at hardware stores)
- Wire stripper
- Cotton swabs
- Flashlight (optional)
Test the existing doorbell button
- Remove any screws and the button housing/faceplate from your door casing.
- Unscrew the terminal screws on the back side of the button assembly. This will free the button from the wires that are connecting it to your house (there are usually 2 wires).
- Set the multimeter to “continuity.”
- Touch the meter’s probes to each of the terminal screws on the back of the button. Now press the button.
- If the meter’s needle does not move, the button is dead and you will need to install a new one.
- Put the housing, dead or alive, to the side for a moment.
Test the wires behind the doorbell
- Holding the insulated area of the wires, touch together the 2 wires now protruding from your doorframe.
- If the doorbell rings when wires touch/cross, go to “How to install a new doorbell button” or reattach your old one, if it passed the test.
- If you get no sound from your door chime when wires are crossed, go on to the next troubleshooting step.
Test the transformer that “steps down” your home’s higher voltage to the low voltage needed by the doorbell.
- Locate the doorbell transformer near your main electrical panel.
- Set the multimeter to “voltage”
- Touch multimeter probes to the screws where the doorbell’s (small gauge) wires are attached.
- If the meter reading is less than 16 volts, call an electrician to replace the transformer.
- If your meter reads about 16 volts – all is well – the transformer is not the problem.
Test the doorbell chime or speaker
Remove the cover from the bell. It may be a decorative door chime attached to a wall or a plain, functional door chime cover.
- Loosen the terminal screws (there will be 2 or more) in the chime assembly on the wall or baseboard.
- With the multimeter on “voltage” setting, touch the meter’s probes to the wires. If you hear a humming sound, try cleaning the inside of the chime with a cotton swab and even vacuuming it to get any dust out.
- Ask an assistant to push the button outside. If the multimeter shows current flowing but the chime doesn’t ring, replace it the chime.
- If there’s no current flowing, your wiring is faulty.
Look for a loose wiring connection
- If everything checks out ok so far, it’s time to test/look for a loose connection somewhere along the length of the bell wiring between transformer and wall chime or between chime and outdoor button.
- Trace along the bell wiring looking for loose terminal screws, wire disconnection or damage.
- If you don’t see anything wrong, check each segment of the wiring with your multimeter set to “continuity” as described below.
Test wiring circuit segments
- Disconnect the wires at the transformer, de-energizing the doorbell circuit.
- Then disconnect the transformer wiring at the wall chime, and twist them together.
- Go back to the transformer and touch the probes of the multi-meter tester to the bare ends of the wires. If the meter does not register, there’s a break in that section of wiring somewhere.
- If that segment is good, check the next segment.
- When you find the problem area, you can splice or rewire it with 18-gauge wire.
- If much of the wiring is under baseboards or inaccessible, run a new segment of doorbell wiring and basically ignore/bypass the old wiring segment.
Installing a New Hardwired Doorbell
How to install a new doorbell button (for hard-wired doorbells)
- Wrap the two wires sticking out of the doorframe around the terminal screws (either wire can attach to either screw) on the new button and tighten the screws.
- Fasten the new button assembly to your door frame, so that it’s ready to use.
How to install a new doorbell chime or speaker (for hard-wired doorbells)
- Before disconnecting any wires, label them with strips of masking tape: “F” for front door, “B” for the back doorbell and “T” for transformer.
- Attach each wire to the corresponding labeled terminal.
- Push the classic or fancy doorbell button outside to make sure the chime works – and put the cover on.
A doorbell is a very simple and sturdy household appliance. It will normally function tirelessly day in and day out, announcing all your guests from your childhood friends (or your children’s friends) to the dreaded door-to-door salesman.
But sometimes the doorbell stops working, which is usually due to a broken doorbell button. We’ll start by going through the diagnostic procedure for figuring out if your doorbell button is the problem, but if you’ve already isolated the button, skip down to How to Fix a Doorbell Button.
Is It the Doorbell Button?
Most of a doorbell system is very reliable. Wired systems can last for decades without having any problems. (Old crank doorbells were pretty reliable, too, but they’re so old now that most have quit working by now.) When the bell stops working, it’s usually the doorbell itself, which can become worn by constant use.
For a wired system, unscrew the unit from the wall. Typically, this just involves two screws. You might also have to cut away caulk or excess paint from around the doorbell.
If you have multiple doorbells detach them all. When you pull the doorbell away from the wall, you’ll see two wires connected to the back. First check to see that these wires are secure. If the unit is securely fastened to the wall, it’s unlikely one has come loose, but stranger things have happened. If you have more than one button wired to your doorbell, a loose wire at one of the buttons can stop both from functioning. Often, these are wired with a common ground, and neither doorbell will work if the common ground is disconnected at one of the buttons.
In a doorbell system, the button closes the circuit between these two wires, allowing electricity to travel through them and trigger the door chime. To test whether the button is the problem, disconnect one of the wires. You don’t have to turn the power off for this because, unlike most systems in your home, the power is stepped down by the doorbell to a safe 16 or even 12 volts (V) with very few amps. Even if you turn the power off, you also have to turn it back on for the next part: touch the bare end of one wire to the bare end of the other. If the chime sounds, it’s the button that’s the problem. If the chime doesn’t sound, it’s not the doorbell that’s the problem.
You don’t have to turn the power off for this because, unlike most systems in your home, the power is stepped down by the doorbell to a safe 16 or even 12 volts (V) with very few amps. Even if you turn the power off, you also have to turn it back on for the next part: touch the bare end of one wire to the bare end of the other. If the chime sounds, it’s the button that’s the problem. If the chime doesn’t sound, it’s not the doorbell that’s the problem.
If the chime doesn’t sound, it’s not the doorbell that’s the problem.
If you have multiple doorbell buttons wired to the same chime, make sure you disconnect only one wire at a time to avoid accidentally disconnecting the common ground.
You can also test the doorbell with a multimeter or ohmmeter. Basically, your doorbell is an open circuit that closes when you push the button. With your doorbell disconnected, touch your ohmmeter leads (or the leads of a multimeter set to resistance, marked “Ohm” or Ohm) to both the wire connections on the doorbell. Then push the button. Resistance should jump from infinity (no connection) to some small level of resistance. If it doesn’t the doorbell isn’t closing the circuit properly.
For a wireless doorbell button, there are two potential problems other than a broken doorbell button that might be causing the problem. If the button has never worked, it might not be coded properly. Look in the compartment on the back of the receiver and inside the button itself. You should see a series of metal pins, some of which have small black blocks on them. Make sure the configuration of these blocks matches in both places. If you think they’re right but it’s still not working, try turning one the other way and matching them up again–often the proper orientation for the code blocks isn’t clear.
If a wireless button used to work, but isn’t now, the problem is most likely the battery. If replacing the battery doesn’t make it work, then you have a broken button.
What about a Hot Button?
The button shouldn’t feel hot. If it does, chances are you have an incorrect button for your doorbell transformer. All doorbells have a transformer that steps down the voltage before it goes to the doorbell, but older models only stepped down the voltage from the 120 V line voltage to 24 V or 36 V. When a doorbell designed for the modern 16 V or 12 V is put on this old line, it can get hot.
Typically, you only feel the heat if the button has a light on it, but any time the voltage is mismatched between the doorbell button and the doorbell itself, it can damage the button, causing early failure.
To figure out the proper voltage for your doorbell button, take a multimeter and touch it to both wires. Read the voltage and get a doorbell that’s appropriate for the voltage of your system. Or, if you want to keep your current button (it is the most visible component of the whole system), you can just replace the entire doorbell with one that matches the button.
Whether it’s an old doorbell or a unique one that has a style you love, there are a few ways to fix a broken doorbell button.
If the part you depress is broken (the button proper in your doorbell button unit), you can often find an inexpensive replacement button that has a depressor the same size and shape. If you do, just replace the broken one with the whole one — make sure it’s the same on the back, too.
Most old doorbell buttons just have a simple mechanism inside. When the button is down, it pushes a circuit closed. This mechanical system is simple and resilient, but when it breaks, it can be hard to fix. You have to find something that will allow the contact to close the circuit when it’s depressed, and most of these components aren’t commonly sold, so you might have to make a piece for it.
Modern doorbells have a diode in the button. This allows voltage to continue traveling through the doorbell after the button is released, which allows the doorbell chime to continue until the tone is finished. You can replace the diode by unscrewing the screws holding the current one in place, putting a new one in, and replacing the screws.
It’s typically not possible to repair a wireless doorbell button, since they are often just a single printed circuit board.
Once you’ve gotten your doorbell button fixed, it will likely stay functional for a long time. And, if not, each time you fix it you will get a lot faster.
Don’t put up with that crazy friend banging on your door – and don’t miss an important visitor to your home or business. At 1800doorbell.com, we’re happy to help. You can also visit our doorbell FAQ page for more doorbell guidance. Contact us online or call us at 1-800-366-7235.