Troubleshooting Tips for Your Doorbell

Troubleshooting a doorbell using a multimeter testing tool

Troubleshooting Tips for Your Doorbell

Tips for Troubleshooting Your Wired Doorbell or Door Chime Problems

Doorbells as such are extremely durable and sturdy devices. They rarely develop glitches or go kaput. A good quality doorbell can very well last for 10 to 15 years without developing even a minute fault. However, even the best of electrical devices can fail at times and the doorbell is no exception.

A doorbell that doesn’t ring? Spare a thought for the embarrassment. A visitor walks up to your door and rings the doorbell only to realize that it doesn’t ring. Not to mention the fact that you will no longer know when a new visitor turns up at your door unless you have one of those large door knockers. A doorbell that keeps ringing continually? Now that’s a real bummer.

There is no reason that you have to settle with such a situation when you can easily troubleshoot and repair your doorbell. Wait Einstein, before you grab those screwdrivers and set out to repair it, there are a few things that you would like to know.

Points to remember

  • The doorbell is one of the simplest electronic devices that have ever been created. The circuitry is extremely simple but there are four different components that make it function. You need to identify the source of the glitch and then proceed accordingly.
  • Troubleshooting is eliminating one step at a time in a precise and organized manner. The steps can vary from very easy to advanced. It all depends on your expertise with electrical devices and the kind of tools that you have with you. Do not attempt anything that you are uncomfortable with.
  • You will need basic tools like screwdrivers, clamps and needle nose pliers. There are some other optional tools as well like a voltmeter, a continuity tester.
  • Doorbells are low voltage electrical devices and you can troubleshoot them without shutting off the main electric supply or circuit breaker. However, if you are going to test the transformer (a component of the doorbell circuit that converts 110V electricity to 10 or 12 Volts), then it is recommended that you switch off the power before you begin.  The irony of the situation though is that you need to have the power switched on to test most components. So you will have to keep switching it off and on after each step. Always respect electricity and you will avoid any unpleasant incidents.

 Troubleshooting Wired Doorbells

Wired doorbells typically contain four components which include the push button which we press to ring the bell, the main doorbell or chime unit, the transformer ad the wires that connect them all together. Now let’s locate the source of all the trouble.

Symptom 1: A doorbell that doesn’t ring.

What does this mean? Is there no sound at all when you push the button? It’s not playing your favorite doorbell sound?  Ask one of your family members or friends to stand near the unit and listen to it carefully when you push the button. If they hear a buzzing sound then it means that the unit is trying to make the sound but is unable to do it either due to lack of voltage or due to some other mechanical problem within it. On the other hand, if there is no sound whatsoever, then it means that the unit has failed.

Step 1: Let’s begin with the push button. The first step is to remove it. Doorbells are usually connected with more than one button in large homes. If you have more than one button, then remove them all. Most buttons are mounted on the door frame with two screws and removing these screws should allow you to push it away from the door frame. Now, you will see two wires that are connected at the back of the push button. Are the connections secure? If either one of the two is loosely connected or disconnected, then this might be the source of the trouble. Reconnect them and test the doorbell again. Does it work? Yes? Give yourself a pat on the back and go and treat yourself to a cold beer. No? No sweat. Time to go to step 2.

Step 2: Turn off the power if you still haven’t done it and disconnect one of the two wires. (In case of multiple buttons, disconnect one wire from all of them) Now touch the bare end of the wire to the bare end of the other wire. This process is called shorting the wire. If the bell rings, then the problem lies with the button. It needs to be replaced. In case of multiple buttons, replacing all of them is recommended but if you are smart and on a budget, then you would replace one of them and retest the system to see if it works. Replacing push buttons is extremely easy. You can buy one at any hardware store, attach the wires and mount them on the door-frame. But, what If the bell doesn’t ring when you touch the bare ends of the wires? Then it is time to move ahead. Reinstall the push buttons and move on to the chime unit.

Step 3: Now we head to more complicated territory and let me advice you that if you are uncomfortable handling wires and circuitry but have managed to pull on so far, then this is probably the right time to call the electrician for the steps ahead require a detailed understanding of the circuitry and the ability to connect, disconnect, test and probably even replace wires. So are you all set? The first step is to remove the cover. Most people might think that this is extremely simple but it isn’t. There are several different types of doorbell models and as many covers. Some require you to lift it up before pulling the cover out there are others which can be pulled straight out. Some are held to the unit with prongs and you will have to depress them before removing the cover. Go gentle with decorative covers as you have the risk of damaging them forever. Once you remove the cover, conduct a visual inspection for any signs of a loose connection or a disconnected wire. If you spot any, then tighten it or reconnect it.

Now, there might be two, three or more wires and terminal units within the doorbell depending on the model or type of the chime unit. The wires are typically marked ‘F’ for front and ‘R’ for rear. Some are even marked with a ‘T’ for trans. Remove the wires for the front and the rear push buttons. Now, touch the F wire to the terminal F with the power on. If the bell rings, then you have a faulty wire.

You can repeat this test with the Rear wire as well. If both the tests fail, then you need to locate a set of twisted wires within the unit. There will be one wire that is connected to the transformer. Disconnect these wires and touch the wire that goes to the transformer to the terminal F. If the bell rings now, then either one of the push wires here is defective and needs replacement. You can always install a wireless doorbell in place. It is easy, fast and hassle free. If it still doesn’t ring, then it is time to check the transformer.

Step 4: The Transformer
There are several ways to test the doorbell transformer. But the most common method used is testing it using the Voltmeter. Set the Voltage range on the Voltmeter to 120 Volts AC. Now measure the voltage between the two terminals on the transformer. A properly functioning transformer will show a meter reading that matches the secondary voltage as marked on it. If the meter reading is higher, then it indicates that the transformer is faulty and needs replacement. On the other hand, if the reading is lower but close, then test again with a lower voltage range on the voltmeter. If it still doesn’t match, then it is time to replace the transformer completely.

You can buy a transformer at most electrical and hardware stores. However, ensure that you buy one of the same voltage and wattage. The electrical information is stamped on it and so are the instructions for installation. Ensure that you follow the instructions carefully to install your new transformer.

Final assessment

  • Always conduct a visual inspection of the circuit first. On more occasions than not, a loosely connected wire is the culprit and the problem can be solved easily.
  • Exposed wires (frayed insulation) are another important part of most faulty doorbell circuits. They need to be covered with electricians tape. At times, there might be corrosive build up on the wires. Clean them before reconnecting the wires.
  • Always clamp the wires together to prevent them from slipping into the siding or trim of a building.
  • If you are unable to conduct any of the above mentioned tests or find them too tedious, then you can always replace the chime unit and buy a new one. There are hundreds of new updated models that offer better sound quality, resonance and a whole new range of chimes.

Symptom 2: A constantly ringing doorbell
Now this one can be a real pain. A constantly ringing doorbell (not a wireless one) indicates a stuck button or wires to the button shorted together. Troubleshooting is easier than you think.
Step 1: The first step is to test the push button. As I mentioned earlier, the button is often the root to most doorbell problems. Disconnect the power to the transformer and remove the button from the doorframe. Now disconnect one of the two wires connected to it. Now turn the power back on. Does the bell still ring continually? If no, then the button is faulty and needs to be replaced. If yes, then the problem lies in the two wires that are connected here. Turn off the power again and inspect the wires for any signs of a short (frayed insulation). Bare wires rubbing together can often trigger this sort of unruly behavior from doorbells. If you can find the short, then cover it with electricians tape. If you can’t, then replace the wires completely.

Troubleshooting wireless doorbells

Wireless doorbells are extremely popular because of their flexibility and the ease of use. They are extremely easy to install and use. However, at times, they can exhibit strange behavior, especially the low priced ones that have flooded the market now. No reason for you to break sweat yet. You can troubleshoot the wireless doorbell easily and restore it to its previous working condition. However, in some extreme cases, the entire unit might need replacement.

Symptom 1: The chime doesn’t sound
Step1: When the chime doesn’t sound, the first and most obvious thing to check in a wireless doorbell unit will be the batteries. Check the batteries in both the push button and the chime unit. Push buttons that have add on features like a flash light or a warm glow light can run out of juice very fast. Replace the batteries and check the unit again. If it works, then you can keep replacement batteries with you. You can also opt for a plug in unit as it saves you from the hassle of frequent battery replacements. If it still doesn’t ring, then it is time to move on to step 2.

Step 2: Most regular wireless doorbell models have a frequency limit or 75 to 150 feet. This range is ideal for small homes. However, if you live in a large home, then there are chances that you might have accidentally installed the receiver beyond the maximum allowed frequency range. The best way to find this is to shift the receiver to a place that is closer to the doorbell button. Does the chime unit sound now? If yes, then you can permanently mount the receiver at the new location. At times, you need to try different locations for your receiver in order to find the spot that gives you maximum signal strength and clarity. The angle at which the receiver is installed can also affect the signal quality. Have you heard about long range wireless doorbell systems for your home? These systems have a range of up to 300 feet or more. You can also buy an ‘add on’ amplifier or extender for your doorbell system. If the doorbell doesn’t ring despite moving the receiver around, then let’s move to step 3.

Step 3: If you have installed the receiver within the frequency limits specified by the manufacturer and the chime unit still doesn’t sound, then the button might be experiencing interference from metal surfaces. Yes, the presence of metal frames or grills often reduces the transmission range in doorbell buttons. If you have mounted the doorbell button on a metal surface or close to it, then you can use wooden shims to separate it from the surface.

Step 4: If you have sweated it out this far but have been unable to locate the problem, then you might need to replace the doorbell unit. At times, people install the doorbell unit outside the home in extreme weather conditions that can disrupt its working or damage it completely. Ensure that you buy only the best quality wireless doorbells that last long and offer quality performance.

Symptom 2: A doorbell that rings randomly
This is an extremely common symptom in wireless doorbells. It occurs because of interference from other frequencies. Garage door alarms, car clickers, other wireless doorbells or similar devices can trigger off wireless doorbells. Imagine running down all the way from your study, only to find that the doorbell was triggered by the vacuum cleaner. Isn’t that frustrating? However, the best way to address this problem is to buy a higher end model that supports multiple wireless frequencies. Some popular wireless doorbell models have up to 32 different built in frequencies that block most external frequencies and save you a lot of unwanted trouble.
When dealing with any electrical devices, even low-voltage ones like doorbells, please make sure you take basic precautions such as disconnecting all power to the device.  If you do not have experience dealing with things like this, please call an electrician.

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