How to Replace a Doorbell

So your doorbell doesn't work. This is one of those home maintenance projects that is constantly being shoved to the back of the to-do list because there are usually much more pressing projects ahead of you. You can get this one off the list pretty quickly, though. With minimal investment and less than an hour, you can get your doorbell working properly again.

The easiest solution is to buy a wireless doorbell unit. Even if the old, broken unit is hardwired into place, you can easily replace it with a wireless unit. All you have to do is hang the bracket for the speaker to hang on, which is at the most two screws, and then mount the button outside of your house - again, two screws at the most.

One of the best features of wireless doorbells is that they can be programmed to give different sounds from different doors. Program it to ding once if someone rings the front, or twice if someone rings the back. This is just one of the handy features that makes the wireless option so attractive. Simply change the battery every six months when you change your smoke detector batteries and you never have any wiring or electrical work to do.

If you prefer to stick with the hard wired button that you already have mounted outside your house, then it's still a fairly easy job as far as electrical work goes. Here is a list of what you'll need before you get started:

  • Screwdriver: You will need this to take your old buzzer off and to install your new one.
  • Pliers: It will be easier to bend the wires around the connectors on the new buzzer with a small pair of pliers.
  • Wire stripper: If the ends of the wire are corroded or badly twisted, you may need to cut them away. The wire stripper will be needed in order to expose fresh wire.
  • New Buzzer: Your new buzzer should come with the correct screws to mount it. It's a good idea to make sure that your new buzzer is the same size as the old one so that the screw holes line up, and you aren't left with exposed holes in the woodwork outside your door. You will also want to note whether the buzzer is a surface mount or a flush mount. The flush mount buzzer actually sits inside a hole that has been mortised out of your woodwork so that the face is flush with the surface. A surface mounted buzzer sits on top of the woodwork.

Replacing the Doorbell

Begin by turning off the power. Most doorbells are wired at 12 volts, which is a minimal electrical flow. You probably wouldn't feel it even if you did touch the live wires. However, in very rare cases, the bell may be wired with a higher current than you expect, and it will hurt you. The best saying for electrical work is "better safe than dead." Always turn it off.

Next you will need to remove the old buzzer. This is easily done by removing the two screws that go through the face plate. Pull the buzzer away from the door jamb and turn it over. If the wires are attached with small screws, simply loosen them and remove the wires. If the wires are clipped into a slot, then just cut them free. You can use the wire strippers to expose a fresh portion of wire to install your new buzzer.

After the old buzzer has been successfully removed, you need to attach the wires to the new buzzer. If the ends of the wire are in good condition, simply connect them to the new one. If they are frayed, or if you had to cut them free, use the wire strippers to expose about 1/2" of clean wire, and then go ahead and connect them to the new buzzer. One of the things that makes this project so simple is that it doesn't even matter which wire goes to which connector on the buzzer. Use the screws that came with your new doorbell to attach the face plate to the door jamb and then turn the power back on.

If you decide that you want to replace the chimes that are inside the house, the process is basically the same as the exterior part of the job with one exception. With the wiring to the chime, it does matter which wire is connected to which post. Make sure you keep track of which color wire goes where when replacing the chime unit.

Now that your doorbell is up and working again, you can go back to work on your other projects. Scratch an easy one off that to-do list. It's an inexpensive and fast project that can be a great way to get comfortable with electrical work.

Brian Simkins is a freelance writer living in Chicago. He enjoys using his 14 years of home improvement experience to educate and equip new home owners.