Forum Thread

Changing a doorbell transformer...wireless doorbell?

YanksIn2009 3,110 773 September 9, 2015 at 12:34 AM
OK, my doorbell went bad and as luck would have it it is not the button or the chimes but the transformer that appears to be shot. Getting almost no voltage out of it. There is also no label in the panel for the circuit breaker that the transformer is connected to (I assume the builder's electrician never bothered) so I have no idea which breaker to turn off even if I wanted to try (I am an admitted coward with this sort of thing and want no part of potentially electrocuting myself lol). The way I see it, I have two options:


1. Pay an electrician to do it (anyone know how much that should cost?).

2. Replace the bell with a battery operated, wireless one (can anyone recommend a good\fairly inexpensive one?). Even better would be one with a wireless camera that you could tie into something like Blue Iris.

Thanks.

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#2
Quote from YanksIn2009 View Post :
OK, my doorbell went bad and as luck would have it it is not the button or the chimes but the transformer that appears to be shot. Getting almost no voltage out of it. There is also no label in the panel for the circuit breaker that the transformer is connected to (I assume the builder's electrician never bothered) so I have no idea which breaker to turn off even if I wanted to try (I am an admitted coward with this sort of thing and want no part of potentially electrocuting myself lol). The way I see it, I have two options:


1. Pay an electrician to do it (anyone know how much that should cost?).

2. Replace the bell with a battery operated, wireless one (can anyone recommend a good\fairly inexpensive one?). Even better would be one with a wireless camera that you could tie into something like Blue Iris.

Thanks.
If with some minimal precautions it's pretty safe to disconnect the wires from the low voltage (exposed) side of the transformer while the power is on. It's typically only around 16VAC. Disconnect one wire from the low voltage side of the transformer and check the transformer voltage again to make sure something connected to the transformer isn't the problem. Make sure your multi-meter is set to measure AC voltage. If you try to measure AC voltage with a meter set to DC you'll see close to 0 volts and it will fluctuate. I'm assuming you can physically locate the transformer. You could always post a pic of the transformer, your electrical panel, and multi-meter if in doubt.

It's probably tied into a nearby circuit, you could make some educated guesses or turn off power to the entire house. Turning off the power is necessary before you can replace the transformer, if that is indeed the problem. I've seen doorbells tied into the same circuit as the furnace most often (sometimes even controlled by the furnace shut off switch), but on older houses it can be quite hard to predict.

Wireless doorbells are all similar, as with most things just skim the manual before buying.

Most wireless cameras still require power. There are a couple that operate off batteries with significant limitations. There is a product that aims to replace your doorbell with a camera (again with some limitations not found on a typical ip cam) and uses power from your existing doorbell transformer: http://ring.com but I don't think I'd recommend it.
Another option is to run cat-5 to the door and connect an IP based intercom/camera like the dahua VTO6000CM
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Last edited by jkee September 9, 2015 at 01:50 AM
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#3
Quote from jkee View Post :
If with some minimal precautions it's pretty safe to disconnect the wires from the low voltage (exposed) side of the transformer while the power is on. It's typically only around 16VAC. Disconnect one wire from the low voltage side of the transformer and check the transformer voltage again to make sure something connected to the transformer isn't the problem. Make sure your multi-meter is set to measure AC voltage. If you try to measure AC voltage with a meter set to DC you'll see close to 0 volts and it will fluctuate. I'm assuming you can physically locate the transformer. You could always post a pic of the transformer, your electrical panel, and multi-meter if in doubt.

It's probably tied into a nearby circuit, you could make some educated guesses or turn off power to the entire house. Turning off the power is necessary before you can replace the transformer, if that is indeed the problem. I've seen doorbells tied into the same circuit as the furnace most often (sometimes even controlled by the furnace shut off switch), but on older houses it can be quite hard to predict.

Wireless doorbells are all similar, as with most things just skim the manual before buying.

Most wireless cameras still require power. There are a couple that operate off batteries with significant limitations. There is a product that aims to replace your doorbell with a camera (again with some limitations not found on a typical ip cam) and uses power from your existing doorbell transformer: http://ring.com but I don't think I'd recommend it.
Another option is to run cat-5 to the door and connect an IP based intercom/camera like the dahua VTO6000CM
Thanks. You were right on the multi-meter setting. Something still seems to be off though as the output is way too high (maybe I am not using the damn thing right on the settings or my meter is shot (it is very old)). And when I test the connection at the chimes, I still get nothing at all. Regardless, I changed the door bell and chimes with the exact same model I got from Home Depot (checked the ratings on the chimes and they match as well)...also made sure I marked the wires before changing the chimes. Still nothing so unless there is a break or short in the wiring in the walls, it has to be the transformer (or I managed to buy a defective unit from HD lol).

Not going anywhere near futzing with the breakers on the panel...I am a coward with that sort of thing and while I probably could figure it out, it is one of those things I want no part of since I admittedly am no expert in the area and it is not worth the risk in my mind.

Probably just going to try a wireless doorbell at this point. Seems like the easiest solution.
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#4
Quote from YanksIn2009 View Post :
Thanks. You were right on the multi-meter setting. Something still seems to be off though as the output is way too high (maybe I am not using the damn thing right on the settings or my meter is shot (it is very old)). And when I test the connection at the chimes, I still get nothing at all. Regardless, I changed the door bell and chimes with the exact same model I got from Home Depot (checked the ratings on the chimes and they match as well)...also made sure I marked the wires before changing the chimes. Still nothing so unless there is a break or short in the wiring in the walls, it has to be the transformer (or I managed to buy a defective unit from HD lol).

Not going anywhere near futzing with the breakers on the panel...I am a coward with that sort of thing and while I probably could figure it out, it is one of those things I want no part of since I admittedly am no expert in the area and it is not worth the risk in my mind.

Probably just going to try a wireless doorbell at this point. Seems like the easiest solution.
You can simply kill the mains, so there is no power anywhere, then replace the transformer...
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#5
Quote from fenderman View Post :
You can simply kill the mains, so there is no power anywhere, then replace the transformer...

I know...just do not want to futz with anything in the electrical panel anymore than I want to break out a long ladder and climb on the top of my roof to clean out the gutters or try to do home plumbing lol. Just asking for bad things to happen.
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#6
Quote from YanksIn2009 View Post :
Thanks. You were right on the multi-meter setting. Something still seems to be off though as the output is way too high (maybe I am not using the damn thing right on the settings or my meter is shot (it is very old)). And when I test the connection at the chimes, I still get nothing at all. Regardless, I changed the door bell and chimes with the exact same model I got from Home Depot (checked the ratings on the chimes and they match as well)...also made sure I marked the wires before changing the chimes. Still nothing so unless there is a break or short in the wiring in the walls, it has to be the transformer (or I managed to buy a defective unit from HD lol).

Not going anywhere near futzing with the breakers on the panel...I am a coward with that sort of thing and while I probably could figure it out, it is one of those things I want no part of since I admittedly am no expert in the area and it is not worth the risk in my mind.

Probably just going to try a wireless doorbell at this point. Seems like the easiest solution.
A lot of cheaper multi-meters aren't what's called a true RMS meter and there's some error in their measurements. Some doorbell transformers can be as high as 24-30 VAC, but 16-18VAC is the most common. Many newer doorbells can't handle higher voltages especially the electronic / digital ones.

It sounds like the transformer may not be the problem. What voltage did you measure at the transformer? I suspect you're very close to fixing it, stopping now is kind of like quitting a 5k run 1000' from the finish line.

Here's a link with a wiring diagram and some troubleshooting steps in paragraph form:
http://www.forteelectric.com/Doorbell.html
All doorbells are basically wired like this, but you'll often find the wires shown as continuous in the diagram are two different wires connected together with a wire nut. So it's a good idea to look for any splices/wire nuts/wires twisted together near/behind the chime and near the transformer. A simple test you can often try is simply switching the chime wiring from front to rear, sometimes the front solenoid is burnt out and the rear has never been used.

You should expect to measure no voltage at the chime unless someone is pressing / holding down the door bell button

Here are a few videos on troubleshooting / fixing doorbells, I'm including multiple because I couldn't find a single video that covered everything I thought it should in a sufficiently concise and accurate manner.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u889KeyyYM8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeQVVh6Nzo4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDwLN8_XS4Y
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAIsUQr6AS8

Quote from fenderman View Post :
You can simply kill the mains, so there is no power anywhere, then replace the transformer...
Agreed, it's pretty easy to turn off power to the entire house. Just turn off the larger breaker at the top in the center of the panel.
You should still know how to do this in the even of an emergency and shouldn't be afraid to do it.
Quote from YanksIn2009 View Post :
I know...just do not want to futz with anything in the electrical panel anymore than I want to break out a long ladder and climb on the top of my roof to clean out the gutters or try to do home plumbing lol. Just asking for bad things to happen.
You can often clean gutters without actually going up on the roof. Just use a leaf blower from the ladder or get a tool like this: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/...0RXBE7QH1N

If you have money to burn there's always the iRobot Looj http://www.irobot.com/For-the-Hom.../Looj.aspx
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Last edited by jkee September 10, 2015 at 12:03 AM
Joined Oct 2010
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3,110 Posts
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#7
Quote from jkee View Post :
A lot of cheaper multi-meters aren't what's called a true RMS meter and there's some error in their measurements. Some doorbell transformers can be as high as 24-30 VAC, but 16-18VAC is the most common. Many newer doorbells can't handle higher voltages especially the electronic / digital ones.

It sounds like the transformer may not be the problem. What voltage did you measure at the transformer? I suspect you're very close to fixing it, stopping now is kind of like quitting a 5k run 1000' from the finish line.

Here's a link with a wiring diagram and some troubleshooting steps in paragraph form:
http://www.forteelectric.com/Doorbell.html
All doorbells are basically wired like this, but you'll often find the wires shown as continuous in the diagram are two different wires connected together with a wire nut. So it's a good idea to look for any splices/wire nuts/wires twisted together near/behind the chime and near the transformer. A simple test you can often try is simply switching the chime wiring from front to rear, sometimes the front solenoid is burnt out and the rear has never been used.

You should expect to measure no voltage at the chime unless someone is pressing / holding down the door bell button

Here are a few videos on troubleshooting / fixing doorbells, I'm including multiple because I couldn't find a single video that covered everything I thought it should in a sufficiently concise and accurate manner.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u889KeyyYM8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeQVVh6Nzo4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDwLN8_XS4Y
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAIsUQr6AS8


Agreed, it's pretty easy to turn off power to the entire house. Just turn off the larger breaker at the top in the center of the panel.
You should still know how to do this in the even of an emergency and shouldn't be afraid to do it.

You can often clean gutters without actually going up on the roof. Just use a leaf blower from the ladder or get a tool like this: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/...0RXBE7QH1N

If you have money to burn there's always the iRobot Looj http://www.irobot.com/For-the-Hom.../Looj.aspx

Thanks so much. The last youtube video was extremely helpful. Specifically the part where it showed the systems of a burned out chime with a plunger frozen and how to get the doorbell to ring from the transformer by touching the white wire to one of the transformer contacts. Turns out the chime was bad\frozen and I believe the door bell button itself must have shorted originally also. Not exactly sure why when I originally replaced both before it did not fix the problem, but I did one at a time starting with the button and not both simultaneously. Probably should have left the new button on while replacing the chimes. When I touched the white wire to the transformer contact with the replacement chimes in place it rang, so I then knew the original chimes were bad and the transformer was good. Replaced the doorbell button and it all worked fine.
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Last edited by YanksIn2009 September 10, 2015 at 03:57 AM
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