Our doorbell stopped working a while ago and my wife finally bugged me enough to fix it.

First, I found a diagram on another site when I googled this. It is wired like the right box:

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I started by measuring the voltage coming out of the transformer which is attached to a junction box in the basement. There is a small amount of power coming out of the transformer, which itself appears to be new relative to everything else in the house. Just to be sure, I turned off the breaker and checked the connections inside the junction box. Same results after.

The doorbell ringer is in the kitchen. When I take off the cover and measure the voltage it matches what I see in the basement. However, when I press either doorbell it does not ring: if I short circuit the screws for a doorbell using a wire, nothing happens: unless I am wrong this should make it ring since it is making a complete circuit and essentially removing the switch/button.

Two other possibly relevant pieces of information. First, one of the doorbell buttons is damaged, it is smashed beyond repair: I have to replace this anyway. Second, my wife swears this all started when my brother (an electrician) replaced the load center a while ago. Since the transformer is 30 feet from the load center and everything else on that circuit works fine, I am doubtful that is the cause. So these are probably red herrings but I have to tell my wife I tried.

My educated guess is that the doorbell unit itself is faulty and needs to be replaced.

My question is this: should I check anything else before spending the money to replace it?

UPDATE: I disconnected the wires from the transformer at the doorbell ringer. I connected it to an AC outlet using one of those adjustable wall-warts. It only goes up to 12V (transformer is 16V) but it rang when I shorted it to one of the switch wires. So I think this is the transformer.

Are these transformers fixable (I do hobby electronics and have rewired rooms in my house)? Or should I buy a new one?

UPDATE 2: I just learned there are two black wires coming out of the transformer, and one of them (does not matter which) needs to be wired to neutral. When this broke, I had replaced the ancient junction box the transformer was attached to with one twice as deep and added conduit to go to an outlet in that under-stairs closet. Everything else worked so I did not think much of it. I am still not sure why one of the wires would not be white since that would make sense, but oh well. I just wired it correctly and it works fine. I will accept BMitch's answer since it is close and helpful.

Also, the erratic results on my multimeter were likely due to both wires being hot. I knew something was not right but should have spent time figuring that out instead of looking elsewhere. Oh well, live and and learn. Thank you all for the feedback.

  • 1
    What voltage did you measure off the transformer?
    – BMitch
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 1:52
  • I was having a difficult time getting a read, my multimeter was jumping all over the place when connected. So I figured it was getting something.
    – user4302
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 1:55
  • 1
    Something doesn't mean it's usable, I'd try replacing that if you can't get a good reading. It may be shorting or failing.
    – BMitch
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 1:57
  • 3
    Doorbell transformers usually output AC. Be sure the meter is in the AC voltage mode. Commented May 20, 2013 at 2:06
  • 3
    It's not likely you'll be able to repair a transformer, unless you have a coil winding machine. You should be able to find a replacement for ~$15.00 at your local big box home improvement store.
    – Tester101
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 11:21

1 Answer 1


From the description of odd voltage readings, and the fact that you shorted the connection and still couldn't get the bell to ring, I'm guessing the transformer failed. It wouldn't be the door bell button or that wiring since you eliminated that with the shorting. And since you later tested with another power source and verified that the door bell chimes work, that's also eliminated as a possible failure. The only other thing except for the transformer it could be is the wiring from the transformer to your door bell chimes, but that can be a lot more difficult to repair, depending on how far apart the transformer and chimes are. You can double check the wiring by disconnecting it, shorting one side, and checking the ohm reading with your multi-meter on the other side.

You can pick one up relatively inexpensively from the home improvement store, so I'd start there. Make sure to turn the breaker off before touching anything that's connected to the house wiring, and always test the wires for voltage before touching them. I wouldn't bother with repairing the transformer, they're easy and cheap to replace, but hard to repair.

  • 1
    Please see my update to the question. There are two black and one green wire coming out of the transformer. One of the black wires should have been neutral: I wired both to hot. I found this out while removing the wire caps to remove the transformer. Wiring one of the blacks to neutral made it work. This was all my fault because over a year ago I replaced the junction box for another reason and did not wire it back the way I found it. I broke the cardinal rule of writing down how everything was wired to begin with before making my changes.
    – user4302
    Commented May 20, 2013 at 23:36
  • Surprisingly, I was unable to purchase a transformer from the big home improvement store with the orange logo, so you might want to check elsewhere.
    – virtualxtc
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 1:42
  • That is surprising. My local big orange store has over 30 in stock according to their website.
    – BMitch
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 1:47

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