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How to Replace a Light Switch

Light Switch

Whenever a light switch fails, it’s usually easier to replace than repair. Before replacing it, consider the following safety rules:

• Never work on a live circuit, fixture, receptacle or switch.

• Shut off the power to the circuit you’re working on by flipping the circuit breaker to OFF. If the circuit has a fuse, turn off the main power supply. Then, remove the fuse that controls the circuit.

• Place tape over the main switch, circuit breaker or fuse socket and keep others away to avoid anyone’s turning on the electricity by mistake. The only tools you’ll need to replace a light switch are a pocket knife or wire stripper and a small bladed screwdriver.

Begin by unscrewing the face plate. Put the screws and face plate aside. Most home switches are either single pole or three way. Single pole light switches control a light or outlet from a single location and have two screws of the same color. Three way switches control a light or an outlet at two locations. They have two screws of the same color, usually brass colored or silver, and a common terminal screw, either copper colored or black.

With a three way switch, label the wire to the common terminal screw – black or copper colored. Unscrew all the wires and remove the old switch. Attach the labeled wire to the common terminal screw of the new switch, connect the other wires and tighten the screws.

The job is even easier if the wall switch is backwired. Backwired switches have slots that release the wires when the blade of a screwdriver is inserted into the release slot.

Once the wires are free, discard the old light switch. Strip the wires, using the gauge on the back of the replacement switch as a guide, and slip the stripped wires into the terminal holes in the back.

To replace an ordinary single pole light switch, unhook the wires and remove the old switch. Loop the stripped wire ends clockwise around the terminal screws on the replacement switch. Tighten the screws to tighten the connection.

Reattach the face plate and tighten those screws. Restore the power, flip the switch, and admire your handywork.

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