How To Replace A Light Switch – Step By Step Guide

If you’re scared of inviting the electrician over for changing a light switch then read on to know how to replace a light switch.

In today’s times, the more the footfalls in our ‘home sweet home’, the deeper is the threat to its safety, especially in terms of upping the risk of getting infected with the wily virus. Moreover, with work from home becoming a regular feature, people are getting hung on to the DIY mode. Be it mundane chores like cooking and cleaning or more technical tasks like, say – painting the house, assembling a wooden storage unit, or even a minor electrical job, people are game to try doing these on their own, of course with the help of expert guidance provided by the internet!

Well, if your light switches have become old and grimy, or they don’t flip easily, or they aren’t functioning at all, or simply if you want to change the colour of the switch … you can do this on your own. Trust us; changing a light switch is a relatively straightforward job as you just need to ensure that the replacement switch is the same type as you had before. So let’s get going!

Two Basic Types of Light Switches

Two Basic Types of Switches
Two Basic Types of Switches

The most popular types of light switches are single-pole switches and Three-Way Switches /3-way switches

01. A Single-Pole Switches

A single-pole switch turns one or more lights on and off from one location.

02. A Three-Way Switches/ 3-Way Switches

A three-way switch allows you to turn lights off and on from two locations, i.e. in case a room has two access points, then you can turn the lights on as you enter and turn them off at the other side when you exit (and vice versa).

Confused? Wondering, how to figure out which category your switch falls under? Relax; there’s another way to tell whether a switch is a single-pole or three-way.

Once you’ve safely pulled the wires out of the housing box, you’ll observe brass screws (called terminals) and one green grounding screw on the sides of the switch. If the total count of terminals is three, it’s a single pole. If there’s a total of four terminals, then you have a three-way.

A good point to remember here is that your replacement switch needs to be rated (these ratings are written on the backside of the switch) for the same voltage and amperage as the old one.

Tools Needed for Changing a Light Switch

Tools Needed For Changing A Light Switch
Tools Needed For Changing A Light Switch

Followings tools needed for changing a light switch.

  • Masking tape (if required)
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Replacement switch
  • Screwdriver
  • Voltage tester
  • Wire cutters (if required)
  • Wire stripper (if required)
  • Zip-lock plastic bag (if required)
  • Pen (if required)

Duration of Task

Well, replacing a light switch doesn’t call for much heavy lifting so you can wrap it up in 15 minutes flat…excluding a trip to the store for the new switch.

The Process: How to Replace a Light Switch

Replacing A Light Switch
Replacing A Light Switch

After reading this process- how to change a light switch, you know how easy to deal with. But please go through each and every step carefully.

1. For the light switch replacement, first, switch off the power to the circuit that runs this switch. In case you intend to reuse the screws and the switch plate, then unscrew the latter and store it and the screws in the plastic bag.

2. Before start replacing a light switch, please deploy the voltage tester to check that the power is off.

3. Once you’re absolutely sure that the power is off then unscrew the switch from the housing box. Pull the switch towards you to facilitate reaching out to the wires more easily. Here, out of the track, I want to draw your attention to the crucial thing- the ‘wire’s quality. Yes, a good quality wire reduces your electricity consumption and is best for safety purposes. Wonder how! Then read Role of Good Quality Wires in Safety and Conservation on Energy.

4. In the case of 3-way switch wiring, connecting the wires in exactly the same way they were before is crucial. So, while wiring a light switch, be smart and mark which wire is going to which side of the switch by writing ‘left’ and ‘right’ on pieces of masking tape and wrap the tape around the proper wire. Don’t miss out on this step. For a wiring a single-pole switch, both the wires are hot and it doesn’t matter which is on the left or right.

5. Slacken the terminals on the sides of the old switch and then detach the wires with your fingers. In case your switch doesn’t have wires attached to the terminals on the side, then the connections were made using a push-in terminal at the back of the switch. If this is so, then use the screwdriver to open up the slots next to each hole in order to release the wires (or you may have to use wire cutters to cut them loose)

6. Post removing the old switch, check the back for the voltage and amperage ratings and purchase a replacement switch with those same numbers.

7. In case you cut the wires to remove them from the old switch, then go ahead and use the wire stripper to trim back the insulation. Remember to keep around half-inch of bare wire exposed, or your connections will fail. The best part about a wire stripper is that it has holes for different-sized wires, so –

  • Slip the wire into the hole that fits around it
  • Hold the wire firmly with one hand and press the handles of the stripper together with the other hand to penetrate the insulation
  • Then pull the stripper away from the wire to remove the insulation

Now, doesn’t that make your task smooth and quick?

8. The next step entails making use of the needle-nose pliers to bend each wire into a J-shaped half loop that will hook around the terminals. Connect the grounding wire (if there is one – it will be either bare or have green insulation) by hooking it around the green grounding terminal on the switch. Be warned that this task may need more than one trial as the wire is less malleable than you’d think. Once you’ve managed to get it into place, use the screwdriver to tighten the terminal down, squeezing the wire between the screw head and the switch.

9. Now install a light switch- in case you are wiring a single-pole switch, then hook the remaining two wires around the two terminals in any order (it doesn’t matter if it’s top or bottom). But, if it’s a 3-way switch wiring, then hook the wires around the terminals according to your masking-tape notes. Tighten all connections with the screwdriver.

10. After installing a light switch, ensuring that all the wires are connected, thrust the switch into place. The wires are a little taut and ornery, so it would be advisable to curve them back into the box.  Align the switch vertically, making sure ‘on’ is at the top and tighten the screws that hold the switch to the box.

11. Switch on the power at the main service panel. Then use the voltage tester to touch the terminals behind the light switch. If they aren’t receiving power, turn the main breaker off again and repeat your steps. In case you can’t figure out the problem, leave the power off and call an electrician. Otherwise, put the switch plate on, and you’re finished.

Important Cue

In case you find changing a light switch challenging to stuff all the wires back into the housing box, then use the butt end of the screwdriver to shove them in.

Now, tell us…isn’t replacing a light switch a cakewalk?

I hope this DIY guide solves your all doubt about how to replace a light switch… And, don’t forget to tell us your experience with this DIY task whenever you do it, and feel free to ask any queries in the comment box. But, wait, we do not end up here; before you take leave, you must visit Gharpedia Exclusive – DIY category, and here, you get very engrossing DIY blogs that will surely help with your household chores.

Author Bio

Huta Raval – An English Literature and Journalism Topper, Huta Raval has graduated from the L D Arts College, Ahmedabad. Post serving for 23 years in the NBFC and Public Library Sectors her desire for ‘writing the unwritten’ brought her to the creative field of content writing. Her clientele comprises of NGOs, Blogging Platforms, Newspapers, Academic Institutions, et al.

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