Replacing a Light Switch Yourself

NOTE: Replaceing a light switch or any part of your home that’s connected to the electrical system poses the potential for severe injury. We strongly recommend hiring a professional electrician to change a broken light switch but if you decide to do it yourself, here are the instructions.

If you find that your light switch fails to function, you should consider replacing it. Most of today’s switches have two screw terminals at each end of the switch as well as they may have holes in the back of the switch that accepts the end of a wire. Plug-in connections may be more opportune, they are less dependable than those with screw terminals, so we do not recommend using them!

Before changing your light switch or performing any other electrical repair in your home find and turn off the correct breaker that’s connected to the switch or device. This is the only way to ensure you will not get shocked. This will likely mean other devices in your home will not have power – alarm clocks and other devices may need to be reprogrammed. A Professional electrician with proper equipment can usually perform a light switch replacement without shutting off any breakers.

The screws are easily loosened at each end of the switch with a standard screwdriver; you may find that getting the wires out from of the back of the switch a bit tricky. In order to remove these wires, place the end of a small screwdriver into the slot under the hole into which the wire is inserted then push the screwdriver in while you are pulling the wire loose. By pushing the end of the screwdriver into the slot this enables the grip to be released in the wire that has been inserted.light-switch

 Descriptions of the wires and where they go:

  • The neutral (white) wire is connected to the silver screw, or you can place it threw the back wire hole that is on the same side of the switch as the silver screw.
  • The Hot (black) wire is connected to the brass screw or you can place it threw the hole in the back of the switch on the same side as the brass screw. Keep in mind that this wire also is red sometimes.
  • The ground (bare copper or green) wire, if the device has one sometimes they do not, attaches to the green screw terminal on the switch or to the electrical box.

Look to see if the switch has On and Off marked on its body and that it is the only switch that controls lights or receptacles, it is called a single-pole switch. In order to replace this kind of switch, follow these steps:

  1. First you will want to turn the power off to the switch that you are replacing at the fuse panel or maincircuit breaker.
  2. Unscrew and remove the switch plate; then by using a voltage tester make sure that the circuit does not have any power running to it.
  3. When you are certain that there is no power running to it – Unscrew the switch from the electrical box inside the wall and carefully pull the switch out keeping all the wires attached.

There may be two or three wires that are attached to the switch: an incoming hot wire (Black), a return wire, which carries the electricity to the switch and may also, be black, red, or any other color except green; and at times a grounding wire, which is bare copper or green. There may be other wires that are in the box, but you only want to deal with the wires that are connected directly to the switch.

If the switch is old you may also find a white wire that has black tape wrapped around it that is also connected to the switch. The black tape indicates that this white wire is being used as a colored or black wire within the switch leg, so it’s not neutral.

  1. Make sure to compare the new switch with the one that you are replacing in order to find the correspondinglocations for the electrical screw connectors.

Because you turned the power off, you can easily match up the connectors: Instead of disconnecting all the wires at one time and probably getting puzzled, unscrew and connect one wire at a time.

  1. Attach the first wire that you unscrewed to the same-colored screw on the new switch as it was on the old switch repeat with the second wire.

In order to connect a wire to its terminal, using a wire stripper, strip off about 1/2 inch of insulation, with long nose pliers- twist the end into a clockwise loop. The loop must be able wrap at least two-thirds but no more than three-quarters of the way around the terminal screw. Hook the wire clockwise around the screw so when you tighten the screw with a screwdriver, the clockwise force of the tightening screw makes the loop wrap tighter around the screw.

  1. Gently push the new, wired switch back into the electrical box and screw it in place.

Screw on the switch plate and turn on the power.

Posted in Local Electrician Blog

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