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Hey, you're in the home improvement zone--YOUR HANDYMAN ZONE!

Electrical Category: Switches

Improvement Project:

How to install a typical light switch (single-pole toggle switch) in general.

Tools / Materials (See Below for Applicability):

  • Appropriate light switch (single-pole toggle switch)

  • Voltage meter

  • Screwdriver

  • Pliers



Your typical light switch (single-pole toggle switch) no longer works or is otherwise broken, and is in need of a replacement.  Installing a light switch replacement is not as complicated as it may seem.

Caution: When dealing with any device that requires electrical power, make sure you take precautions before you work on it, including disconnecting the power; in this light (pun intended), before disconnecting any old/existing light switch and replacing it with a new one, make sure you turn off the main power, specifically the power to the circuit of the light switch.  (Again, do not work on the light switch without first turning off the electrical power to it.)  Be sure to use a voltage meter to confirm that the power to the light switch has been turned off.

Replacing a light switch with a new one of the same type can be done in a few steps, and here's how:

  1. With the main power turned off, use a screwdriver to unscrew the screws of the light switch faceplate and then remove the faceplate, itself.

  1. Next, use the screwdriver to unscrew the two mounting screws that hold the light switch, itself, in place in the switch box, and then pull out the light switch just enough to remove the electrical wires attached to it.

  1. Now, remove the two black electrical wires that are attached to the existing light switch in your hands.  When working with light switches, remember that switches are always attached to hot/live (black) wires, and you'll always be working with such hot/live wires. (In rare cases, the previous installer may have used a white wire as a hot/live wire that should be noted as such with black electrical tape around it, so be cautious and careful.)  Because you'll be working with the hot/live (black) wires, you will always leave the neutral (white) and ground (bare or green) wires alone; you do not need to deal with the neutral and ground wires at all.

To disconnect the two black wires attached to the existing light switch, do the following: With a screwdriver, loosen the two brass terminal screws on the side of the light switch counterclockwise, and then undo the loop of each of the two black wires around the two loosened terminal screws in order to detach the black wires from the light switch.

  1. Now, as briefly indicated above, with the old light switch discarded, you'll need to attach the light switch replacement with the wires exactly as the wires were attached to the old light switch.

Attaching the wires to the light switch replacement is easy: Connect each of the two black wires to a brass terminal screw (there are two brass terminal screws, one for each black wire) of the light switch replacement, using a pair of pliers to wrap each wire clockwise around the proper screw terminal, and, after this wire looping, tightening each terminal screw (looped around with a wire already) clockwise with a screwdriver (but do not over-tighten).

Make sure that all wire connections to the light switch replacement are tight and secure, then tuck the over-extending wires (that are attached to this light switch) back into the switch box, carefully folding them into the box, in order to position the light switch replacement into the switch box so that it can be secured with the two mounting screws, using a screwdriver to properly screw in such screws.

  1. Reinstall the faceplate, screwing in the two screws to secure it against the light switch.

  2. Restore the electrical power.

  3. Flip on the switch of the light switch that you just installed to test that it works.

That's what it takes to replace a light switch with a new one of the same type.

Ed the Handyman


Your Handyman Zone Team


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