How To Install or Replace a Light Switch

By HomeAdvisor

Updated February 28, 2017

Since not everyone feels comfortable working with electricity, use this guide to help you decide whether you should DIY or hire a guy.

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Materials Required:

  • New Light Switch
  • Voltage Tester
  • Flat Tip Screwdriver
  • Access to the Housebreaker

You don’t have to be an electrician to replace a light switch. You just have to remember the first step: make sure the power is off.

Steps for Replacing a Light Switch

    1. Turn off the power by locating your housebreaker and shutting the power off to the room you will be working in.
    2. Remove the old light switch cover using a flat tip screwdriver.
    3. Use a voltage tester to double check that there is no power going to the light switch before you start work. If you hear a beep when you place the tester on the wire, go back to the breaker and make sure the power is turned off.
    4. Once the power is off, pull the switch out using a screwdriver.
    5. There will be two visible wires that will need to be disconnected from the old switch. Do this by loosening the screws on the side of the switch.

Note: In a newer home, a third wire will be coiled around a blue screw on the original switch. This wire is the ground wire, and it will need to be reattached to the new switch. In an older home, the ground wire will not be available to reconnect. *Call an electrician if you are unsure about the wires.

  1. Attach the wires to the new light switch by tightening the screws.
  2. Ensure there is a tight connection, and place the light switch back into the wall.
  3. Secure the cover plate.
  4. Turn the electricity back on and test the new switch.

HomeAdvisor Tip:

If you live in an older home, it’s best to call a professional to work on the electricity.

Installing or replacing a wall plate with a new, decorative one is an inexpensive method to add a little design flair to any room in your home. While you don’t have to be an electrician, it is helpful to understand the type of switches available, tools you will need and parts of a switch before you attempt to do the job yourself.

Types of Switches

Switches allow power to flow by opening and closing electrical circuits. At one time, they were rather simplistic. Newer models provide a broad range of features, such as a delayed fade and the capability to remember a variety of preset settings. All that said, the four basic types of switches are:

  • Single-pole light switches. The most common type turns lights or appliances on by flipping the switch up. Flipping it down breaks the circuit, turning lights or receptacles off.
  • Double-pole switch. The double-pole switch also has on and off positions and operates by turning anything on and off from one area. However, double-pole switches are often used for receptacles and appliances requiring 240-volt circuits.
  • Three-way switches. The three-way switch is regularly used in pairs and allows you to turn a light or receptacle on and off from two separate places. These switches have no on or off markings because they vary with use. You cannot use any other variety of switches for a three-way application, and they must be used in pairs.
  • Four-way switches. The four-way switch is utilized in between two three-way switches to control a light fixture or outlet from three distinct places. The four-way switch resembles a double-pole switch, but it does not have any on or off markings.

Each of these basic types may have additional features including dimmer controls, illumination, occupancy sensors, timers, motion sensing, and water and security protection.

Tools and Materials Needed

There are very few components you can replace for less than a dollar, but that’s about all a single-pole switch costs. Besides purchasing the switch, here are the materials and tools you will need:

  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Wire stripper
  • Slotted screwdriver
  • Electrical tape
  • Long nose pliers
  • Voltage tester

The installation only takes about 10 minutes. With only a few particular tools, you can manage the job even if you’ve never done basic electrical work.

Parts of a Light Switch

Understanding the three basic components of the light switch is helpful before you tackle this project.

  • Switch and plate. The switch and plate are the parts that everyone deals with on a daily basis. The plate acts as the artistic barrier, covering the hole in the wall. The switch is the actual device you shift up and down and controls whether the lights are on or off.
  • Wires. These elements are visible after removing the plate. These wires handle transmission to the terminal to turn the light on or off based on the position of the switch. The amount of wires depends on the placement of the switch and if it is in the center or on the end of a circuit.
  • Terminals. The terminals produce a direction for the wires, as managed by the position of the switch. It sends an electrical signal to the circuitry and then to the light source or appliance. Loose connections to the terminal result in defects and electrical failures. The terminal frequently features a plastic device that can be turned by tying down the wires to ensure they are held securely together.

How To Install a Light Switch

To prepare:

  • Snap a photo showing how the electrical wires are attached to the current switch before you disassemble them to assist with installing and connecting the new switch.
  • Use tools with rubber handles and wear rubber-soled shoes to remain safe through the installation.
  • Identify the fuse or circuit breaker connected to the switch, and if your home operates on fuses, be sure to remove it from the fuse box before proceeding.


  1. Turn off the power. Remove the wall plate. Use the voltage tester to verify the power is safely shut off. Put a note on the electrical panel warning others not to turn the power back on.
  2. Remove and inspect the switch and wires. Remove mounting screws and gently extract the switch from the wall box. Examine the wiring. A broken or loose wire might be the reason the switch isn’t working correctly. Remove wires from the switch and tidy the exposed copper. If the wires are connected in the back, cut the wire as close as possible to the device and discard all damaged wire.
  3. Prepare the wires for connecting to the switch. Remove insulation so three-quarters inch of the copper conductor is showing. Using long nose pliers, bend the ends of each wire into a hook, ensuring that the hook is compact enough to fit around the terminal screw.
  4. Connect the wires to the new switch. Unscrew each of the terminal screws on the new switch until they become too difficult to twist. Attach the black wire to a brass screw terminal by looping the wire in a clockwise direction. Connect the white wire to the other brass screw terminal by wrapping the wire in a clockwise direction. Join the copper ground wire to the green ground screw by looping the wire in a clockwise direction. Using long nose pliers, squeeze the wire ends tightly around each screw and tighten the screw terminals.
  5. Wrap the body of the switch with electrical tape. Covering all bare wires and terminals with electrical tape ensures safety.
  6. Place switch in the wall box. Gently bend the wires and push the switch into the wall box. Tighten the mounting screws to secure the switch to the wall box.
  7. Cover with a switch plate. Install the wall plate. Restore power and test the switch.

To ensure that frequently used switches last longer, purchase a spec-rated or commercial device. You can also save interruptions and time by reviewing the materials and tools you will need for your project and picking up everything you need in one trip to the store before you begin your project.


A single-pole switch regulates a light from one location. Installing or replacing a basic light switch is not a difficult project as long as you are prepared, follow all safety guidelines and have step-by-step instruction guidelines.

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