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How to Wire a Light Switch

How to Wire a Light Switch
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Last Updated: 05 September 2019

Whether you’re going to upgrade or replace the light switch for aesthetic or functional reasons, it’s the most inexpensive and simple process you can do. But first, you need to know how to wire light switch in a minutes, without professional help. This article provides a comprehensive step-by-step guide about wiring a light switch, so let’s break it down.

Safety First

Before you plan to work on your light switch, there are some things that you need to keep in mind. First, turn off the electrical circuit in the area you are planning to work. You can do this by switching off the appropriate commutator on the circuit breaker. Remove the cover plate from the switch, but make sure that the circuit is dead. Use a voltage tester (the non-contact option) to probe the wires not only on the switch but also inside the box. If the tester does not beep or light up, you are good to go.

Now you can pull the switch out of the box by moving it forward. Continue using the detector to check for live wires inside the box. You have to remember that everything inside should be dead. If this is the case, then you can proceed. If not, this box has one more connection to a different circuit, so go and find another circuit breaker. This could be an expensive problem that you need to solve.

Get Started

When you are sure that the light switch wiring inside the box is entirely dead and nothing is abnormal, start loosening the terminal screw. There you can find a hooked wire located under the screw head. Remove the switch and then bend this wire and vacuum the dirt inside the box if needed.

Clip Wire and Strip

Examine the ends of the wire and look for nicked or rough spots. This is important because the cord swells and shrinks with every cycle during usage, and it can fail at these points. You need to remove this damaged part and then strip the wire carefully of about half an inch of the insulation to have a pristine cable.

Bend the Wire to Make a Hook

Using an electrician’s multi-tool, you need to insert the prepared wire into one of the holes. Bend the copper wire into a hook (see the light switch wiring diagram). If you don’t have the electrician’s tool, use a pair of pliers, preferably the needle-nose type. Use this to make a hook.

Attach the Wires

Carefully put the switch in a position that the lever is in upward when it is on. Its power cords should be attached to the terminal screws, the one in brass. The hook points should be situated clockwise. The grounding wire must be attached to the green screw just the same. The grounding-screw tab is sensitive, so you have to be careful. Grasp it with you needle-nose pliers while tightening the screw.

Installing the New Switch

If the new switch is located inside a box, you need to add extra protection. Although this is not required in the National Electrical Code, there is no harm in doing so. It is important, especially in old houses, because it also has crowded electrical boxes. You need to wrap electrical tape around the body of the switch after you have wired it. This way, you are protecting the live electrical terminals from its metal body. A new house has electrical boxes made of plastic, and the wires have plastic sheaths too, so no need to do this step.

Final Touch

After you have done the above steps, you can screw the switch box back and return the cover plate on the switch. Turn on the power by restoring the power on the circuit breaker. Try the new switch; if it is done correctly, it should work.

Top Tips When Wiring a Switch

Do Not Reverse the Neutral and Hot Wires

wire scheme

When connecting the wiring to the new switch, do not make a mistake of connecting the hot cable (black) to your neutral terminal or else you can get a lethal shock (check electrical wiring general information). Although the lights and the other plug-in devices will work, they are not safe.

You should only connect the white wires to the neutral terminal. You can identify this with a light-colored or silver screw. The hot cable should be connected to another terminal. If you see a green wire or uncovered copper wire somewhere, that is the ground. This should be connected to the grounding screw.

Do Not Cut the Wires Too Short

It will be challenging to connect things if you cut the wires too short. It will not only provide poor links, but it can be dangerous also. The cables should have at least three inches allowance from the box.

If you have short ones, they can easily be remedied. Just add another 6 inches of extension into the existing cord. Look for a special wire connector available in hardware stores for easier installation.

Make Sure the Power Is off

Whenever you are wiring a light switch or doing any electrical work, never assume that just because you have flicked the switch or turned off the circuit breaker, you don’t have to double-check. A non-contact voltage tester will be handy in checking all the wires in the box.

Use a Circuit-Finding Radio

In fixing the light switches, save the trip going upstairs by letting your favorite music find the right circuit breaker. You can do this by plugging a radio on the single pole switch wiring that you are working on. If the music dies, you are on the right breaker. But do not assume that all the light switches. Plug the radio in other outlets too. Some duplex outlets have different circuits running into the adjacent outlets. To be sure, test both with the radio.

Always Install a Three-Slot Outlet Without a Ground

If you have two-slot outlets, you may want to replace them with a three-slot one for your three-prong plugs. However, do not replace it without a ground. That is part of what you should take note of when thinking how to install light switch. Using the tester, you can see lights showing that the outlet is wired correctly. Once you found an ungrounded box with a three-slot outlet, replace them with a two-slot item.

Single Pole Light Switch Wiring

It is easy to wire single-pole light switches as it is the most common switch found at home. This type has two terminals and a ground screw. One of these terminals is for the wire for the power source. The other one is the switch leg that brings power to the fixture when the switch is turned on, while the ground screw is used for the circuit ground wire connection.

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