Tools & Materials

  • Single-Pole Switch
  • Phillips® Tip Screwdriver
  • Standard Slotted-Tip Screwdriver
  • Work Light
  • Voltage Tester
  • Continuity Tester
  • Needle-Nose Pliers
  • Wire Strippers

Intro

Are your light switches old and dingy? Replacing a regular light switch with a decorative one can add some design flair to any room in your home. Watch this video to learn how to replace a single-pole light switch, as well as the basics on how to work with electricity safely.

Read Video Transcript

There’s no better way to understand how an electrical circuit works than to replace a single pole light switch, whether it’s positioned along or at the end of the circuit.

Today, I’m going to show you how to replace a single pole light switch, while also giving you a lesson in electrical safety. For information on how to replace a three or four way switch, see our list of Frequently Asked Questions specific to this video.

Before starting any electrical project, you need to know how to access your electrical service panel to turn off the electrical supply to the circuit you are working on to avoid getting shocked. It’s also extremely important to carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you have any doubts about performing any of these tasks, you should call a licensed electrician to do the work. But if you’re up for it, let’s get started.

Your project actually begins at the electrical supply panel, which is also commonly referred to as a breaker box or fuse box. You first need to find the breaker or fuse that shuts off the circuit that you will be working on. This might take a few trips back and forth to the room to double check, and it’s always handy to have some help for this step.

Once you’ve found the correct breaker, flip it to the off position. If you have a fuse box, unscrew and remove the fuse controlling the circuit you are working on. When you return to the room you’re working in, double check that the power is off by testing the light switch you’re replacing. Flip in on and off several times. If the light stays off, you’ve turned off the right circuit.

One handy tool that I am never without on an electrical project is this handy voltage tester. By holding it near the light switch and pressing the button, a blinking light and beeper signals if there is any live electrical current present. If it signals there is still electrical current present after you’ve turned the breaker off, you may have to turn power to the entire house off and proceed with a battery powered light or call an electrician.

Now that we have confirmed that there is no power running to the switch, it’s time to illuminate the work area. Since you’ll be working without a light, you’ll need an alternate light source like this halogen work light. Depending on whether or not the outlets in the room are on the same circuit as the light, you may need an extension cord to plug the work light into a different room.

Next, remove the old light switch. Start by taking off the switch plate by removing the two screws that secure it to the light switch. Then remove the two screws that hold the switch to the electrical box in the wall. Pull the switch out of the box. Now is a good time to carefully examine the way the existing switch is wired. This is called the wiring setup, and you want to duplicate it with the new switch, exactly. You may want to take a picture of it in case you need to refer to it later or you can mark the wires with colored tape. Now remove the old wires.

To install the new switch you first need to make sure it is oriented correctly. Check to make sure the word TOP is on top of the switch. Then reconnect the wires exactly how you disconnected them.

This particular light switch has both terminal screw connectors on the side as well as push wire holes in back. While it’s OK to use either of these connection points, most electricians prefer to use the terminal screws because it’s a more secure connection.

To connect the wires to the terminal screws, wrap a little more than ½ inch of the stripped wire clockwise around the terminal screws and tighten with a screwdriver. It helps to have a pair of needle nose pliers for this step to bend a loop on the end of the wire before placing it around the terminal screw. Simply connect the black wire to the brass screw and the neutral wire to the silver screw. Then connect the ground wire to the green screw on the opposite side of the switch.

Now, carefully push the switch back into the box and secure it with screws. Then replace the switch plate and turn the power back on to test.

With just a simple flip of the switch you’ll be basking in the light of knowing that you did it yourself, with a little help from your local independent home improvement retailer.

If you have questions about this or any other home improvement project, be sure to read our list of Frequently Asked Questions for this video. And be sure to print out our Project Instructions, which includes a Tools and Materials checklist, before visiting your local independent home improvement retailer. That’s where you’ll find all the products and helpful advice to complete your project. If you’re not sure where to find your local store, check out our Store Locator.

Good luck with your project and thanks for watching.

Read Video Transcript

Steps

  1. 1.turn off power

    Find the breaker or fuse that shuts off the circuit that you will be working on. Make sure it's in the off position.

  2. 2.flip light switch on and off

    Double check that the power is off by testing the light switch you’re replacing. Flip it on and off several times. If the light stays off, you’ve turned off the right circuit.

  3. 3.use voltage tester

    You can use a voltage tester near the light switch to check for an electric current.

  4. 4.take of switch plate

    Take off the switch plate by removing the two screws that secure it to the light switch. Use an alternative light source if you can't see what you're doing.

  5. 5.unscrew switch from wall

    Remove the screws holding the switch to the electrical box in the wall.

  6. 6.pull switch from wall

    Pull the switch out of the box. Remember the way the existing switch is wired. Take a picture or write down if needed.

  7. 7.remove the old wires

    Remove the old wires.

  8. 8.orient new switch

    Make sure the new switch is oriented properly before putting it in. The word "TOP" should tell you which end goes up.

  9. 9.reconnect wires

    Reconnect the wires. Wrap a little more than ½-inch of the stripped wire clockwise around the terminal screws and tighten with a screwdriver. Connect the black wire to the brass screw and the neutral wire to the silver screw. Connect the ground wire to the green screw on the opposite side of the switch.

  10. 10.place switch into wall

    Carefully push the switch back into the box and secure it with screws.

  11. 11.screw switch plate on

    Screw the switch plate back on.

  12. 12.test connection

    Turn the power back on and test the connection.

 

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