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Guide to Replacing a Single-Pole Light Switch

Black One-Toggle Wallplate

Most light switches in the average home are single-pole switches or those that control an outlet or light fixture--usually a ceiling fan--from a single location. Believe it or not, these switches, like the light bulbs they may flick on and off, actually have a certain life span. The wiring and other components of their electrical circuit may malfunction or even degrade over time. In the life of the average home, you may have to replace several of the single-pole switches within. You may even choose to find new, decorative light switch covers every time you replace the switch. 

Read on to learn how to replace these single-pole switches and where to find products like decorative light switch plates to finish off your replacement job in style.

About Single-Pole Switches

Single-pole switches often control the electrical units that you use the most, like the outlet behind a TV, the ceiling lights in every room, and the garbage disposal in your kitchen. After several years of overuse, these switches can degrade. They may fail to operate and can even be dangerous if you don’t replace them.

Here’s how to identify a switch that needs attention. Look for a light or outlet switch that feels loose, wiggles too easily rather than snapping up and down, or even makes noises like crackling when you operate it. These are clear signs that it’s time to replace the switch.

How It Works

Single-pole switches use a simple electrical mechanism to operate. A single-pole light switch opens and closes a hot wire circuit or the connection between your home’s electrical supply and the appliance or outlet connected to the switch. Flick it on, and it closes the circuit for a direct electrical connection. Flick it off, and it severs the link temporarily.

Because single-pole switches are so simple, replacing them is actually fairly easy. You may not even need to hire an electrician for the job. Just disconnect the previous switch and connect a new one to the two wires, or hot wires, that feed directly to it. Just be sure to connect them in the same configuration. Scrambling the wires or connecting them in the wrong order may cause the new switch to fail.

Replacement Steps

First, be sure to shut off the power to the area you’re servicing. Then, test the switch or outlet to ensure power is off. Screw off the wall switch cover plate and set aside or discard. For superior safety, use a non-contact circuit tester to identify any signs of electricity.

Next, remove the mounting screws that secure the switch to the electrical box behind it. Gently pull out to expose the wiring. Note that the wires that connect to each end of the switch should be labeled black. Use a screwdriver to disconnect the wires. If there is a grounding screw--modern homes use a green screw--disconnect this as well. If the wiring appears damaged or there is no grounding mechanism, you may need to contact an electrician.

Then, use the new switch to create a new connection. The new switch should have labeled instructions for where to connect the grounding screw or wire. Form a clockwise, C-shaped loop with each wire, then loop them around their appropriate switch. Tighten them firmly.

Gently feed the wires back into the electrical box and shift the switch or outlet into place. Reattach the mounting screws that hold the switch in place. Finally, apply the appropriate wall switch plate. Note that this is a great opportunity to replace the switch plates with a new, more attractive plate. Turn on the circuit breaker and test the switch.

Get the Tools You Need

You can find the single-pole switch supplies at your local hardware store. You can find new decorative switch plates from Wallplate Warehouse’s online store. Shop online today to find wall plates worthy of a new, long-lasting switch.

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