How to Repair a Light Switch (No Electrician Required)

Here’s how to repair a light switch if you’ve got 10 minutes.

You flip a light switch and nothing happens. And you just changed the bulb yesterday. What gives?

Do you really need to call an electrician? Maybe not. The easiest and least expensive solution could be to replace the switch altogether. Best of all, you won’t need a $90-per-hour (or more!) electrician — it’s an easy DIY job.

How Much Do Switches Cost to Replace?

A single-pole light switch costs less than $6 to replace. Go for a rocker switch that’s easy to use and adds sensible universal design to your home.

Three-way switches let you control the same light from two different locations. When you flip one switch to the on position, the other switch is simultaneously moved to the on position. A three-way switch also will cost less than $6.

Likewise, four-way switches let you control the same light from three or more locations. Each four-way switch costs in the $10-$15 range.

Double-pole switches have four terminals instead of two, so they’re used for outlets and appliances that require 240-volt circuits. They also come in rockers. Each double-pole switch will cost $7-$15.

What if I Want a Dimmer?

Dimmer switches not only add instant mood lighting to a room, they save energy, too — for every 10% you lower a light bulb’s brightness, you’ll double the bulb’s life.

The only hitch: CFLs often don’t work with dimmers, so you’ll have to use LEDs or halogen incandescents in your fixtures. Dimmers come in rotary, slide, touch-activated, or digital varieties; the cheapest is rotary and will cost less than $10.

So How Do I Replace My Light Switch?

It’s easy. All you’ll need are:

  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Voltage tester
  • Needle-nosed pliers

Important: Before you attempt any repairs, cut power to the light switch by switching off the circuit breaker at your electrical service box.

  1. Turn off the power to the switch at the main circuit breaker or fuse panel.

  2. Unscrew and remove the switch plate; then use a voltage tester to make sure that the circuit is dead.

  3. Unscrew the switch from the electrical box and pull it out with the wires still attached.

Two or three wires will be attached to the switch: an incoming hot wire, which is black; a return wire, which carries the load to the fixture and may be black, red, or any other color except green; and sometimes a grounding wire, which is green or bare copper. There may be other wires in the box, but you are only dealing with the ones connected directly to the switch.

You may find a white wire that has black tape on it connected to the switch. This tape indicates that the white wire is being used as a black or colored wire in the switch leg, so it’s not neutral.

4.  Compare your new switch with the one you’re replacing to find the corresponding locations for the electrical screw connectors.Because the power is off, you can match up the connectors the easy way: Instead of disconnecting all the wires at once and possibly getting confused, unscrew and connect one wire at a time.

5.  Attach the first wire you unscrew to the same-colored screw on the new switch as it was on the old; do the same with the second.

6.  To connect a wire to a terminal, strip off about 1/2 inch of insulation, using a wire stripper, and twist the end into a clockwise loop with long-nose pliers. The loop must wrap at least two-thirds but no more than three-quarters of the way around the terminal screw. Hook the wire clockwise around the screw so when you tighten the screw with a screwdriver, the clockwise force of the tightening screw makes the loop wrap tighter around the screw.

7.  Gently push the new, wired switch back into the electrical box and screw it in place.

8.  Screw on the switch plate and turn on the power.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *