A Quick Guide on Lights Switches and Dimmers

feature light switch

Are you considering using dimmers for your new home? Or are you remodeling a room and will be adding new light switches to your space? Whatever reason you may have, you’ve come to the right place if you want to learn about light switches and dimmers.

This guide will help you understand the designs and functions of these switches and dimmers so you can select the right one for your home. We also added a section on the signs to look out when it’s time to replace the switch.

light switch

Choosing a light switch for your room sounds simple, right? As long as you have a switch installed that allows you to turn on and off the lights in the room then problem solved, correct? Well, not quite. Over the years, several designs and functions of light switches were introduced, making purchasing one a little more tricky. Before you head to the nearest home improvement store, it’s good to know what options you have for light switches.

Types of Light Switches

singlepole switch

Single-pole Switch – This is one of the most commonly used lights switch in homes and is ideal for small rooms. The single-pole switch often uses a simple on and off toggle to control lights, receptacles, or electronic devices from a single location. On and off markings on the toggle could also be found on a single-pole switch.

Inside this light switch are two brass terminal screws that are connected to the hot wire. Typically, there would also be a ground terminal that connects to the circuit’s ground wire.

Double-pole Switch – This type of switch is often used in industrial spaces, but it could also be found in several home wiring systems as a safety shut-off for appliances. Like the single-pole switch, it also uses an on/off toggle and has a terminal for a ground wire.

Double-pole switches have four brass terminals instead of two and are commonly rated for 30 amps (standard switches use 15 or 20 amps). This switch allows you to control light and for example, a ceiling fan on separate circuits.

Three-way Switch – This type of switch often comes in pairs and allows you to turn off or on lights in two different locations. The three-way switch is commonly used in long hallways, both ends of a staircase, or in areas that have two entries.

Inside the three-way switch are three brass terminals, where the hot wire from the power source is located in the terminal with the darkest screw that is marked COM, which means common screw.

Four-way Switch – Although not commonly used, the four-way switch is typically found in large rooms or in long hallways. It functions as a switch for the traveler wires between three-way switches. This type of switch allows homeowners to control their lights from three or more locations.

The four-way switch is the same as the double-pole switch, however, it has four brass-colored terminals and a ground terminal. It doesn’t have a COM terminal, which is present in the three-way switch.

Smart Switch – This is the most recent type of light switch that is gaining popularity due to its functionality. Unlike traditional switches, a smart switch allows homeowners to control their lights wherever they are. For example, if you forget to switch off the lights in the living room before heading to bed, you can easily turn them off using your smartphone. Other smart switches even allow you to set a schedule or timers on when to switch the lights off or on.

The number of brass terminals for smart switches varies, and they could come as a three-way, four-way, or multi-way switch–all of which could be controlled remotely.

Do note that most smart switches need a neutral connection because they always require to have little power supply at all times. If you’re planning to install a smart switch in your home, you need to ask your electrician to run a new cable since traditional switches do not require neutral connections.

(Also read: How to Turn Your House into a Smart Home)

Types of Light Dimmers

Different from the usual on and off switches, dimmer switches allow you to adjust the brightness of a room according to your needs. Some of the best areas to use dimmer switches are in the bedroom, bathroom, living room, den, hallways, and even the porch.

Typically, lighting using dimmer switches could be changed with a simple rotation of a knob or a touch of a button. In addition to helping create the perfect lighting for depending on your mood, using dimmers also helps save energy (up to 20%) and extends bulb life.

dimmer

Some of the common types of dimmers you may come across are:

Leading Edge Dimmers – This is one of the first types of dimmers that is compatible with incandescent and halogen bulbs. These dimmers are cheap to use even though they give out a higher wattage.

LED-Ready Dimmer Switch – This type of dimmer switch is (as the name suggests) made for LED bulbs with lower wattages. A rule of thumb for LED dimmers is to divide the maximum load of the switch by 10. So for example, you should use no more than 40W of an LED bulb on a 400W dimmer. Do note that it’s absolutely essential that you ensure your dimmers and bulbs are compatible with each other to prevent issues such as the lights flickering or dimmer switch buzzing.

Three-way/Four-way Dimmer Switch – Much like the usual light switches of this type, these dimmers allow you to control lights in multiple areas. These are compatible with various types of loads.

Smart Switch Dimmer – Similar to other smart home devices, smart switch dimmers allow you to control your lights through your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. By pressing a button, these smart switches send wireless signals to your smart lights so you can adjust them according to your liking.

Plug-In Dimmers – This type of dimmer is ideal for table or floor lamps. All you need to do is to plug it in between the wall socket and a light fixture, and you can adjust the lighting through the controller.

Dimmer Switches Control Style

There are five main types of control styles that you will find on dimmer switches:

1. Rotary Dimmers – This is the most common style used in dimmers, where you can adjust the light from dim to bright using a dial or a knob
2. Rocker Dimmers – This is another popular type that uses a switch, which you rock up and down to adjust the level of light
3. Toggle Dimmers – This is like a typical light switch that shifts or toggles
4. Slide dimmers – This allows you to move the switch up and down to adjust the brightness
5. Tap dimmers – This control style usually comes with a touchpad or button and is ideal for smart homes

Signs You Need to Replace Your Light Switches

broken light switch

Just like any item in the house, light switches wear down. Moving parts can become faulty, wirings lose and some parts may break. This means at some point, you will need to change your light switch.

1. Flickering lights – Does your lights flicker for a second as you turn them on? Or have you noticed that sometimes your lights turn on and sometimes they don’t? Try replacing the bulb first. If that doesn’t work, then it’s possible that the issue lies in connections within the light switch.

2. Sparks when flipping the switch – Is there a small spark when you switch off the light? If there is, then the connections in the light switch may be pulled away from each other – this is called load arc. However, if you see a huge spark followed by a snapping sound, it’s a clear sign that the light switch has already gone bad. Either way, it’s best that you call a licensed electrician to fix the issue and replace the light switch.

3. Odd sound coming from the switch – A light switch that is working perfectly shouldn’t make any noise. If you hear buzzing, popping, or clicking sounds coming from the switch, it’s a tell-tale sign that something is wrong with it and it is in need of a replacement.

4. Light switch is warm to touch – Do you feel like your switch feels a bit warm when you touch it? Well, this is normal for a light dimmer that has been on for a long time. However, what’s not normal is for your usual toggle light switch to get warm. If you experience this, you might have an issue with the wiring inside

Replacing Light Switches and Safety

You may be asking, “Should I hire an electrician near me to replace light switches?”

As we always say, with any electrical work, it is always best that you leave it to a professional to do it. Even though you think that you’re good at following video instructions on YouTube, replacing light switches or dimmers involves wiring and electricity – that means, it’s not something an amateur can take care of. You don’t want your newly renovated home to go up in flames because of loose light switches or dodgy wire connections, do you?

For around $65 to $125, a professional electrician can replace the light switches in your home. You have peace of mind that the work is done correctly and safely.

We can help you find a licensed electrician from your neighborhood – click here.