How to Replace a Light Switch

By: Jennifer Hodorowicz

When you walk into a room and flip on the light switch, you probably don’t give the actual switch a second thought. It’s one of the most used devices in our homes that we expect to work day after day. While light switches are meant to last a long time, a light switch will occasionally fail, especially in an older home, and will need to be replaced.

Here are some other reasons for needing to replace a light switch:

  • To upgrade the aesthetics of your light fixture
  • To increasing functionality of your light fixture (this could involve adding a dimmer or three-way switch to increase efficiency)

Keep reading to learn how to replace a light switch, the tools needed for the process, and whether or not you need an electrician to assist with the process.

Steps to replace a light switch

Replacing a light switch is an easy do-it-yourself project that can be completed in an afternoon for just a few dollars. Follow our step-by-step guide for replacing a single pole and dimmer light switch.

Materials

  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Flat-head screwdriver
  • Replacement switch
  • Wire strippers
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Low voltage tester
  • Black electrical tape

How to replace a single pole light switch

  1. Before removing the light switch cover and starting this project, turn off the power to the room. Locate your electrical box, typically found in a garage or laundry room, find the labeled room you’ll be working on, and flip the circuit breaker switch to the off position. Test a light fixture in your room after you turn the power off to ensure there’s no electricity flowing to the room.  
  2. Using your flat-head screwdriver, loosen the screws and remove the faceplate from the light switch. Keep these materials together as you’ll need to replace the cover once you replace the switch.
  3. Remove the screws that attach the light switch to the wall.  
  4. Before pulling the entire switch out from the wall, know that there are wires connected to the switch. Use a low voltage meter to check that the wires are not live. Once you’ve cleared the wires, pull the switch from the wall.
  5. Take the time to identify and mark the wires so that you can tell them apart and reconnect them easily. Switch boxes contain one or two main wires, with each wire split into three wires. Older switches are typically attached with wires looped around screw terminals on the sides of the switch. Newer switches may have wires pushed into holes in the back of the switch. 
    • The black wire is the hot wire and is typically connected to the brass screw or hole on the same side as the brass terminal.
    • rap a small amount of black electrical tape around this wire to distinguish it.
    • The green or copper wire is the neutral wire and is attached to the silver terminal or the hole that’s on the same side as the silver terminal. 
    • The third wire is a neutral ground wire and may be white, red, or another color besides green. This wire is attached to the green screw on the opposite side from the brass and silver terminals.  
  6. To remove the wires, unscrew the terminal screws to free the wires or insert a small screwdriver into the slot beneath the hole to release the wires.  
  7. Discard the old light switch.
  8. Reconnect the new light switch by connecting the black, hot wire to the brass terminal first.  
    • If you have screws, you may need the wire strippers to expose enough bare wire to work with and the needle-nose pliers to wrap the exposed wire around the screw.
    • If you have push-in holes, push the exposed wire into the hole on the same side as the brass terminal.
  9. After connecting the black wire, reconnect the green, neutral wire to the silver terminal side following the same process in step 8.
  10. Attach the ground wire to the green terminal, typically identified by a green screw. Wrap the copper wire around the green screw and tighten the screw with a clockwise motion.  
  11. Push the wires back into the electrical box mounted on the wall and line up the new switch to screw it back into place. Check to make sure the switch is oriented correctly, with the switch flipped down in the off position and up for the on position.   
  12. Screw and mount the switch to the wall.  
  13. Replace and screw the wall plate back over the light switch.  
  14. Turn the power back on and test your replaced switch to ensure it works.  

How to replace a dimmer switch

Changing a dimmer switch is similar to replacing a single pole light switch. After completing steps 1–10 in the previous instructions, follow these remaining steps: 

  1. Using wire strippers, remove half an inch of insulation to expose the wire.  
  2. Pair the black lead wire with the black hot wire in the switch box. Twist the ends of the paired wires together and secure them with a wire nut.  
  3. Pair the other black lead wire to the neutral wire in the switch box. Twist the ends of the paired wires together and secure them with a wire nut.  
  4. Pair the green grounding wire with the grounding wire in the switch box. Twist the ends of the wires together and secure them with a wire nut.  
  5. Follow steps 11–14 above to complete the project.

How much does it cost to replace a light switch? 

Replacement light switches cost between $1–$5, with some more advanced models costing up to $15. In contrast, hiring an electrician to replace a light switch can cost between $100–$200 per switch.

Do I need an electrician to replace a light switch? 

If you feel comfortable taking on DIY projects and have the tools needed to complete this job, you don’t need to hire an electrician to replace a light switch. However, if you feel uncomfortable at any time or aren’t sure if you’ve replaced the switch correctly, a local electrician can typically complete this job for you for under $200.


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