What’s Inside a Light Switch?
Its always a bummer when things around the house break down. Sometimes its our fault, other times household appliances and utilities just stop working. In this article, I’ll be demonstrating the surprisingly simple task of replacing a broken light switch. Most people have a fair understanding of how an electrical switch works, but I’ll quickly describe the internal workings. Inside a light switch there are quite a few components, but most of them contribute to the “rocking” function of the switch – ie. staying on when flipped on, and staying off when flipped off. From an electrical point of view, the task the switch preforms is simple – break the connection between the light and the main electrical line when off, and reconnect it when turned on. This is accomplished via conductive metal plates that are either in contact, or separated. Any of these internal components has the potential to break, but more commonly the switch housing/plastic is broken (like in this case).
Tools & Supplies
To replace your switch, you’ll need a few tools. The tools you need obviously depend on what your light switch requires, but the screws used are pretty standard. Take a look at the photo for examples. (fig.1)
- Flathead screwdriver
- Wire strippers
- Wire cutters
In terms of supplies, you only need a new light switch. This needs to be the same kind as the one you’re removing, unless you’re changing the wiring (not recommended unless you’re fluent with household wiring).
- A new compatible light switch
Replace the Light Switch
Once you have the required tools, the next step is a matter of life and death. Ensure you turn off the breaker! Failing to do so can result in electrocution and even death. Most breaker boxes are in the basement, or near the garage. If you’re unsure, you can always turn off ALL the power using the master breaker.
Start by removing the coverplate using the flathead screwdriver. (fig.2)
Once the coverplate is removed, use the same flathead screwdriver to unscrew the light switch itself. (fig.3)
Pull the switch out of the plastic housing, you should see two wires connecting to the switch itself. You may have a third wire, which is ground. If your switch has three wires without ground, you’re probably looking at a three-way switch. (fig.4)
Cut the wires from the switch using the wire cutters. If you have a three-way switch, remember where each wire went on the switch as you’ll need to attach them to the new switch in the same places. (fig.5)
Strip the cut wires and connect them to the new switch. Many switch models have plug&play wire connections, but others require you to bend the wire around the contact screw and fasten them manually. In this case, all that was needed was a little force into the plug&play connectors. (fig.6)
Fasten in the new switch by pressing the extended wires back into the plastic electrical box and screwing in the switch. Ensure that “on” faces in the direction you wish beforehand. (fig.7)
Screw the coverplate back on, and admire your work! (fig.8)
I am not responsible for you breaking your house or electrocuting yourself. This is merely a reference for those already familiar with electricity!
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