THE PATHFINDER TO YOUR LIGHT SWITCHES
The most important things to know
to choose meaningfully.
Light switches are devices used to control lights and electrical outlets. By switching them, you are allowing and blocking the passage of the current applied to activate the lights or the eventual equipment plugged into the outlets, either it is a lamp, a ceiling fan or any other device.
New versions of light switches offer the same functionalities of traditional ones with added benefits for home occupants. You can still turn on your lights and devices by pressing the switch on the wall or, if you prefer it, use your smartphone to activate them, even from remote. When supported by your lights, you can also dim them. Or create schedules, scenes and more advanced automation rules that activate and deactivate your devices at a specific time of the day, or after a particular trigger, like the opening of a door. Or you can even go touchless and use your voice to control them.
Time saved thanks to scheduled turn on and off of the lights, the possibility to control them remotely and the creation of automation rules.
Quality of life improved thanks to the creation of personal pleasant atmospheres.
Peace of mind increased thanks to the possibility of managing several functions (schedules, transitions, brightness and colour adjustments, turn on and off, etc.) even from remote.
Savings increased thanks to the possibility of dimming lights and managing them from remote.
Light switches can be classified attending several aspects. They can be suitable for indoor or outdoor spaces, and they can offer dimming features, including pilot lights and presents a multitude of different shapes and designs. However, the main types of light switches that can be generally found at the residential level are:
These switches are used to control a light or power outlet from a single location. They include two terminal screws, to which the load and the line black wires connect, and a ground terminal, where the copper or green insulated ground wire usually connects. If you can't see the ground wire, it may probably be joined on the metal strap. Neutral white wires instead are generally not used by this type of switch.
These switches are used to control a light or power outlet from two locations. They are always used in pairs and result particularly useful in corridors or mid-sized rooms to enable to switch on the lights from both sides of the room. The main difference with single-pole light switches lies on the number of terminal screws. Three-way light switches include a ground screw and three screw terminals. Two of the three screw terminals present the same colour and are used to connect the wires that run between the pair of switches. These wires, that generally present a black or red insulation, allow and block the flow of the current between switches as switches are pressed. The third screw terminal, which is darker than the other two, is used to connect the common wire. Depending on the position of the switch in the electrical circuit, the common wire is responsible from transporting the current from the main electrical box to one of the two switches, or from one of the switches to the light or power outlet.
These switches are used in combination with three-way light switches to control a light or power outlet from three or more locations. For instance, if you want to control a light from three points, you will still need two three-way light switches and one four-way light switches. If you want to control a light from five locations, you will need two three-way light switches and one four-way light switches, and so on. They are useful in big-sized rooms with multiples access points. Four-way light switches include a ground screw and four screw terminals.
Before buying a light switch, you should first know the type of switch that you want to replace and the functionalities that you want it to cover:
Every kind of light switch needs to be replaced by the same one. So, if you want to upgrade your current three-way light switch you should make sure to buy the same type of light switch; single-pole and four-way light switches would not work.
If the light switch panel mounted on the wall has one switch, you will need a one-gang light switch. If it has two switches that are part of the same structure and are not mounted individually, you will need a two-gang light switch.
Most light switches require a neutral wire to function, but it can be that your current switch does not include it. Check your set-up by opening the existing switch and identifying the neutral wire (usually white coloured). If the neutral wire is not present, you still have two options to upgrade your current switch: either you look for light switches that do not require a neutral wire, or you contact an electrician to run a neutral wire between the switch and the light fixture.
Many light switches allow the possibility to dim the light bulbs connected to them. If this is an essential feature for you, make sure that your future light switch supports this feature.
These dictate how much energy your switch needs to be fed to operate and how much it can produce at the other end. Make sure that the output meets the power and load type required for your appliance to perform correctly. There are three kinds of electrical loads that your switches and wires can handle. The resistive loads tend to utilize the heat and light energy produced due to friction in the electrical flow (examples of these are lightbulbs and heaters). Inductive loads use a magnetic field to run a motor (such as that in a fan or a blender). Capacitive loads use capacitors to harbour a certain amount of charge after a voltage is applied (examples include extension cord and picture tubes in televisions).
When buying a light switch, make sure that they are compatible with the type of light bulbs that you have or that you plan to install. Incandescent, halogen, LED and CFL are the most representative types of lights that can be found in homes. As well, if you buy a dimmer switch, make sure that the lights are dimmable.