How to Replace an Electrical Wall Switch


The replacement of an electrical wall switch is a simple and safe homeowner task. However, many homeowners are very intimidated, when it comes to any type of work involving the electrical systems of a home.

We would recommend that you research the concepts of your electrical service, in a typical residential home on the internet, to become more familiar with the terms as well as the concept of the electrical service into your home. The only reason that homeowners are intimidated by electricity, is that they do not understand it, and feel that due to this lack of understanding, there is something very magical and sophisticated about the electrical service and the resultant distribution throughout you home. This is not the case, and an hour of research on the internet will clarify the simplicity of the majority of electrical systems in the home.

This webpage is NOT intended to provide you with any sophisticated knowledge of the electrical systems in your home. This webpage is intended to safely and easily instruct you on the proper procedure to replace a simple wall switch in your home.

How do I know that my electrical wall switch should be replaced?

1.) The first and most obvious situation is that it does not work anymore. If the wall switch fails to turn the light or the outlet on and off, the switch has become defective.

2.) Any electrical wall switch that is operated and feels wobbly within the housing of the switch or feels rough or sticky should be replaced. The wall switch should operate smoothly and there should not be much movement side to side.

3.) The electrical wall switch works and then does not work. There is no consistency in the performance of the switch. Sometimes it works, other times it does not.

4.) You simply want to update the electrical wall switches in the home with a more contemporary and modern wall switch. Maybe you have decided that all the wall switches should be illuminated or dimmers should be installed.

5.) You have decided to become energy conscious and need to install light wall switches with motion detectors to turn the lights on and off, based upon activity within the room.

How do I go about replacing the electrical switches?

1.) Identify the electrical wall switches that you will want to replace, based upon the ( 5 ) noted issues that have been described.

2.) Purchase the appropriate quantity of wall switches in accordance to your needs, from the local hardware store or builder supply store. Make sure that all of the wall switches are the same, the same color, as well as the same design. Decide which of the new switches will be dimmers and if any will need to have motion detectors.

3.) This is a good opportunity to switch cover also, if consistency and a new outward appearance is warranted.

4.) MOST IMPORTANT STEP! Turn off the circuit breaker, or remove the electrical fuse that is supplying the electrical service to the particular circuit that the wall switch is on. The most efficient method of ensuring that the electrical power has been turned off, is to operate the wall switch and determine what light or outlet it services. If this wall switch operates an outlet, then a lamp will need to be plugged into that outlet to indicate electrical activity. Once the proper function of the wall switch is determined, flip the circuit breaker or remove the fuse and operate the wall switch again. Obviously, if the function is terminated, the circuit has been shut turned off.

5.) Remember that there are also 3 way electrical wall switches. What this refers to, are wall switches that will operate the same lights from different locations. If this is the case, it is very important to ensure that the electrical power is turned off to all of the wall switches involved. This verification may require some due diligence to ascertain that all of the power has been turned off for all of the wall switches that operate the same lamp.

6.) One you have clearly determined that the wall switch is de-energized, it is now time to remove the cover plate on the wall switch. In most circumstances the switch cover is installed with two small screws located on the top and the bottom of the switch plate. If there are multiple switches, there will be a screw above and below each of the switches. All of the screws will need to be removed, prior to trying to remove the switch cover plate.

7.) Once the cover plate has been removed, we suggest that a vacuum be used to suck any of the dust and dirt that may have accumulated within the electrical box, out from the switch itself. This will enable you to more easily work on the switch.

8.) Remove the actual electrical switch from the electrical box that the switch is secured to. This is assuming that there is an actual box in the wall. There are circumstances where the installation of the switch was very non professional, and there is no actual box to contain the switch. If this is the case, then you must install an electrical box, prior to attempting to replace the switch itself. The removal of the switch is normally achieved by removing two small screws, that hold the switch in the electrical box.

9.) The new switch is normally supplied with the screws for re-installation included. However, make sure to keep the old screws, just in case.

10.) Once the switch is removed from the electrical box, pull the switch out of the wall until the old switch is easily worked on. Yes, there will be occasions when the original installation did not allow enough wire to accomplish this task. The intent of this operation is to make the removal of the wires as easy as possible. Unscrew the wires from the old switch.

11.) Normally there are three wires within the old switch. These three wires are identified as a positive, a neutral and a ground. The basic intent of outlet replacement is to simply replace the old switch with the new. Therefore, the black wire should be attached to the terminal on the new switch in direct comparison to the attachment of this black wire on the old switch. The white wire, the same, and the ground wire should be attached to the less obvious green terminal on the new switch. Depending upon the type of replacement switch, there could be a simple screw connection, a push friction connection or a combination of both.

12.) Once the wires have been connected to the appropriate terminals on the new switch, tuck the wires back into the electrical box located in the wall. Make sure that the wires do not become disengaged from the terminals of the new switch as you tuck the entire assembly back into the wall box. This process can require some patience and skill, when attempting to tuck the wires back into the small electrical box. The important aspect of this process is to make sure the wires do not disengage from the new outlet terminals.

13.) Install the new or existing switch cover plate to the outside of the new switch. Remember to wash your hands and not to touch the surrounding wall as you replace the cover plate. It is very common during the switch replacement to get your hands dirty and lean them on the adjacent wall. This obviously will cause some issues with any visual architectural awareness within the family. So wash your hands and do not lean on the wall!

14.) Turn the breaker back on or replace the electrical fuse in the panel box. Activate the switch and make sure that the lights functions, in a similar manner as previously. This is important to ensure that all of the switches are properly wired.

That’s all there is to it! Do not be intimidated, and take your time. Errors only occur if you hurry, did not take the time to ensure that the power is off, or rush the final termination of the wiring connections for the new outlet.

GOOD LUCK / READ AND RESEARCH ELECTICAL RESIDENTIAL SERVICE ON THE INTERNET, AND YOU WILL BECOME COMFORTABLE WITH ELECTRICITY. BEING UNSURE, IS WHY YOU ARE INTIMIDATED!