How To Wire A Standard Light Switch (6-Step Guide)

If you are looking for some guidance on wiring up a standard light switch, you have come to the right place!

In this guide, you will learn:

  • How to wire up a standard light switch! 
  • How to tell the difference between a single pole and a 3-way switch
  • What wires you might find in a switch box
  • And more!
how to wire a standard single-pole light switch

Do you have a light switch that needs to be replaced?

This can be a simple task that almost any DIYer can handle; it only requires basic electrical hand tools and takes about 10 minutes! 

As a licensed electrician, I ask, if you are uncomfortable or run into problems at any time while working on any electrical project, please stop and call a local electrician to come finish the job.

Keep reading to learn the 6 steps on how to wire a standard light switch!

What You Need To Know About Light Switch Wiring

Standard light switches used in homes are typically a 15 Amp single pole switch. They are used to control a light from a single location and require a hot coming in and a hot going out to the light fixture.    

When replacing a switch, you need to be sure not to mistake a single pole switch for a 3-way switch and vice versa.  These switches are NOT interchangeable.  

A 3-way controls lights from 2 different locations and requires a hot coming in to one switch, a set of travelers, and a hot going to the light fixture from the other 3-way.

If you find that you have a 3-way switch that needs to be replaced, check out our article on how to wire 3-way light switches.

Even though you don't use a neutral to wire a light switch, the National Electrical Code now requires a neutral to be in every box, so don't be surprised if there are white wires wire nutted together in the box. You can also read more about the building code of single-pole light switch wiring from the International Residential Code.

how to wire a standard light switch

Supplies You'll Need To Wire A 1-Way Light Switch

  • Voltage Meter - Used to verify power is off 
  • Screwdriver - Used to make wire terminations, remove and install outlet covers
  • Wire Strippers - Used to strip the insulation off the individual wires
  • Utility Knife - Used to remove the outer jacket 
  • Electrical Tape - Used to wrap the outlet around the termination screws as another layer of safety   
  • Extra Wire - Used to connect multiple wires together while being able to land on the switch
  • Wire Nuts - Used to tie multiple wires together

6 Simple Steps To Wire A Light Switch

  1. Remove Original Light Switch
  2. Verify Power is Off
  3. Unwire Old Light Switch
  4. Rewire the New Light Switch
  5. Check Connections and Install Switch
  6. Turn Power Back On

Step 1 - Remove Original Light Switch 

Using a screwdriver, remove the switch plate, then remove the screws that hold the switch in place.  

Carefully pull the switch out, exposing the screw terminals. Until you verify there is no power, do not touch the screws!

Step 2 - Verify Power is Off

Using a voltage tester, verify there is no power on the wires you will be working with. Always 'test before touch' when doing electrical work.

Press one probe of the meter to the hot wire bringing power to the light switch and the other probe to the ground wire.  Your meter should read zero volts.

Read Also >> How To Identify Basic Electrical Wiring (Is White Or Black Wire Hot?)

Step 3 - Unwire Old Light Switch

Unwire the old single-pole light switch wiring.

If the wires are hooked around the screws, use a screwdriver to loosen the two brass screws until you are able to pull the wires off.  

If the wires are stabbed in the back of the switch, use a small flat blade to press into the slot on the back beside the brass screws; this will release the wire.  

The hot wires are interchangeable, so in this instance, it is not necessary to mark your wires. 

You will need to loosen up the ground screw to remove the ground wire also.

Step 4 - Rewire the New Light Switch 

Before installing the new light switch wiring, inspect the wires for any nicks in the insulation.  

If the wires have been stabbed in the back of the switch, you will need to strip off a half inch to a 3/4 inch of insulation. Take the tip of your strippers and pinch the end of the wire; curl it around so the end of the wire can hook over the screw. 

Both black wires and the bare ground wire will need a hook on the end to wrap.

You will loop a black wire over each of the brass-colored screws and tighten each down.

The bare ground wires will tie together with a pigtail and a wire nut. The pigtail will hook over the green screw and be tightened down.

Read Also >> How To Wire A 220-Volt Well Pressure Switch?

Step 5 - Check Connections and Install Switch 

Double-check all the connections on the switch; you want to be sure that all the screws are securely tightened down to prevent any hot spots

Hot spots can lead to problems with power or even create a fire.

Using your electrical tape and make a wrap around the body of the switch covering any bare wire and the termination screws. 

Carefully fold the wires in an "S" shape and press the switch back into the box and install the screws to hold it in place, then put the switch plate back on.  

Step 6 - Turn the Power Back On 

After reinstalling the switch and replacing the cover, you can turn the power back on and test your switch! 

Read Also >> How To Wire A 220-Volt Plug With Three Wires?

Frequently Asked Questions 

How Do You Wire A Common Light Switch?

Turn off the power to the wires you are working on.  

The hot wires will land on the brass-colored screws.  The bare ground will hook to the green screw; there may be neutral wires nutted in the box.

Does It Matter Which Wire Goes Where On A Light Switch?

When installing single pole switch wiring, the hot wires are interchangeable.  

When wiring a 3-way, things get a little more complicated because it does matter where certain wires land depending on what their purpose is.

What Color Wire Goes Where On A Light Switch?

When wiring a single pole switch, the black wires will land on the brass-colored screws.  

The white neutral wires will wire nut together, bypassing the switch and going straight to the light. 

The bare ground wire will terminate on the green screw of the switch.

What Wires Go Together On A Light Switch?

The hot line wire will terminate on one brass-colored screw and the hot load wire going out to the light, will terminate on the other one.  

The bare ground wire will land on the green screw. 

The neutrals do not terminate on the switch. Instead, they get wired and nutted together and go right to the light fixture. 

What Is The Point Of A Standard Light Switch?

A single pole light switch allows you to control a light from a single location.

Read Also >> How To Wire A Bathroom Fan And Light On Separate Switches?

Final Thoughts On Wiring A Single Light Switch

Being without a light in your home can be a major interruption in your day-to-day life.

Luckily, with a couple of hand tools and a few minutes you can have your switch changed out and be back to business as usual.  

An important thing to keep in mind, electricity can be very dangerous if you don't pay attention to what you are doing and make sure the power is off before you begin your work! If at any point the project becomes more than you can handle, be sure to call a local electrician to help you finish up safely! 

I hope you enjoyed this Home Inspector Secrets guide!

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