Monday, January 23, 2012

On Replacing Light Switches

Last week, I wrote about diagnosing flickers and it made me think about one of the simpler things homeowners can do in terms of electrical work: replacing your light switch. It’s something that shouldn’t come up too often but it is both important and a relatively easy for a novice to take on.  You’ll want to have the following items when you go about replacing the switch:

  •         New Switch
  •         A Screwdriver (Multi-head may be needed)
  •        Circuit Tester
  •        New Switch Cover (optional)

Of course, working with electricity always carries an inherent risk, but replacing your switch cover keeps you relatively far from any risky wires and currents. Still, as always, the first thing to do is go to your electric panel and turn the breaker sending a current to that area to the Off position. Go upstairs afterwards and flick the switch to make sure it doesn’t work, ensuring you turned off the right breaker. Unscrew and remove the cover plate before unscrewing and pulling out the old switch.  While doing this, be weary of the wiring and be careful not to pull it out too much or crack the wires.

Be on the look out for black wires, which should either be uniformly black or should be marked by black electrical tape. (On occasion of a lazy electrician, the wire connected will be an unmarked white wire, which you can fix by simply wrapping the end of the wire with black electric tape.)  Disconnect these black wires to fully remove the old switch while leaving any white, green or copper wires alone. (You might want to also mark which black wire goes to which terminal with markers or tape.) Grab your new switch and connect the black wires to the brass terminals on the backside of the new switch and put it in the exact same space as the old switch. Screw the box back into the space and then screw the cover plate back over it. Switch the breaker back on and test it to be sure.    

A fun thing to do, as part of this whole rigmarole, is paint or add a design to your cover plate. It’s especially a fun activity to do with kids who will respond better to bold, unique colors; it will keep them occupied while you are completing the task. The entire task, not including the buying of the new switch, should take you less than an hour. And be sure to test your circuit to make sure that the switch is the problem, if this replacement is in response to a light not working. When it comes to electrical work, the reasons for currents being interrupted are myriad.