How to Change a Single Pole Switch

Single wire switch wiring

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Overview
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Electrical switches will wear out from time to time. What happens when you reach for the switch and it doesn't work, but there's no issue with the breaker? You might have to replace a broken or outdated switch. There are four main reasons to change a single-pole switch:

  • This one is obvious: it doesn’t work anymore.
  • You’ve updated the lighting in your home and increased the load on the circuit.
  • Over time, the contacts in the switches become worn from the constant flipping on and off.
  • Your old switch may not be grounded. Always use a grounded switch when replacing switches.

We'll walk you through how to replace your single pole switch easily and safely.

Before You Begin

Broken switches can short out, leave you susceptible to live parts, and increase the chance of electrical shock. As with any electrical repair you may perform, safety should be your number one concern. Turn off the circuit you will be working on and double-check it with a circuit tester or voltmeter. Never assume the circuit is off! Go directly to the fuse box or circuit breaker panel and look at the chart for circuit location. Once found, turn the circuit breaker off or unscrew the fuse. It's best to remove the fuse completely.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Screwdriver
  • Wire stripper
  • Circuit tester
  • Level

Materials

  • Single-pole switch
  • Electrical tape

Instructions

  1. Remove the Old Switch

    Remove the switch cover plate by removing the two screws. Turn the screws counterclockwise and remove the switch cover. The switch is now exposed. Remove the two screws holding the switch in place, and carefully pull out the switch.

    Using your circuit tester, check one more time to be certain the circuit is off. Test from the green ground screw or the metal box to the two brass screws on the switch. If there’s no power, continue.

    Loosen the two brass screws and the ground screw. Remove the switch and discard it.

  2. Connect the New Switch

    Bend the ends of the wire into a half-moon shape to go around the screws.

    First, tighten the bare copper or green wire to the green ground screw. Next, connect the two black wires to the remaining brass-colored screws in the same way. Tug on each wire and make sure the connection is tight.

    Tip

    Always tighten the half-moon shape toward the right and in a clockwise motion. This will ensure that the connection is good and tight. The loop of wire should wrap the screw from left to right. As you tighten the screw on the wire, the loop should tighten. 

  3. Wrap the Switch With Electrical Tape

    Once the connections are secure, wrap the switch with electrical tape as an added safety measure. This eliminates the switch from coming into contact with the side of the box. Be sure to cover the entire set of screws on the switch. 

  4. Insert the Switch Into the Box

    Carefully press the switch back into the box. You may have to adjust the wires in the box to make everything fit. Tighten the two screws into the box, keeping it as plumb as you can. Watch the wires in the box carefully as you tighten the switch screws, as not to damage the wires.

    Replace the switch cover and tighten its two screws. Use a level to help you get the adjustable screws in the right position for a nice appearance.

  5. Test Your Work

    Turn on the circuit at the breaker panel or fuse box and test your work by turning on the switch. If it works, you're done.