Replacing a Toggle Light Switch With a Rocker Style Switch

Woman fixing light switch
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images
  • 01 of 10

    An Easy Upgrade

    toggle and rocker switches
    A paddle or rocker style wall switch and crisp new cover plate (photo right) can transform the look of a room. However, sometimes a switch replacement requires use of an oversize cover plate. 2013

    Single-pole light switches are used to control power to light fixtures or receptacles from one location and are the most common type of switch found in the home. The most common style of switch is the toggle switch, but these can look pretty tired and dated over time. Upgrading to a new toggle-style switch takes just a few minutes and requires no extra wiring or special connections. If the new switch's cover plate is smaller than the original, you can make it easy on yourself and cover the old plate's outline with a slightly oversize new plate—no wall repair or touch-up paint required. 

    Supplies Needed

    • Utility knife
    • Screwdrivers
    • Non-contact voltage tester
    • Black electrical tape (as needed)
    • Wire strippers
    • Single-pole rocker switch with cover plate
    • Needle-nose pliers
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  • 02 of 10

    Turn off the Power and Prep the Cover Plate

    Prep the Cover Plate
    Use a razor blade to score the edge of the cover plate where the paint is adhering the plate to the wall. This will allow a clean separation. 2013

    Turn off power to the circuit feeding the switch by switching off the appropriate breaker in your home's service panel (breaker box). If the old cover plate is painted on, carefully score around the perimeter of the cover plate with a utility knife to cut through the paint.

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  • 03 of 10

    Remove the Old Cover Plate

    Remove the Old Cover Plate
    Gently pry up the old cover plate. 2013

    Remove the cover plate screws, then pry up the plate with a thin flat-blade screwdriver. Be careful not to touch any wires inside the electrical box. 

    Confirm the power is off by touching each wire in the electrical box with a non-contact voltage tester. If the tester indicates voltage, return to the service panel and turn off the correct circuit breaker, then retest the wires. 

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  • 04 of 10

    Remove the Switch Screws

    Remove the Switch Screws 2013

    Remove the long, small mounting screws at the top and bottom of the switch mounting strap that secures the switch to the electrical box. Gently pull the switch body out and away from the electrical box so you can access the wire connections, which may be on the back of the switch body.

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  • 05 of 10

    Remove the Old Switch

    Remove the Old Switch 2013
    1. Check the wiring for condition and proper markings. Single-pole switches always connect to two hot wires. One wire will have black insulation, and other is probably white, in some cases with the end taped black, denoting it is serving as a hot wire. In other cases, the white wire may be connected to the switch with no tagging indicating it is hot. If that's the case, the prior electrician did not properly mark the wire, and it should be marked as a black wire. Wrap the end with black electrical tape after disconnecting it.
    2. Disconnect the old switch by disconnecting the two hot wires that connect to the switch. Usually, this will involve loosening the screw terminals and removing the switch. Or, the wires may be connected with push-in fittings. For push-in fittings, there is usually a slot or opening into which you can push a small screwdriver blade or nail to loosen the connection and remove the wire. 

      Alternatively, you can remove the old switch by cutting the old wires off close to the switch, using wire strippers. Just make sure to leave enough length to attach the new switch. Typically, you should have at least six inches of extra wire. 
    3. Strip about 3/4 inch of insulation away from the black wires, using wire strippers, if necessary. If the existing ends of the wires are nicked or otherwise damaged, clip them off and strip off 3/4 of insulation, leaving clean wires. 
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  • 06 of 10

    Orient the New Switch

    © 2013

    Note that the switch will either be marked "TOP" or it will have a brass plate or some other distinguishing mark noting the top end. This proper orientation is important. Although the switch will still work upside down, it makes for a confusing and unprofessional installation.

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  • 07 of 10

    Connect the New Switch

    Connect the switch 2013
    1. Bend the exposed copper ends of the hot circuit wires and ground wire (as applicable) into C-shaped loops, using needle-nose pliers
    2. Hook the ground wire around the ground screw terminal on the switch so the hook wraps around the screw in a clockwise direction. This will cause the loop to tighten up when the screw is tightened. Tighten the screw with a screwdriver. 
    3. Connect each of the two hot wires to one of the two main screw terminals on the switch, and tighten the terminal, as with the ground screw. The two terminals are interchangeable and either wire can go to either terminal, but only one wire can be under each terminal. 
    4. Tug on the wires to make sure they are secure. 

    Note: Although your switch may have push-in fittings, most electricians avoid these, as screw terminal connections are more secure and less likely to loosen over time. 

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  • 08 of 10

    Mount the Switch to the Box

    Mount the Switch to the Box 2013

    Gently push the new switch into the box, folding the wires neatly into the box behind the switch. Fasten the switch to the box with the two long mounting screws at the top and bottom of the switch mounting strap.

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  • 09 of 10

    Check the Cover Plate Size

    Check the Cover Plate Size 2013

    Test-fit the cover plate by placing it over the switch. if the new plate does not completely cover the outline of the old plate, buy a larger cover plate that fits the switch model. 

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  • 10 of 10

    Install the Cover Plate and Test the Switch

    Cover plates
    Cover plates come in Standard, Preferred and Oversized sizes allowing you to cover gaps between the switch box and wall or other wall / paint imperfections. 2013

    Install the cover plate, using the provided screws. Be careful not to overtighten the screws, which can bend or crack the cover plate. Turn on the power by switching on the circuit breaker, then test the switch for proper operation.