How to Repair a Light Switch

Here’s how to repair a light switch if you’ve got 10 minutes — no electrical know-how required.

Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

You flip a light switch and nothing happens. What gives?

If it’s not a burned-out light bulb, chances are the switch itself is faulty. The easiest and least expensive solution is to replace the switch altogether. You won’t need a $90-per-hour electrician — it’s an easy DIY job.

What Kind of Switch Do I Need?

The most common type of light switch is single-pole, which controls power to a light source simply by flipping it to the on or off position. It has two terminals: One for the incoming hot wire, the other for the outgoing. It also may have a ground wire.

  • single-pole light switch costs less than $5 to replace. Go for a rocker switch that’s easy to use and adds sensible universal design to your home.
  • Three-way switches let you control the same light from two different locations. When you flip one switch to the on position, the other switch is simultaneously moved to the on position. A three-way switch will cost less than $5.
  • Likewise, four-way switches let you control the same light from three or more locations. Each four-way switch costs in the $10-$15 range.
  • Double-pole switches have four terminals instead of two, so they’re used for outlets and appliances that require 240-volt circuits. They also come in rockers. Each double-pole switch will cost $7-$15.

What if I Want a Dimmer?

Dimmer switches not only add instant mood lighting to a room, they save energy, too — for every 10% you lower a light bulb’s brightness, you’ll double the bulb’s life.

The only hitch: CFLs often don’t work with dimmers, so you’ll have to use LEDs or halogen incandescents in your fixtures. Dimmers come in rotary, slide, touch-activated, or digital varieties; the cheapest is rotary and will cost less than $10.

So How Do I Replace My Light Switch?

It’s easy. All you’ll need are:

  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Voltage tester
  • Needle-nosed pliers

Important: Before you attempt any repairs, cut power to the light switch by switching off the circuit breaker at your electrical service box.

Follow the steps outlined in this video:


Related: Do You Know Which Light Bulb to Buy?