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Wiring a Light Switch

Wiring a light switch is probably one of the simplest wiring tasks most homeowners will have to undertake.  It is just one of those essential skills that every DIYer should be feel confident doing.  The easiest wiring of a light switch you can do is with a single-pole standard light switch.

 

Two Common Methods for Wiring a Light Switch

This article explains the two most common methods for wiring a basic light switch:

Method One:  The switch leg drop

Method Two:  Power to switch, then to light or lights

 

Basic Light Switch

There are two methods for wiring a basic on/off (single-pole standard duty) switch to a light or a set of lights.

One method is to bring the power supply in to the light fixture outlet box, and then use what is called a “switch-leg drop” to the switch box, and the other way is to bring power in to the switch box, and then run the “switched” cable up to the light or lights.  The second method is by far the best way, especially if you are using the switch to control more than one light outlet.

Wiring a Light Switch Method One:   The switch-leg drop

Step One:

Run your 2-wire power feed cable to the outlet box for the light fixture.  Then run a 2-wire cable to the outlet box for the switch that will be used to control this light.

Step Two:

Properly install the cables in the device boxes and terminate your ground wires as per code rules and accepted trade practices.

Step Three:

In the light box, splice the black power wire in, to the white wire going to the switch.

*Note that this is one of the few times that it is acceptable to use a white wire as a hot conductor, providing that you identify this as a live wire by using a piece of black tape, or a permanent felt marker to color in a section of the wire close to the connection point so as to clearly identify that the wire is not a neutral conductor as one would normally expect!

The white neutral conductor from the source is connected to the white wire(s) or neutral terminal of the light fixture.  The remaining black wire returning from the switch will be connected to the black wire (s) or the hot or live terminal for the light fixture.

Step Four:

In the switch box, the white wire (which is a hot wire as described above) is again identified as such, and is connected to one of the terminals of the single-pole switch (It doesn’t matter which of the two terminals, but  personally I always use the bottom terminal for hot, the top terminal for the switched wire).  The black wire is then connected to the other terminal to complete the circuit.

Wiring a Light Switch Method Two:  Power to switch, then to light or lights

Step One:

Run your power feed cable into the switch outlet box first, then run a cable from the switch box up to your light outlet box.

Step Two:

Properly install the cables in the device boxes and terminate your ground wires as per code rules and accepted trade practices.

Step Three:

At the switch box, splice the incoming neutral or white wire to the white wire going to the light box.

Connect the black live wire from the power cable in to one of the terminals on the single-pole switch (again, it doesn’t matter if you use the top or the bottom terminal of the switch, but I prefer to use the bottom terminal for the hot wire), and then connect the black wire from the cable going to the light fixture to the other terminal of the switch.

Step Four:

At the light fixture, the white wire connects to the fixture neutral (white) wires or neutral terminal, and the black wire connects to the fixture live(black) wires, or hot terminal (terminals are found on basic fixtures such as keyless lampholders).

If you have more than one fixture to be controlled by the switch, then you would now run cable from this light fixture to other lights that you would like controlled by the switch.

Always Follow Proper Safety Procedures

Wiring a light switch is one of the simplest home wiring projects, but it still requires that you follow all proper safety procedures!  Never work on a circuit unless you have the power to that circuit turned off.  Check everything with a tester to make sure that power is off.  Safety first!

 

Questions and Answers

Do you have any questions about wiring a light switch?  Come across something in your own project that you need some help or clarification with? Feel free to ask your question below or check out my Facebook page and ask there.  You can also subscribe to my YouTube Channel and check out the many free videos covering a number of different DIY wiring topics, including many instructing you on this type of project.

Do You Have the DIY Skills to Wire a Light Switch?

Wiring a light is something most DIYers are capable of doing.  However, if you’re not sure that your understanding of working around electricity and DIY skills have prepared you for this or any other home wiring project, here’s a great resource to bring your skill levels up to speed.

The Basics of Household Wiring

“The Basics of Household Wiring” is a comprehensive resource (available as a DVD, instant download or e-book) that will give you the information you need to tackle this type of home wiring project easily and, more importantly, competently.  Don’t be intimidated by a DIY project that has you working around electricity.  The Basics of Household Wiring will teach you how to do DIY wiring projects safely!

Need a little more information?  Take a few minutes to watch this video clip for a good overview of the type of top notch instruction you’ll receive in this great resource.   Order or download your copy today.

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The Basics of Household Wiring DVD

"If you're looking for a good reference to help you understand simple home wiring, I personally recommend 'The Basics of Household Wiring' DVD".

Terry Peterman, the Internet Electrician
 
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