5 Types Of Electrical Switches In The Home - Main Image

While you might ignore your electrical switches, you likely use them every day, so it's good to know what they are all about. If you need to rewire or replace an electrical switch, you will need to see the style of the switch, and what its function is so you can repair it properly. Have a look at some of the most common electrical switches you will find in your home. 

Electrical switches can be used for so many different things in your New Hartford home. They can provide you with an outlet, turn a light on or off, or give power to a specific area. Let's look at some of the things you need to know about different switches to understand what you are looking at. 

Remember that you will need to turn off the power to any areas you are doing electrical work to keep you safe. If you open up an electrical socket to examine the wiring inside, make sure the power has been turned off to that outlet. If you have no way to turn the power to that outlet off, you can handle the hot wire VERY carefully with pliers, but the safest option is to flip the breaker to ensure the power stays off while you work. 

Electrical outlet terminology 


Pole: The pole is the number of circuits that an outlet can hold and control. Something with only one pole can only control one thing (such as an on/off light switch), while multiple poles can control a few things simultaneously. 

Throw: The throw is the position you can turn the switch to. A single throw switch will only be able to do one thing, while a double is able to control two circuits 

Most Common: Single Pole switch


These switches are the ones you are most likely to find, especially when it comes to light switches. These types of switches have two options only: on and off. They also have only one input and one output, so they are used primarily in a space where they are turning a light (or another electrical option) on or off. 

A single-pole outlet requires one wire to be connected to one terminal (an incoming power source) and another to be connected to the other terminal (an outgoing power source), plus a wire to connect to a grounding wire for safety. 

These switches often control things in your home like: 

  • Light switches
  • Alarms
  • Appliance switches (garbage disposal, for example) 

A single-pole outlet is an excellent idea for places that don't need power all of the time. A great example of this is installing an outdoor single-pole outlet that you can use for outdoor lights. You can install Christmas lights, string lights, or any other lights that require an outlet and turn them on and off with the flip of a switch. 

How can I tell if I have a single pole switch?

A single-pole switch is for situations where all you will need is an on/off option, while double-pole switches are involved in more complicated situations. A single-pole switch will have only two brass terminals, while a double-pole switch will have 4. These can be found at any hardware store or home improvement store. 

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Most Used for Sets of Switches: Three-way switch 


A three-way switch is a typical style of switch that many people like to use for staircases, long hallways, or large rooms or outside spaces such as guest houses and patios. These are adjusted so that both switches can be used both on and off, depending on what the other one has been set to. If you are downstairs and the lights have been turned off from the upstairs switch, flipping the downstairs switch will turn them on again and vice versa. 

How do I know if I have a three-way switch?

Three-way switches have three brass terminals and no on/off markings, as most single-pole switches do. Inside, the switch will have three terminal screws and a grounding screw. One of the three different terminal screws will likely be darker than the other two, which indicates that this one should be connected to the power sources. 

How do I connect a three-way switch?

Connecting your three-way switch will depend quite a bit on what you are using the switches for and what your existing wiring looks like. You will need to pay attention to the flow of electricity and be aware that the two traveler wires are connecting the two switches that will be controlled. There are a few ways to achieve this, so look for an online tutorial or ask an expert if you have difficulty installing your three-way switch. 

Uncommon But Best For Large Areas: Four Way Switch


These are not very commonly used, but you can use them around the home to control an outlet from three or more different locations. They are always used alongside two three-way switches which are always placed at the beginning and the end of the circuit. It will have no on/off markings, and it is used in between two three-way switches to control one of the outlets.

How do I know if I have a four-way switch?

A four-way switch will look just like the double pole switch with a few minor differences. Instead of one dark terminal, a four-way switch will have two darker terminals along with no "COM" terminal.  

How do I install a four-way switch?

Just like a three-way switch, installing a four-way switch will largely depend on the pre-existing system and what you want the switch to be used for. Four-way switches are commonly used in very large rooms like office floors or ballrooms to control more than three light switches at once, so you need to make sure it's connected properly at every connection. Unless you have experience with electronics, you might want to ask an electrician for help installing all of the outlets you will need to ensure they're connected the first time properly. 

Uncommon But Best For Large Areas: Four Way Switch - Electrician

Best of Industrial Areas: Double Pole Switch


A double-pole switch is similar to a single-pole switch, but it is built to handle more amps. While a standard single-pole switch can handle 15-20 amps, these ones can handle 30 with no issues, so they are perfect for controlling a more considerable amount of power. If you have a garage that requires lots of tools running simultaneously, then it's nice to have the ability to turn everything off at once. 

How do I know if I have a double pole switch?

A double pole switch will have four terminals (a single pole will only have 2) along with a grounding terminal so it can be connected to two hot wires at once. They also have an on/off switch, just like single-pole switches. 

How do I install a double pole switch?

The installation is basically the same as a single-pole switch, but there is one important thing to remember. Make sure to keep one color of wires connected to one side and the other color connected to the other otherwise, your switch will not work, and it might be dangerous for your home. Contact an electrician or look for a good tutorial online if you have any troubles. 

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Best for a tech upgrade: Smart switch/Wi-Fi enabled switch


There are so many new tech advances that you can integrate into your home to make them more modern, and a smart switch is one of the best ones to consider. There are plenty of styles on the market, and each kind has a different level of control. Some are used just to control one thing, like a light or a fan, while others can be wired to control both of those and other items. 

A smart switch is usually Wi-Fi enabled, allowing you to control whatever is connected to the system from your smartphone or tablet. You will need to purchase the correct switch for the job you need for it to work successfully. 

What can a smart switch help me with?

Let's look at some of the things you can connect to your smart switch and how it can help you control them with ease.

Lights: Controlling the lighting system in the room from your phone is incredibly handy. The ability to control your lights is a fantastic feature for anyone who has trouble remembering to turn off the lights before leaving the room (or house!), and it's a great reason to think about installing a smart switch. A smart switch might be designed to control all lights at once or individually, depending on the systems you have set up. 

Temperature: Some smart switches can be easily wired to connect to your HVAC system, or they can be adjusted to connect to an existing HVAC smart system that you have installed. Your smart switch system is an easy way to check your home's temperature before you arrive or adjust the heat if you choose to be away for a while. 

Music: If you have a speaker system in your home or a set of smart speakers throughout the rooms, connect your smart switch and have it play whatever you'd like! A smart switch speaker is great for entertaining or for anyone with kids (or adults) who loves throwing impromptu dance parties. 

Door Security: Anyone with a smart doorbell installed will love to use their smart switch to control it. You can easily allow people into your home or see who's knocking on your door. It can also provide you with a movement alert to see from your panel whether or not your Amazon package has arrived yet. 

Fans: It's easy to rewire your fan controls to work with a smart switch. This way, you can control the fans from your system and turn them off if necessary without even being in the same room. This handy feature can help your energy costs in the long run.

Some hardwired items: If you have smart outlets installed in your home, then you may be able to use them with your system so you can control things like your tv or table lamps from your panel. There are certain limitations to smart outlets, and you should be mindful of what you are using them with. High-powered things (industrial fans, refrigerators/freezers, air conditioners, etc.) and appliances (indoor grills, toasters, microwaves, etc.) should not be controlled with a smart outlet and should be connected directly to a regular outlet for safety reasons. 

Items that have an on/off switch (like a lamp or electric kettle) or items that turn on when they are plugged in (like a clock radio) are perfect for smart outlets. 

Some switches are not just high tech but high class, and you can use them to display your family photos, doorbell camera images, or as a video chat screen. They are also usually voice-activated, so you can still control everything easily if your phone isn't on hand. 

Best For A Tech Upgrade: Smart Switch/Wi-Fi Enabled Switch - Smart Switch

How do I know if I have a smart switch?

These are the newest switches on the market, and they are usually priced much higher than a typical system. A smart switch system will usually cost between $200-$500 for the central unit and more for additional smart upgrades to connect the items you'd like. 

You can get smart switches strictly for lights, and these are much cheaper but still more expensive than a standard switch. They are available at most hardware stores and even some electronic stores. They are very easy to connect, and they're a great way to dip your toes into the world of smart home upgrades. 

How do I install a smart switch?

These systems are relatively easy to install if you only have one in your home, but if you are using more than one (or if your home is on the older side), you might need to research the correct way to install them. They often require a neutral connection to provide them with a low amount of power, so if the outlet you want to outfit doesn't have one, you might need to talk to an electrician about splitting a nearby neutral line. 

Smart systems rely on multiple features that connect through the same system, so if you want the system to work together, you need to check that it is all compatible. The best way to do this is by sticking with the same brand for everything you want to control. An iPhone might not be able to handle a system based on android tech, so make sure your system will work with your existing items. 

No matter what outlet you have in your home, installing them is usually an easy task if you know what you're doing and keep safe. With a bit of knowledge about your home's electrical system, you can adjust the switches to fit your needs. If you have difficulty understanding it, contact an expert to help you figure out what you can do with your existing system to make it work better for you.