Types of Electrical Switches


Because light switches contain moving parts, they eventually need to be replaced when they either wear out or do not operate reliably. The cause of most light switch problems can usually be traced to the metal arm within the switch. This metal arm moves up and down when the switch is operated. Eventually the arm looses its resistance, or breaks off. Several different types of switches exist, all designed for different purposes. Whether replacing a defective switch or merely replacing an existing switch with a different design, there is probably a switch that will work best for your particular purpose.

Single Pole Switch

  • The single pole switch is easily the most common type of electrical switch, and is used when a light fixture is controlled from one switch location only. This type of switch is also the simplest switch design. The toggle lever moves vertically to either connect or disconnect the hot wires attached to its terminals.

Dimmer Switch

  • Contrary to popular belief, a dimmer switch actually does not decrease the amount voltage which reaches the light bulb. A dimmer switch instead regulates the amount of time that the light is one. The light actually turns the light on and off extremely quickly. The greater the delay, the lower the light level. It is because the light flashes faster than our eye can respond that the switching goes undetected. Dimmer switches are popular in bedrooms and dining rooms, where lower light levels are commonly desired. However, dimmer switches can be used in any room and can actually lower the electric bill.

Timer Switch

  • Timer switches are designed to turn on or off after a determined amount of time, and are commonly used for controlling bathroom vent fans to ensure that the moist air is completely evacuated, and some types of exterior lights, such as landscape and security lighting. There are generally two types of timer switches: dial-type and push-button type. Dial-types feature a single knob and a series of numbers which surround the knob, much like a clock. The dial is simply twisted to the desired length of time, then the knob slowly turns back to its starting position, which is when the light turns off. Push-button timers feature several buttons, each programmed for a specific length of time, and are activated by simply pressing the desired button.

"Keychain" Switch

  • "Keychain" switches, also known as remote switches, are commonly used where safety is a concern, as they allow the user to turn a light on before entering the home. The switch is activated with a small remote control, which is typically stored on a keychain. The actual switch is plugged into a standard receptacle where a lamp would normally be plugged into. The lamp is plugged into the bottom of the switch, then the lamp is turned on. Once programmed, the switch will activate the lamp when it receives the signal emitted by the remote control.

Wireless Switch

  • A wireless switch is an inexpensive alternative to moving an exiting switch located in an inconvenient place, which can take several hours. The existing switch is replaced with a box which contains a radio receiver. A control box, which looks like a traditional single pole switch, can then be mounted to any location within approximately 50 feet of the receiver with double sided tape. When the switch on the control box is flipped, it sends a signal to the radio receiver, which then sends power to the electrical device.

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