Types of Electrical Switches

electrical switches

Electrical switches help control lights, electronics, and appliances throughout your home. They come in a few different forms. But no matter what type it is, a switch is a switch, meaning operating it will either open or close an electrical circuit. 

Modern light switches can function the same as older ones or have dimming, occupancy sensing, or Wi-Fi functions. We’ll now look at different types of switches. Selecting the right switch for the right place, with the right functions, is more important than you might think.

Common Types of Electrical Switches

The first electrical switch was invented in 1884 and was a push button. However, the toggle-style switch we’re all familiar with wasn’t invented until 1917. The design remained the same for many decades, but numerous designs are now available. Therefore, you have many options to choose from when updating, renovating, or remodeling your home.

The types of switches you may encounter include:

Single-Pole (One-Way) Switches

The most common type of switch, a single-pole switch serves a single circuit with a basic ON/OFF function (as designated by symbols marked on the switch). It can control a light, fan, or another device from one location. A one-way switch contains two contacts, plus two brass terminal screws (one for incoming and one for outgoing current). Modern light switches have a green grounding screw for the ground wire.

Double-Pole (Two-Way) Switches

A two-way switch often has ON and OFF markings but can control a device from more than one location. Four hot brass terminals instead of two are inside the switch. A ground terminal allows two pairs of hot wires to be connected. 

When a connection is made with one terminal, the connection to the other terminal is broken. Common in industrial applications, a double-pole switch may be used for 240-volt appliances in the home. You may have one for an air conditioner, electric furnace, or electric water heater. 

Three-Way Switches

Three-way switches are installed in pairs. They’re used to control lights from either side of a hallway, stairway, or living room or dining area with more than one entrance. They may also be installed in a garage or basement. 

Three terminal screws are found in a three-way switch, the darkest being marked “COM” for “common” depending on the switch’s location on the circuit. The common screw is wired to the power source or the light fixture, while the other two terminals link the two switches with traveler wires. Three-way switches don’t have ON/OFF markings because the function varies depending on where the switch is activated.

Four-Way Switches

A four-way electrical switch may be used in a large room or long hallway. It’s often found in spaces with more than two entrances. Placed between two three-way switches, it allows an outlet or light fixture to be controlled from more than three locations. You could control a fixture from five locations with three four-way switches between three two-way switches. A four-way switch does not have a common terminal; it’s merely a switching device between the three-way switches.

Dimmer Switches

Dimmers are a staple of modern light switches. In addition to an ON/OFF function, they allow you to control the intensity of lighting. The brightness can be adjusted to reach the preferred level or create the desired mood. Depending on the dimmer switch, it can be adjusted by raising or lowering a level, turning a knob, or pressing a sensor pad. A stepless regulator uses the same principle to control fan speed. In any case, a dimmer switch should only be paired with a compatible device.

Push Button Switches

A push-button switch may be used for a bathroom light or exhaust fan. Depending on the switch, it may stay in the ON position until pressed again, or turn OFF when you release pressure from the button. A doorbell switch is a type of push switch that rings a bell instead of turning on a light.

Occupancy Switches

A built-in motion sensor detects when someone enters a room. The switch will then automatically turn on a light for a predetermined time. Then the sensor will shut off the light unless additional motion is detected. An occupancy switch often has a toggle to set the unit to sensor mode, turn the light off, or keep it always on.

Smart Electrical Switches

A Wi-Fi-compatible switch can be controlled by your smartphone or tablet. It works with home automation systems, so you can control lighting and electrical devices throughout your home. You’ll need smart home lighting installed for the system to work. Smart switches also work with voice assistants such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa.

Call an Electrician for Help Installing Modern Light Switches and Other Devices

Installing electrical switches requires connecting wiring and taking care to avoid shock or electrocution. Express Electrical Services installs outlets and switches and provides a full range of other electrical services. Our licensed electricians also upgrade and replace them. For help with electrical switches in your Southern California home, contact us on the web or call (323) 727-7799 today.