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Common Household Switches

Switch Types

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A photo of a single-pole switch.

Single Pole Switch

Timothy Thiele

As you walk into your home, the convenience of switches light the rooms of your home. They complete the circuit to your light fixtures when you turn the switch on to light the light and they break the circuit when you turn off the switch to turn the light off.

Single-pole switches are the most basic switches. They simply turn a light on and off. They come in a variety of colors and are rated for 15 and 20 amps.

Three-way switches control lights from two different locations. By adding a four-way switch between them, you can control lighting from three locations. Common uses for three-way switches are hallways, stairwells, or large rooms like living rooms with more than one doorway in them.

Dimmers switches control a lights brightness or intensity. These switches use rheostats to brighten or dim the lights and are a glorified single-pole switch with options. Dimmer switches often replace single-pole switches in homes. These switches work just fine with incandescent lighting, but specialized dimmer switches are required for ceiling fans and fluorescent lights.

Switches

Single-pole SwitchesA single-pole switch turns a light on and off from one location. The switch has two brass terminals for the "hot" wire connections and a green screw for the ground connection. The toggle handle on the switch is labeled on and off.

Three-way SwitchA three-way switch has two brass screws, a darker colored screw and a green screw. The brass screw are the traveler wire connections. The darker colored screw is for either the "hot" wire or the switch leg. The green screw is for the ground connection. Unlike the single-pole switch, the three-way switch doesn't have the toggle handle switched. That's because one position doesn't mean that is necessarily on or off. It always depends on the position of the other switch. Learn more about three-way switches.

Rotary Dimmer SwitchA rotary dimmer switch is a switch with a rheostat that is used to dim the lights via the switch. Some rotary dimmer switches turn off and others have to have the knob pressed in to shut them off. By turning the knob to the left, the lights will get dimmer. Turning the knob to the right will make them brighter. This is a great switch if you're using accent lighting. Learn more about rotary dimmer switches.

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