About Switches: Single Pole, Three-Way, Four-Way, Dimmer, Occupancy, More

Types of Switches

Turn a switch on and it completes the circuit, letting electricity flow through it. Turn it off and the circuit is broken; the switch creates a gap that stops the flow.

Essential switches
The most common household switch, a single-pole, has two terminals and simply turns power on or off.

A three-way switch has three terminals; a four-way has four. These control a light from two or three locations, such as in a stairwell, at either end of a hallway, or in a large room with more than one entrance.

A dimmer switch controls a light's intensity. Usually you can replace any single-pole switch with a dimmer. However, for a fan or fluorescent light, buy a special switch rated to control those devices.

Special switches
In addition to the familiar toggle and rotary switches, specialty switches can do everything from turning on when you walk into a room to varying the speed of whole-house fans. Other special-duty switches can be time-programmed or let you know whether a remote light is on or off. Decorative switches include styles that rock, turn, or slide rather than toggle.

Single-Pole Switch

A single-pole switch has two terminals and a toggle labeled ON and OFF. Always connect two hot wires to it, not two neutrals.

Three-Way Switch

A three-way switch has three terminals, and its toggle is not marked on or off.

Four-Way Switch

A four-way switch is similar to a three-way, except it has four terminals and controls three lights.

Rotary Dimmer

A rotary dimmer switch is the most common type.

Sliding Dimmer

A sliding dimmer with an on/off toggle turns the light back on to the brightness you had set the last time it was on.

Dimmer Switch

If you don't like the look of big knobs and sliders, a dimmer switch with a small slider next to the toggle is almost invisible.

Programmable Timer and Switch

A programmable timer and switch can be preset to turn the lights on and off on an automatic schedule. If you need light immediately, just press the button, and the lights come on regardless of the program.

Wall-Control Dimmer

A wall-control dimmer not only controls and dims several lights, but it also can be programmed to turn on a combination of lights at a given brightness with the touch of a button.

Occupancy Switch

An occupancy switch saves energy. Its built-in motion detector turns the light on when someone enters the room and leaves it on for a predetermined time.

Comments (8)
dolbeccraig19 wrote:

I've got three electrical 14/2 coming into the box and can't figure out how to wire a single pole switch up

1/31/2017 11:53:29 AM Report Abuse
rhemaccc wrote:

how to wire a four way switch

1/14/2010 08:25:04 PM Report Abuse
anonymous wrote:

which terminal does white,black and red wires go to.

1/8/2010 05:37:33 PM Report Abuse


12/16/2009 03:55:01 PM Report Abuse
buchserr wrote:

how to wire a three way switch

11/6/2009 08:32:51 PM Report Abuse
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