A dummies guide to light switches.

At Mr Fix Electrician we often get asked what switch is what, what do you call this type of switch? We thought we would make it easy for our customers by sharing some of the most commonly used light switches, their names and a little about fitting those light switches.

The type of switch that’s most commonly used for lighting is the plate switch. This has a switch mechanism mounted behind a square faceplate with either one, two or three rockers. Although that’s usually enough for domestic purposes, double faceplates with as many as four or six rockers are also available.

light switchesA one-way switch simply turns a light on and off. Two-way switches are wired in pairs so that the light can be controlled from two places – typically at the head and foot of a staircase. It’s also possible to have an intermediate switch, to allow a light to be controlled from three places.

Any type of switch can be flush-mounted in a metal box buried in the wall plaster or surface-mounted in a plastic box. Boxes 16mm and 25mm deep are available, to accommodate switches of different depths.

Where there is not enough room for a standard switch, a narrow architrave switch can be used. There are double versions with two rockers, one above the other.

As well as turning the light on and off, a dimmer switch controls the intensity of illumination. Some types have a single knob that serves as both switch and dimmer. Others incorporate a separate knob for switching, so the light level does not have to be adjusted every time the light is switched on. Some can be operated by remote control.

The Wiring Regulations forbid the positioning of a conventional switch within reach of a washbasin, bath or shower unit – so only ceiling-mounted double-pole switches with pull-cords must be used in bathrooms. With this type of switch, both live and neutral contacts are broken when it is off.

Here’s a selection of the most commonly used light switches:

1: One-gang rocker switch

One Gang Rocker Light Switch
2: Two-gang rocker switch

Two Gang Rocker Light Switch
3: Primary-coloured rocker switch

Primary coloured rocker light switch
4: Reproduction retro switch

Reproduction Antique light switch
5: One-gang dimmer switch

One Gang Dimmer Switch
6: Two-gang dimmer switch

Two Gang Dimmer switch
7: Touch dimmer switch

Two Gang Touch Dimmer Switch
8: Two-gang architrave switch

Two Gang Architrave Switch
9: Ceiling switch

Ceiling switch

Installing light switches and cable

Light switches need to be installed in relatively accessible positions, which normally means just inside the door of a room, at about adult shoulder height. In order to reach the switch, lighting cable is either run within hollow cavity walls or buried in the wall plaster.

Choosing switches

Most light switches are made from white plastic, but you can buy other finishes to compliment your decorative scheme. Coloured switches can look striking in a modern house, while reproductions of antique brass switches are both appropriate and attractive in a traditional interior.

Are you thinking of updating your light switches? Perhaps you have an inconveniently positioned switch that needs to be moved. At Mr Fix Electrician we will be able to help you adapt or move your light switches creating that great look and finish that you are after.

If you live in or around the Sudbury, Suffolk area why not give Mr Fix Electrician a call on 01787 852069.

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