Best Light Switches

Updated October 2020
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Buying guide for best light switches

Switches give us control over our environment. We can use them not only to turn lights on and off but to set the desired level of brightness and create a mood. Light switches should be strategically integrated into a home's wiring system in a way that brings convenience and simplicity to everyday living.

The best light switches function in the way you prefer and provide the control you need. For instance, if you want to be able to turn a light on and off from two different locations — at opposite ends of a long hallway, for example — you need a specific type of switch.

For information on the inner workings of light switches and how certain types might enhance your home, keep reading. For our take on the best light switches available for your home, check out the products we’re spotlighting. With this BestReviews buying guide to arm you, the future looks bright indeed!

Although most light switches are covered by light plates, it is still important to match the color of your light switch to the decor of your home.

How light switches work

The primary purpose of a switch is to break or complete a circuit. The easiest way to think of this is to picture a drawbridge. When the drawbridge is up, traffic comes to a halt. When it is down, traffic flows freely so travelers can reach their destinations.

There are four basic wiring configurations for light switches. Understanding each type will help you choose the switch that best suits your needs.

SPST (Single Pole Single Throw) switches

There are two elements that define every switch: the pole and the throw. The pole is like a railroad signalman; it determines where the electricity flows. The throw is the number of routes the electricity can take. The drawbridge is a Single Pole Single Throw switch; it allows you to control one light from one location. It can be either off or on. An example of this would be a ceiling light in a small room — you turn the light on when you walk in and shut it off when you leave.

SPDT (Single Pole Double Throw) switches

With an SPDT switch, you have one switch that can control two different circuits. It is important to realize that this type of switch is never truly "off." It's helpful to revisit the signalman analogy here. Think of an SPDT switch as a railroad switch. The train is coming, and you are not stopping it — you are just determining where it will go.

Since it would be silly to shut off the living room light only to have the kitchen light turn on, these switches are usually wired in a unique way that allows two different switches to control the same light. An example of this would be a long hallway with a light switch at either end. Each switch is able to turn the hallway light on or off.

"If you are not a fan of the clicking sound a light switch typically produces, consider a light switch that functions silently."
STAFF
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DPST (Double Pole Single Throw) switches

A DPST switch can turn two different circuits on or off at the same time from one switch. Although this could conceivably be used in certain lighting situations, it is more commonly used to control 240V appliances because it can turn two 120V lines on or off at the same time.

DPDT (Double Pole Double Throw) switches

In essence, a DPDT switch can control two separate devices from one location. The most common use for this type of a switch would be for a ceiling fan that also has a light.  

Did you know?
Some switch plates include a small LED that makes them easy to locate in the dark.
STAFF
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Types of switch mechanisms

Now that you have a basic understanding of how different types of switches work, it's time to consider the many ways a light switch can be turned off and on.

Toggle: The toggle light switch is the most common type. Flip the switch up and it turns on. Flip it down and it turns off. Most homes and places of business feature these types of switches because they are intuitive and easy to operate.

Push-button: With a push-button switch, you simply press the button once to turn on a light and press it a second time to turn it off.

Dimmer: A dimmer switch allows you to adjust the flow of current to a light so you control the brightness. It is essential that you only use compatible bulbs with a dimmer switch.

Rotary: A rotary switch can be used to control several circuits from one switch. Although this can be useful in specific situations, most people are unlikely to need it for basic lighting.

Motion sensor: This type of mechanism can turn on a light when it senses motion. These are typically used to turn on a light when someone enters a specific room, such as a bathroom. They can also be used outside to help light your way when you pull into the driveway or to help deter unwanted individuals from getting too close to your house at night.

Light sensor: When the ambient light in a particular location gets too low, this type of light switch will trigger your lights to come on. A light sensor switch would be useful for holiday decorations because it can automatically turn on your lights when it gets dark.

Remote: Some switches are designed to operate remotely, much like a TV remote. This might be the right option if you have a switch in a hard-to-reach location or if you just want to be able to control your lighting without getting up off of the couch.

Programable: A programmable switch has a user interface that allows you to program the lights to turn on and off at certain times. Expect to pay a bit extra for this convenience.

Smart: If you want to control your lighting from your phone, tablet, or digital home assistant, you will want to purchase a smart switch.

For your safety
A worn light switch may create a loose connection that causes enough overheating to start a house fire. Be sure to have a home electrical inspection every three to five years.
STAFF
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Light switch prices

Inexpensive: At the low end of the price range, you can find generic SPST toggle light switches for around $2. These basic switches can suffice if you’re on a tight budget. At the higher end of this price bracket, you will find basic light switches for around $5 or even $10.

Mid-range: From $10 to $25, you can find dimmer switches, motion sensor switches, and light sensor switches. These light switches offer a little more functionality than budget-priced models, but depending on your needs, they might not be suitable for you.

Expensive: For automated switches, such as programmable models and smart switches, expect to pay between $25 and $50. These light switches offer a number of highly desirable features, but the cost is considerably greater than that of generic models.

Most light switches that require power, such as smart light switches and programmable light switches, have a backup battery that will maintain your settings in the event of a power outage.

FAQ

Q. How long do light switches last?
A.
A number of factors determine the lifespan of a light switch. Build quality, switch type, and frequency of use all come into play. A well-built light switch that sustains light to moderate use may last up to 30 years. A frequently used light switch might not even last a decade. Because there is such a broad time period over which a light switch may begin to fail, it is important to pay attention to how your light switch operates. If you notice any changes or warning signs, consider replacing it with a new one as soon as possible.
 

Q. What are some signs that a light switch needs to be replaced?
A.
The most obvious indicator is erratic behavior. At the first sign of any erratic behavior, take prompt action. A strange sound, popping noise, spark, crackling noise, odd odor, or plate that is warm to the touch signify that something is wrong. If you feel any kind of hum or a tingling sensation when you touch the screws, it could mean you have a bad ground, which creates a very dangerous situation.
 

Q. Can I install a light switch on my own?
A.
That depends on your ability and comfort level. The task typically requires a screwdriver and a pair of needle nose pliers. Note that if you do not know what you are doing, a mistake could be lethal. Play it safe.

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