How to Replace Old Light Switches?


Old 05-12-05, 09:49 AM
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How to Replace Old Light Switches?

We moved into a house built in 1934 and it has old light switches in it. I want to replace all of the light switches. How do I go about doing this SAFELY and what tools/parts do I need to buy? Thank you.

Also, anything else I should be looking at with old wiring?
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Old 05-12-05, 10:01 AM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
Posts: 18,497
Before you do anything, obtain and read three books on home wiring. Don't just skim them. Read them thoroughly.

For tools, you probably need a circuit tester (so you know when you've shut off the right breaker or removed the right fuse), probably some needle-nosed pliers, probably some wire nuts to replace the old ones and perhaps add some pigtails, a small supply of new wire to make pigtails out of (you may need some), and a wire stripper. If your house has no grounding, I'd get a voltage "tick" tester in addition to the circuit tester.

It isn't hard if you're careful and orderly and record all connections precisely and accurately before disconnecting anything. If you're not careful or you rush it, it'll be really expensive when you call the electrician in to fix the mess you create. Also understand that there are many different ways to wire the same thing, so you may see a lot fo different things when you look in the switch boxes.

If when you're doing the first one you find that the insulation on the wire is crumbling, I'd probably stop. Leaving it alone would be better than disturbing it.

Of course you need to understand common switch wiring, and the books will give you that. Be sure you know how to identify the "common" terminal on a 3-way switch, how to identify the "input" and "output" on a 4-way, how power sometimes passes through switch boxes on the way to somewhere else, and what a switch loop is (i.e., no neutral in the box).

Done properly, this project will make your house safer. Done improperly, it will make your house more hazardous.
Old 05-12-05, 11:08 AM
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Just curious what 3 books you would recommend. I am looking to do some wiring myself and want to pick some up.

Old 05-12-05, 11:25 AM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
Posts: 18,497
If you want to buy them, visit some place like Home Depot and browse their selection. Pick one that seems to be written in language appropriate to your background.

I'd recommend Black and Decker's Complete Guide to Home Wiring, and the $6 green paperback "Wiring Simplified". The first is a good "how to" with pictures, and the second is a great treatment of the most commonly used electrical codes. If you ever get into a serious electrical project, there are a couple of $70-$100 books that are more comprehensive.

You can also go to your public library and enter "home wiring" into the word search engine. That might save you a few bucks.

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