Electrical Switches are one of the important components of a typical electrical system. Switches are electrical devices that make or break i.e., close or open the circuit. We use switches all the time to control lights, fans and other appliances in our homes, offices, shops, etc. In this article, we will be focusing on Light Switches and take a look at different types of Light Switches that are commonly used in lighting circuits.
Different Types of Light Switches
Light Switches on our walls are essential electrical devices in our homes. We use light switches all the time to control lighting. Flip the switch to turn on the light and flip it the other way turn off the light. They are that simple.
Despite being one of the simplest electrical devices, there are different types of light switches such as Flip Switches or Toggle Switches, Rocker Switches, Push-Button Switches, Slider Switches, Touch Switches, Smart Switches and many more.
The following is a list of Different Types of Light Switches:
- Single Pole Switch
- Double Pole Switch
- Flip Switch / Toggle Switch
- Rocker Switch
- Three Way Switch
- Four Way Switch
- Dimmer Switch
- Selector Light Switch
- Push Button Switch
- Proximity Light Switch
- Pull Chain / Pull Cord Switch
- Touch Switch
- Wireless Switch
- Motion Activated Switch
- Sound Activated Switch
- Vandal-Proof Switch
- Australian Style Rocker Switch
- Photoelectric Light Switch
- Mercury Switch
- Illuminated Switch
- Multiway Switch
- Smart Switch
Let us take a closer look at some of the common and popular types of light switches that we come across in lighting circuits.
1. Single Pole Switch
A Single Pole Switch or technically known as a Single Pole Single Throw Switch is one of the common types of light switches used in homes. It is a very basic switch and is very inexpensive. Due to the low cost, simple and straight-forward usage and easy installation, the single pole switches make up the majority of the room lighting switches Worldwide. In fact, single pole switches are very common in 120VAC lighting circuits.
The construction and operation of single pole switches is very simple. There is a lever that protrudes out and simply toggle it connect (light ON) or disconnect (light OFF) the hot wires attached to its two terminals.
2. Double Pole Switch
A Double Pole Single Throw Switch is simply known as a Double Switch is another commonly used switches. You can consider a Double Pole Switch as two Single Pole Switches in a single package. This is because a Double Pole Switch consists of four contacts (two for one device and two for other device) and they are controlled by a single level.
Double Pole switches often have higher ampacity and as a result, they are often used in controlling high power appliances such as motors and other machinery.
3. Flip Switch / Toggle Switch
A Toggle Switch or a Flip Switch is the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about light switches. You can find toggle switches in almost every household as light switches.
Underneath the surface, a simple toggle switch is essentially a single pole switch i.e., it has two contacts (usually made up of brass) and you can toggle / flip to make or break these contacts.
Some toggle switches also come as double pole switches but single pole switches make up the majority of the flip switches.
4. Rocker Switch
Also called as Decorative Switches in the US, Rocker Switches are very common type of light switches in UK, EU, India and other parts of Asia. Functionality wise, rocker switches are very similar to toggle switches but have an appealing look.
While the level in toggle switches protrude out of the wall, the rocker switches are relatively flat but occupy a large surface area. The protrusion out of the wall is very minimal and they don’t snag on clothes or jewelry.
Rocker switches are a lot easier to use than flip switches and even kids can use them without any effort. We personally prefer rocker switches over toggle switches.
5. Three Way Switch
The next two types of light switches help us in controlling a light from two different places. The first one is the Three Way Switch. If you are familiar with Staircase Light Switch, then you might have heard of a three way switch. In staircase lighting, one light is controlled by two switches, which are placed at either end of the staircase.
A three way switch consists of three terminals in which one terminal is the common while the other two terminals are called as Traveler contacts which carry hot wires.
6. Four Way Switch
A Four Way Switch takes the concept of three way switches to the next level. While a four way switch is not that common in residential lighting circuits, it is often used in large warehouses or commercial places.
Usually, the four way switch sits in between two three way switches and acts as switching device for the traveler contacts of the 2 three way switches. There is no common terminal in a four way switch, unlike a three way switch. The combination of three way switches and four way switches allow us to control a single light from multiple locations.
7. Dimmer Switch
As the name suggests, a Dimmer Switch is used to lower the brightness of the light. Dimmer Switches are often used to personalize the ambient lighting of a room depending on the situation.
Usually, there is a misconception that dimmer switches decrease the voltage applied to a light bulb. This is not true. Dimmer Switches are electronic switches and consists of a circuit which control the amount of the time the light bulb stays on. This is also known as the Duty Cycle. It is the ratio of the ON time of the bulb to the sum of ON time and OFF time of the light bulb.
A lower duty cycle means the brightness of the light is less and a higher duty cycle means a brighter light bulb. Regular Dimmer Switches are only compatible with incandescent light bulbs and you cannot use them with fluorescent (compact or tube) or LED light bulbs.
8. Push Button Switch
Another simple light switch is the Push Button Switch. They are typically used in bathrooms and vanity lighting and also with exhaust fans.
Basically, there are two types of push button switches. In the first type, when you push the button, it stays pushed down until you push the button once again. In the other type, the button returns to its default position when you push it.
You can choose either of the two depending on your personal liking as some use the recessed button as a visual indicator if the button is pushed or not. Some push button switches come with LED indictors to help you identify if the light is ON or OFF.
9. Selector Light Switch
A Selector Switch is used to select one of the settings for light bulb or a fan. With lights, a selector switch can be used to switch between different colored lights, if you have a multicolored lighting system. When used with fans, selector switches can be used to select the speed settings of a fan.
Selector Switches often come as rotary switches or push button switches. Rotary switches are commonly found in fans speed control circuits while push button switches are frequently used with lighting circuits.
10. Proximity Light Switch
A Proximity Switch is an electronic switch that uses sensors to detect the presence of persons in a room and switch ON or OFF the light accordingly. Proximity switches are very useful in conserving electricity as the lights are turned o only if there are people inside the room and they are turned off immediately after everyone leaves the room.
11. Pull Chain / Pull Cord Switch
A Pull Chain or Pull Cord switch is often used in ceiling fans, basement lights and also in garages. It consists of a chain or cord and pulling the chain once activate the light and pulling the chain a second time turns off the light.
12. Touch Switch
A Touch Switch is another electronics switch that is activated by touch the plate. There are no mechanical parts in a touch switch but consists of an electronic circuit to read the touch as well as control the switch.
13. Wireless Switch
If you have a garage door opener system installed, then you probably have a wireless switch in your car. A Wireless Switch, as the name suggests, is controlled wirelessly. There are several types of wireless switches that use RF, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi communication to control the switch.
There is a transmitter and a receiver that communicate over radio frequency. The transmitter is usually held by the person (as a key fob or a switch inside the car) while the receiver is placed near the object that need to be switched (a light or a garage door).
14. Motion Activated Light Switch
If you installed security systems in you home, then you would have come across motion activated light switches. They are frequently used in security lightings and are activated when they detect any motion.
There is usually some sort of PIR (Passive Infrared) Sensor within these Motion Activated Light Switches and if it detects any motion from people, animals or any object that emits infrared radiation and activates the light.
Motion Activated Light Switches are often used in porches, gardens and backyards as a security measure in order to keep burglars away.
15. Sound Activated Switch
You might have seen in movies or tv shows where a rich guy claps and the lights turn on. This is possible because of Sound Activated Switch, also commonly known as Clap Switches.
A sound sensor (usually a high-quality microphone with supporting electronic circuit) will detect sounds and turns a light on or off.
16. Vandal-Proof Switch
A Vandal Proof or Vandal Resistant Switch is often used outdoors and in public areas such as vending machine, pedestrian crossing etc. They are designed to tolerate rough usage and also resist severe abuse.
17. Australian Style Rocker Switch
They are similar to the rocker switches mentioned earlier but they are much smaller and compact in size. These switches are commonly found in Australia and New Zealand (hence the name) and can have multiple switches in a single housing due to their compact size.
A Photoelectric Light Switch consists of sensors that detect light and switch on or off the lights accordingly. Photoelectric Sensors can be simple LDRs, Photo Diodes or Photo Transistors with supporting electronic circuitry.
19. Mercury Switch
A Mercury Switch is also called as a Tilt Switch. It consists of small glass bulb with two contacts and a blob of Mercury inside. When the switch is tilted, the Mercury blob shorts the two contacts and activates the light.
These switches are rarely used as light switches but used in some special applications.
20. Illuminated Switch
An Illuminated Switch is nothing but a toggle switch or a rocker switch with a small neon lamp that acts as an indicator. When the switch is off, the neon lamp is also off. But when the switch is toggles, the main light (or fan or any other appliance) turn on and at the same time, the neon lamp near (or sometime on) the switch is also turned on.
21. Multiway Switch
A Multiway Switch is often used to control lighting in long hallways or corridors. Internally, they are a combination of three way and / or four way switches and can be used to control a light from two or more locations.
22. Smart Switch
Last but not the least, we have a smart switch. Most modern homes have multiple internet connected devices and one such electrical device is a smart switch. It is connected to the home Wi-Fi and you can control the switch either by using an application on your smart phone or one of those fancy smart voice assistants (Amazon Alexa or Google Home Assistant).
This was a brief note on different types of light switches that are commonly used in residential applications. Depending on the look, feel, price and functionality, you can choose between these different light switches for your home.
Light Switches often last a really long time and hence the installation is usually a one-time job. So, we suggest you to do a lot of research on all the types of light switches and properly choose the one that is suitable for you.