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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Replacing A Single Pole Double Stack Switch

You would think installing a switch in your home would be a simple task but with today's homes getting larger and larger this may not be as simple as you think. The first thing you need to do is find out what type of switch you need to buy. There are 3 basic kinds of switches in your home, a single pole switch, a three way switch, and a four way switch. Then there are odd balls like a double stack.

Single Pole Double Stack Switch

If you have any questions please ask in the comment link below, I will answer them to the best of my ability, also if you have future projects that you would like step by step instructions please post in the comment box I will usually answer the same day.

A double stack switch is a single switch that operates two lights. Be careful with this one you if you wire it backwards you will have one switch turning on both lights and one switch doing nothing. If at the end this happens scroll to the end of this post I will explain what you did and how to fix.

1) Tools.
a) Thin flat head screw driver
b) Phillips head screw driver
c) drill(optional)
d) wire strippers(maybe)
e) ac tester
f) electric tape(white and orange)
g) sharpie
h) needle nose pliers

2) Shut the power off to the switch. If your old switch still works (yes people change switches that still work) turn it on. Go to your panel (your panel has the breakers or the fuses in it) and turn the breakers off one by one. Changing a switch is a one man job but if you want to avoid running back a forth another person standing there and yelling at you when the light shuts off helps. Make sure you test both switches they may be on separate power supplies. Or shutting all the breakers off and the main just to be sure is what I would recommend. This is electricity SAFETY FIRST!!!!!

3) Remove the plate cover from the switch. This will be the easiest part of your project. On the top and bottom of the switch there will be small screws. You will need the thin flat head screwdriver to remove these. If the location you are installing the switch has multiple switches you will need to remove all the plate screws. Then remove the plate and place the screws and the plate together for replacing later. Do not lose those little screws believe me they are easy to lose.

4) Remove the switch from the wall. OK the fun part. Take a drill or a Phillips head screw driver and take out the screws on the top and bottom of the switch. Now grab the yoke of the switch(that's the top and bottom of the switch) do not grab the switch by the side we want to be sure the power is off and the only way to do this is to pull out the switch. The power is located on the side so if you grab it by the sides and for some reason the power is still on you will get shocked. This is electricity SAFETY FIRST!!!!! So grab the yoke and pull out the switch. If you are in a box with multiple switches you may need to remove multiple switches to be able to pull your switch out far enough to easily work on it. Wires commonly get stuck behind other switches so take the extra step you will wind up doing it anyway after trying to work with short wires and fail. Trust me I tried too.

5) Check and make sure power is turned off!!!! This is the most important part of this project. Your tester should have a black and red lead on it. Set your tester to 120v ac and place one lead on one of the screws of the switch and the other lead on the metal box. If you don't have a metal box then you definitely have romex and you will have bare wires in the box. These bare wires are your ground, place your other lead on the bare wires. If you do not have a metal box or bare wires Stop and call an electrician, we need to ensure the power is off. I'm sorry but we don't want anyone getting hurt. While keeping your one lead on either the box or the bare wires place the other lead on each screw ensuring that your meter shows no power. I don't want to scare anyone but it does hurt when you get shocked and most importantly it can kill you. Electricity is fun for me and I work with it everyday but you probably don't, so be careful.

6) Decide what kind of switch you have. You should have four screws and two switches on one device. If you do, you have a single pole double stack switch, if you have more than 4 screws you most likely have a three way single pole switch and i will explain this in a later post. If you already have the switch skip to #8, if you don't put the switch back in the wall for safety, never leave wires exposed for other people to play with. This is electricity SAFETY FIRST!!!!!

7) Go to the store and buy the switch. Your ready to buy the switch. This is the easiest and for some people the most frustrating. Do yourself a favor and look at the switch before you buy it. I don't know how many times I went out and bought a switch that was in the wrong bin. I get all the way back and then I decide to look at it turn around and go back to the store. Don't think because its in a box that says double stack single pole you have a double stack single pole. People take out the switches and put them in the wrong box. Believe me it has happened to me plenty of times in the past, but not anymore, i check. Also your new switch will not say "ON" or "OFF" on it, that's a single pole.

8) Identify your wires. If you put your switch back in then take it back out like I showed you. One side has two screws with a copper bar connecting the two screws and the other side has two screws with no copper. Pay attention here because if you don't you will be turning on both lights at the same time and your other switch will do nothing. The side with the copper in between the two screws will get the HOT wire. This is only true if you only have 3 wires connected to the switch. One hot and two switch legs. The two switch legs are connected to the side without the copper in between. Mark the hot with your electrical tape and remove all the wires from the switch. If your switch has no copper in between the 2 screws and you have four wires, look closely you will see that copper has been broken in between two of the screws and if you look at the back of the switch the side with the broken copper tab will say HOT. These are your hot wires. I want you to mark the bottom hot wire and the bottom switch leg with the same color and mark the hot with a sharpie with the letter H. Mark the top wires the same way with a different color. I don't care what bottom is. Take the wires off.

10) Connecting the new switch.
For three wires= Pick up your switch and make sure it is a single pole double stack switch. Hold it with your left hand so the screws with the copper in between face up and the decorative side is facing you. Take the marked wire and wrap it around the one of the screws with the copper tab between them, make sure the wire is completely under the screw and tighten. You may need to a little more insulation off the wire to get a good loop around the screw. Sometimes the loop is too long and you may need to shorten the exposed copper on your wire. If you need to make a new loop this is how you do it. Strip about an inch of exposed copper on your wire. To make a good loop your strippers usually have a small hole near the teeth of the tool. Place the wire half way into the hole and bend, that should give you a nice loop. Take the remaining wires and wrap it around the remaining screws on the other side of the switch and tighten.
Four Wires= Pick up your switch and make sure it is a single pole double stack switch. Hold it with your left hand so the screws face up and the decorative side is facing you. Take two of the same color marked wires and put the hot wire on the hot side of the switch. That is the side with the copper in between. If you put the hot on the bottom then put the same marked switch leg on the bottom but on the other side of the switch. Repeat with the other two wires. IMPORTANT!!!!!!! BREAK THE COPPER TAB BETWEEN THE TWO HOT SCREWS. If you do not do this you will short the circuit. You can do this with needle nose pliers.

11) Installing the new switch. Your switch at this point should be facing you. There is no upside down here so carefully push the switch into the position. While pushing the switch in the wires should be pushed in so they fall easily into the box. It takes practice so get the wires in there so it doesn't look like a knot. The two screws on the switch's yoke should be lined up with the holes on the top and bottom of the box. Screw the top one in almost all the way. Now screw in the bottom one so the yoke touches the drywall. Finish screwing in the top screw so the the switch is snug to the drywall. Do not over tighten just snug. This probably made the bottom one lose so make that one snug too.

12) Finishing. Put the plate back on. Please for me make sure your screws are all facing the same way on your plate(i know but its a pet peeve) If your box has multiple switches you may need to slide your switch left or right to get the plate on. Turn the power on because you just finished installing your double stack switch. Enjoy

13) Troubleshoot If by chance you have one switch turning on both lights its an easy fix. You put the switch legs on the with the copper tab between the 2 screws. Your hot wire goes on this side and the other two wires go on the other side.

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Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. I can not be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

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