The best light switch
Savvy homeowners know that even small details like unassuming light switches can have an impact on comfort, convenience, and peace of mind in everyday life.
High-quality, functional light switches can simplify your routines, set the mood and tone in different rooms, and help you navigate your home more easily. In our buying guide, we explore all the factors that influence your choice of light switch, such as wiring and switch style. We also share our top product recommendations, including the easy-to-install Lutron Claro On/Off 15-Amp Single-Pole Switch, which comes in 18 shades to match your décor.
Considerations when choosing light switches
A light switch connects to the wiring of your house and acts as a gatekeeper for a particular electrical circuit, allowing you to send or cut off power to a given light source or appliance. Light switches are made with four basic wiring options that offer unique advantages:
Single Pole Single Throw (SPST): A switch's pole controls the destination of its electricity. So, a single-pole switch sends electricity to one location. A switch's throw determines how many different routes that electricity can travel. An SPST switch uses one switch to control a single light fixture (e.g., an office light).
Single Pole Double Throw (SPDT): An SPDT switch gives you the convenience of sending electricity to a single location via two different routes (throws). For example, an SPDT switch would allow you to place two light switches at opposite ends of the same large room to control the same light fixture.
Double Pole Single Throw (DPST): A DPST switch sends electricity along two different circuits at the same time using a single switch. This type of switch is most common for 240V appliances, since it can send power to two 120V circuits at once.
Double Pole Double Throw (DPDT): A DPDT switch sends electricity to two different devices using two different circuits. This setup is common in bathrooms, where the bathroom light and fan can be operated separately with adjacent switches.
Dimmer switches require a compatible light bulb and allow you to reduce the amount of electrical current to dim the lights.
This common, easy-to-use switch type moves up or down to turn the lights on and off. The majority of light switches use a toggle option.
Rotary switches are relatively uncommon and control two different circuits (e.g., bathroom lights and fan) for a set amount of time.
The mechanism in this switch type uses a button to turn the lights on and off. Pressing the button one time turns the light on and pressing it a second time turns the light off.
Motion sensor light switches turn on automatically when they detect movement in the room, then turn off automatically after a set amount of time when no movement is detected. They can be very helpful for some room types (like a garage) and an annoyance in others (like an office) since the lights may turn off sporadically if not enough movement is detected.
These lights turn on automatically when it gets dark outside. Light sensor switches are primarily used for convenience with holiday lighting or decorative string lighting on back patios.
Some light switches can be controlled using a remote. This can be a convenient option for outdoor lighting or difficult-to-reach locations.
Smart or programmable
Some light switches can be programmed to turn off and on at certain times (for instance, while you're out of town), and others can be controlled right from your phone or table. These light switches are typically the most expensive options.
Basic but functional toggle switches suited for sheds or outbuildings can be found for between $2 and $5. Mid-range options run between $10 and $25 and offer features like dimmers, motion sensors, and LED lights that make them easy to locate in the dark. If you want a programmable, fully automatic setup, expect to pay up to $50 per switch.
Q. How often do light switches need to be replaced?
A. Quality switches that don't see much use can last an impressive 30 years, while high-traffic switches often fail after about 10 years. It's important to pay attention to warning signs that indicate a light switch is failing, including strange odors, heat coming from the plate, or humming/crackling sounds.
Q. Do I need an electrician to install my new light switches?
A. Installing light switches is a relatively straightforward process and only requires a pair of needle-nose pliers and a screwdriver. If you're handy, you might be completely comfortable installing your own switches; however, many homeowners choose to involve an electrician, given that a mistake installing light switches can result in electric shock or even a house fire.
Light switches we recommend
Best of the best: Lutron Claro On/Off 15-Amp Single-Pole Switch
Our take: Sleek, high-quality rocker switch at a surprisingly low price point.
What we like: Easy installation. Color options match up well with popular faceplate options. Reliable operation. Quality components.
What we dislike: Stiff movement. Doesn't include faceplate. Noticeable clicking noise.
Best bang for your buck: Prime Products' 11-0190 Rocker Switch with Chrome Plate
Our take: Affordable, utilitarian switch perfect for shops, sheds, or trailers.
What we like: Burnished steel is easy to find in the dark. Simple and functional. Fits in smaller spaces. Straightforward installation.
What we dislike: Doesn't fit in many RVs. Not ideal for outdoor use.
Our take: Attractive, inexpensive switch that's simple to install and operate.
What we like: Easy installation. Modern design. All hardware included. Smooth, fluid switch movement.
What we dislike: Some customers report problems with faulty or non-working switches.
Noelle Ihli is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.