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Electrical Switches 101 – Different Types and Their Importance

Switches in electronic devices play an important role. They are purposed to interrupt the electric flow. Electrical switches are binary devices that are either completely on or off. Put simply, they either make or break the electronic circuit, which is further explained in detail on Wikipedia. Switches are highly important, but since the vast majority aren’t much aware of their purpose and working, these little devices do not get the importance they deserve.

Electrical devices and components have seen immense innovation, and with every passing day, we witness improvements. The same has been the case with electrical switches. Since the first switch landed in the market, there has been a lot of evolution. Here in this guide, we have listed some commonly found switches, along with the benefits they offer.

1. One Way Electrical Switch (Single-Pole)

The most commonly used and seen nowadays is the one-way or single pile electric switch. These switches control the speed of fans, adjust lights, and other devices from a certain location. You’ll clearly see the ON and OFF markings on these switches. These markings are generally not seen on other types like the three-way and four-way switches. The single pole switch typically comes with 2 brass-colored screw terminals that are connected with the current-carrying wire that’s black in color. One of these brass terminals is for the current-carrying wire, while the other one is made for the outgoing wire connected to the device. Moreover, these one-way switches also have a ground terminal that connects the circuit’s ground wire. So, when the switch is turned ON, the two terminals will connect, whereas when it’s OFF, the connection between the two is broken.

2. Double Pole or Two Way Electrical Switch

Although the double-pole switches are mostly seen in industrial setups, nowadays a vast majority of homeowners have also started to use the two-way electrical switch. These switches also come with ON and OFF markings, but they can control any device or appliance from more than one location. Unlike the single-pole switch, this one comes with 4 hot brass terminals, along with one ground terminal that allows you to connect it with the two pairs of hot wires. An important thing to note here is that one terminal can be connected with either of the two but both terminals cannot be connected at the same time. So, when you wish to make a connection with one terminal, you cannot establish a connection with the other one. This switch is usually used for 30amps, which is why they can control appliances that use a high amount of electricity.

3. Three-Way Switch

Three-way switches are used to control lights or receptacles from two different locations, and they have 2 brass terminals. Generally, this type of switch is seen in pairs, at both ends of a garage, basement, staircase, or hallways, where you have two entries.

You’ll have three terminal screws in this, where the hot wire from the power source is connected with the common terminal. This common terminal is where the load is connected. In simpler terms, the hot is on one of the common terminals, and leaves on the other common terminal, whereas the other two travelers connect the two switches together. ‘Travelers’ are the other two terminals and they are interchangeable. For safety purposes, you must know that travelers are always hot wires.

4. Four-Way Switch

You’ll find no ON and OFF marking on this one. The 4-way switch is purposed for controlling the outlet or light fixtures from 3 different places. There are 4 terminals, where 2 are brass and the other 2 are dark terminals.

4-way switches are rarely used, but they are made for long hallways and big rooms that have more than 2 entry points. This switch is used between 2 three-way switches to allow control from multiple locations.

This 4-way switch is quite similar to the double-pole switch, the only difference is that there are no markings. With four terminals and a ground terminal, this switch has no common terminal. Basically, this switch works as a switching device for the traveler wires found between the three-way switches.

5. Smart Switch

This switch is tied with some remote controller or system and is used to control light switches from remote locations. The number of brass terminals varies in these switches.
This is the most recent type of switch, gaining immense popularity due to the convenience it offers. The majority of smart switches are multi-way switches, controlled remotely. The smart switch needs some power at all times, which is why they need a neutral connection. Since there’s no need for neutral connections in any other type of switch, you will need to call your local electrical inspectors to run a new cable. Mostly, switches have neutral wires passing through and they can be tapped for a smart switch.

Wrap Up

Switches are an essential part of your electrical system. Having functional and working switches at your place determines your safety and easy living. If you need any assistance, you can always get in touch with Bright Electric and have our expert professional repair your electrical switches, immediately.

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