How to Wire a Light Switch with Only Two Wires

How to Wire a Light Switch with Only Two Wires


Wiring a light switch with only two wires may seem daunting at first, but it's actually a straightforward process that anyone can do with the right materials and basic electrical knowledge. In this guide, I'll walk you step-by-step through how to wire a light switch with only two wires.

What You'll Need

Before getting started, make sure you have the following materials:

Turn Off Power and Remove Old Switch

Safety first! Before doing any electrical work, always turn off the power to the circuit you'll be working on at the main breaker panel. Verify power is off by using a voltage tester on the wires.

Once you've confirmed the power is off, remove the old light switch from the wall box. Carefully pull the two wires off the terminals on the side or back of the old switch. You may need to unscrew the switch from the wall box first.

Identify the Hot and Switch Leg Wires

Look closely at the two wires coming out of the wall into the box. One of them will have black insulation, while the other could have black, red, or white insulation. Here's how to identify them:

Use a voltage tester to confirm - the hot wire will show voltage, while the switch leg will not.

Connect the Wires to the New Switch

With the wires identified, you're ready to connect them to the new light switch.

  1. Strip 1/2" insulation off the ends of both wires using wire strippers.

  2. Connect the black hot wire to one of the brass screw terminals on the side or back of the new light switch. Tighten the screw securely over the wire.

  3. Connect the switch leg wire to the other brass screw terminal. Again, tighten the screw fully.

  4. If your new switch has a green grounding screw, connect a ground wire (if there is one in the box) to it.

Install the New Switch and Restore Power

You're almost done! Follow these final steps to complete the light switch installation:

And that's it! With just two wires and following basic safety procedures, you can successfully wire a light switch. Just take your time and be careful working with electrical wiring. Contact a qualified electrician if you have any doubts or questions.

Safety Tips

When wiring a switch, keep these safety guidelines in mind:

Following basic electrical safety will help ensure your light switch project goes smoothly and safely.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do I do if there are more than two wires in the box?

If there are more than two wires, there is likely also a neutral wire in the box. You would identify the hot, switch leg, and neutral, then connect them appropriately on a 3-way switch. Never connect a switch between a hot and a neutral wire.

What if neither wire shows voltage with a tester?

This likely means the power is off to the entire circuit at the breaker. Double check that the correct breaker is off. If power is coming into the box, one of the wires should show voltage.

Can I use a dimmer switch instead of a regular switch?

Yes, you can use a dimmer switch with two wires the same way you would a regular switch. Just make sure not to exceed the dimmer's wattage rating.

What do I do if the wires are aluminum?

Use special connectors and techniques like twisting the wires together with a wire nut or applying antioxidant gel. Never connect aluminum directly to copper.

What if I connect the wires incorrectly?

If you reverse the hot and switch leg wires, the light switch will be backwards (light on when switch is off). Reversing the wires won't damage anything but the switch won't work properly until the wires are on the correct terminals.