Buying Guide

Types of Switches and Dimmers

Light Switch Styles
A woman installing a toggle light switch.

A light switch opens or closes an electrical current to turn on a light fixture, ceiling fan or similar electrical device. Select a type of light switch that is compatible with the circuit where it will be installed. For example, if a light is controlled by one switch, you’ll need to replace it with a single-pole switch.

  • Toggle: A toggle light switch is the most common style. It has a single toggle that sticks out from the faceplate. The toggle is switched up or down to turn the light on or off.

  • Rocker: A rocker light switch operates in the same way as a toggle switch, but the design differs. It is wider and flatter than the toggle switch. It also requires less pressure to operate, making it a good switch style for accessibility.

  • Push-Button: The push-button light switch style is an older design than the toggle switch, but enjoys resurgences of popularity from time to time.

  • Touch Light: The touch light switch relies on capacitance to operate. Touching the surface alters the electrical field between the touchpad outer surface and the inner surface which causes the light to trigger.
Comparison of Light Switch Styles
Single Pole - Light Switches Controls one fixture from a single location. Most common type of switch. Easiest to install or replace. Choose from classic toggle or rocker styles.
3-Way - Light Switches Controls one fixture from two locations. Often used in stairways, hallways and large rooms. Slightly more complicated installation.
4-Way - Light Switches Controls one fixture from three locations. Most commonly used in large rooms. One 4-way switch must be used with two 3-way switches in a 4-way circuit. Slightly more complicated installation.
Multi-Location - Light Switches Controls one fixture from three or more locations. Used in larger spaces where having multiple controls adds convenience and safety. Slightly more complicated installation.
Double Pole - Light Switches Controls two fixtures without installing a separate box. Installing two parallel switches with a double box also works. Make sure there is plenty of room for all the wires so that it meets building code requirements.
Light Switch Features
A person touching a touch light switch.

Personalize the switches in your home to meet your specific needs by using features such as timers, motion sensors, time delays and more.


  • Allows you to program activation time.
  • Provides security while out of town or returning home after dark.

Motion Sensor:

  • Activates lights when motion is detected in a room and turns off lights automatically.
  • Offers convenience of a no-touch lighting system and may help save on energy costs.

Switch/Receptacle Combo:

  • Combines a switch and an outlet in one.
  • Ideal for locations where additional outlets are needed.


  • Allows power to flow to a fixture for a set amount of time.
  • Shuts off automatically when set time has elapsed.

A person adjusting a round dimmer switch on a wall.

Dimmers make it easy to adjust the brightness level and open up a wide range of lighting moods. They not only provide more flexible lighting options, but they also help save energy and extend the life of your light bulbs.

  • Single-pole dimmers are designed for lights controlled from a single dimmer in one location. 
  • Three-way or four-way dimmers are designed for lights controlled by a single dimmer and one or more switches in other locations. 
  • Multi-location dimmers are designed for lights controlled by multiple companion dimmers, allowing for full dimming control from four or more locations. 
  • Plug-in dimmers are designed to dim the bulbs of table and floor lamps. 
  • Smart dimmers allow you to control your lights from your smartphone or other smart devices. Some models of smart dimmers may also offer other features such as programmable timers. Scene selectors feature multiple buttons that let you jump to your favorite pre-set lighting levels.
  • Some dimmers are now rated for dimmable energy-saving bulbs, such as LED and CFL bulbs.

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