Did you know that types of light switches date back to 1884? This was when John Henry Holmes created a quick-break mechanism. Today, the quick-break mechanism is still in use today on some light switches. William J. Newton developed a quick-break mechanism that had a toggle switch on it in 1917.
The toggle-style type of light switch has evolved and led to the creation of different types of light switches, depending on the demand. A few of the most recent types of light switches include touch-sensitive ones, remote-controlled switches, lamps that you can operate via app, and a light switch that you can control by waving your hand. There are dozens of designs and technologies to choose from when it comes to upgrading your kitchen or home.
We’re going to outline 20 types of light switches below to give you a good idea on what is available. Each style comes with benefits and drawbacks, and some suit different needs and decor styles better.
Picking out a type of light switch can be a time-consuming process if you’re not sure what you want, but having a list will help make your final decision much quicker. Light Switch by Nick Amoscato / CC BY 2.0
1. Australian Rocker Switches
First up is the Australian rocker switch, and this is the similar variant of the traditional rocker switch. They’re the standard switches you’ll find in homes in New Zealand and Australia, and this is where it derives the name. One big advantage of this type of light switch is that it’s compact, and you can install it in spaces that are as wide as the door frame. You can install six switch mechanisms in the same space, and this is the same amount of space that one or two traditionally-sized rocker switches or toggle switches would take up.
2. Decorative or Rocker Switch
Rocker switches are a type of light switch that takes up a decent amount of surface space. They only stick out a small amount from the wall, and this means that they won’t snag your clothing as you go by. In the United States, they’re called decorative switches. They work like traditional toggle switches but look much more appealing.
You’ll find this type of light switch used in residential areas in homes, and they’re more common than toggle switches in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Europe. They’re easy to use and offer a pleasant design aesthetic. As a bonus, they’re very easy for smaller children to use too!
3. Dimmable Switch
You’ll find that there are times you want to set a certain mood by having a small amount of light. Some people refer to this type of light switch as mood lighting and others think that they’re a romantic choice. To be able to dim your lights in small increments, you’re going to want a dimmer switch. However, these light switches are extremely common today, and they’re relatively straightforward in the setup process.
Being able to dim the lights can be beneficial, and it can help set the light for specific occasions. It’s also nice to be able to dim your lights to help lessen your eye strain. This is really important after a long day if you’re not really to sit in lights that are up to their full brightness but you don’t want it completely dark either.
There are several varieties available with this type of light switch. You can find them outfitted with a dial that lets you easily adjust the light intensity to a very fine degree. Some of these light switches will have a touch switch that allows you to slowly adjust the light levels by swiping your finger across it. Some also have a remote control to make it more convenient.
The remote will allow you to dim your lights to the exact level you want without any issues. Also, they help you keep your lights at the correct brightness at all times from anywhere in the room. You can adjust them so you have enough light to enjoy reading a book or make them brighter to see finer details. It’s a very convenient solution for virtually any room in your home.
4. Double-Pole Switch
This type of light switch is similar to a single-pole switch as it only allows you to operate two connections from one location. You find them more commonly used in factories over residential settings, and they’re used to handle higher currents or power loads. They can work with devices that operate up to 240-volts. They’re great for motors, heating appliances, and machinery. When you compare them to a single-pole switch, you’ll get four brass terminals over two, and there is a ground terminal as well in the event of a short circuit.
5. Illuminated Switch
This type of light switch was first introduced in the 1950s, and it had a huge popularity surge. The main purpose of this switch was to help people find their switchboards in the dark. The switch’s surface had a small LED or neon lamp built-in and the smaller built-in light got powered by a current passing through the circuit that you used this switch to control in the first place.
A lot of people routinely install these types of light switches in the kitchen or bathroom since they give you just enough light to work like a small night light. This helps you safely navigate through your house after dark without needing to flip the overhead lights on.
6. Mercury Switch
You’ll find mercury switches used as home lighting solutions, and they’re also referred to as quiet switches. Unlike the more traditional spring-loaded toggle switches, they don’t produce a loud snap when they connect the circuits. There is a glass capsule that has a small amount of mercury that works like a connecting link between the two circuits. If you’re looking at different types of light switches, this is a great one for providing a conversation piece when people notice it.
7. Motion-Activated Light Switches
Just like you may put motion-activated lights on your shed, you can also put motion-activated light switches in or outside of your home. If you’ve ever walked up to someone’s house and the porch light came on automatically, you’ve seen a motion-activated type of light switch. They have several applications, but security measures are the biggest one, and they can be tools to help keep any potential burglars out.
A lot of people have motion-activated lights in their yard because it can prevent people from sneaking onto the property after it gets dark. The sudden light activation is usually enough to scare any intruder off. It works very well as a deterrent and setting up a motion-activated light switch is usually a straightforward project. You can usually buy motion-sensitive lights that have a switch included. However, you can also buy standalone switches that don’t come with any lights.
Setting up your switch should be quick and easy. All you need to do is position it correctly and attach the lights as it outlines for you.
8. Multiway Switches
A multiway type of light switch allows you to control circuits from different locations. The switches use additional contacts and wiring to control one light from several different locations in the house. You’ll see these switches installed to control lights on stairways or in long hallways, and they’re very convenient. You could put this type of light switch at the bottom of your basement staircase to control all of the lights in the basement. They’re an excellent time saver.
This light switch is popular to have positioned at the top or bottom of your stairways so you can walk up the illuminated stairway and then switch the lights off. Light Switch by eltpics / CC BY-NC 2.0
9. Photoelectric Light Switch
This type of light switch isn’t nearly as common in homes as many other choices on the list are. However, it’s an extremely useful choice, and it has some applications that you can make use out of. If you want to set up a light that will switch on automatically when it starts to get dark out, you’ll have to buy and install this type of light switch. It has a sensor built right into the design that can easily tell when the light levels start to drop and adjust the light accordingly. Once the sensor registers that the light levels are going down, it’ll turn the light on. This allows you to have light in areas where you really need it.
You won’t have to worry about tripping over things or fumbling around in the dark when you install it. There are several interesting potential applications for this light switch. Whether or not you necessarily need it is up to you. Some people choose to use these switches for their porch lights to ensure that you can see outside. If you live in an area without a street light, this could be an excellent idea.
The primary use for these switches are actually street lights. You’ll find photoelectric light switches installed in street lamps and street lights to make them turn on when dusk comes. A lot of people don’t think about how these lights just know to turn on as it starts to get dark, but now you know that it’s actually the switch that is the reason. You should be able to use these switches in your garden, on your porch, or in areas where you’re going to want to see at night.
10. Pole Receptacle Combination Switch
Thai type of light switch combines a switch with a power outlet. You won’t need to install another switch box or rewire any existing wires for your power outlet. It has a very functional design that will save you space and time. These switches make use of the space that the switch box takes up more efficiently. You’ll find them installed in bathrooms and kitchens the most.
11. Pull Chain or Pull Cord Switch
As the name suggests, you operate this type of light switch by pulling a cord or chain. The chain attaches to a toggle switch, and they’re commonly used to operate ceiling lights installed in garages or basements. You also see them on ceiling fans or ceiling fan alternatives. If the cord features insulating material, it’s safe to pull it in damp environments like in a basement. They’re usually a beaded metal cord or a cloth rope.
12. Toggle Switch
When you picture a light switch, you’re most likely going to envision a toggle switch first. Toggle types of light switches are a very common option that most people have installed in their homes. You can put these light switches in virtually any room in your home without an issue, and they’re very easy to install. You won’t have any issues trying to figure out how this option works.
All you have to do is flip the toggle switch up to turn the lights on and flip it down to switch the lights off. It’s a very simple solution to your lighting needs that has worked very well for decades. If you want to install your lighting in a new room, a toggle switch is going to be one of the most popular options. There are a few other types of light switches that offer better features over a standard toggle-style switch, but they work well for many general lighting purposes.
However, you can find some toggle switches that come outfitted with special features. Some are capable of interfacing with your standard smartphone. You can easily set up timers that dictate when the lights go on at a specific time, or you can use it to activate the lights without having to get up and manually do so. They even come with full Amazon Alexa integration to make them very convenient.
If you want something a little more simple, you can buy a standard toggle-style light switch instead. You can find these simple switches in about any home improvement or hardware store. Installation is usually very quick and easy, and you should be able to DIY without too much hassle.
13. Single-Pole Switch
Almost every switch in your home is a single-pole design. This means that you use them to operate devices that top out at 120-volts of power. This is easily the most common type of light switch available, and it’s the one you’ve seen used throughout your life. You can use them to switch the light on and off from a single location. Most of these switches also come with on and off markings on the toggle switch. However, if they don’t, you can usually assume that up means on and down means off.
14. Sound-Activated Switch
Sometimes, people look for light switches that are much more convenient to use. When you want to have a light switch that you can operate without having to get up and flick a switch or press a button, you’re going to have limited choices. There are motion-activated switches as we touched on, but they’re usually meant for outdoor use on your deck or porch.
One of the most convenient ways to turn a light on and off is by sound. There are types of light switches available that can detect sound to operate. Certain sounds can signal the switch to turn the light on and off. The motion you need to use with the sound can be something as simple as snapping your fingers or clapping your hands. This technology has been around for a long time, and there were commercials that depicted lights going on and off by clapping your hands.
Today, these light switches are still available, even if they’re not necessarily as popular as they once were. This is a very simple type of light switch that you plug into your normal electrical outlet. You can plug a lamp into it or another type of light. When you clap your hands, the light will switch on. Clapping your hands a second time will shut the light off.
15. Push-Button Light Switch
Push button systems are the second most common type of light switch on the market today that you can buy. They have a very simple design that works very well in your home. You’ll see them used in bathrooms a lot, and you can wire them to trigger both the lighting and the exhaust fan in the space. There are a few variations among this type of light switch too. Some come designed to work with you pushing the button, and the button stays recessed until you push it again. Some models have you push a button and the button returns to the normal position.
Some people like the switches that stay recessed because it offers a subtle visual cue of what mode or position the light currently is in. This can clue you in when something is wrong if your light is supposed to be on when you push it but it doesn’t come on. It can alert you to a wiring issue or a burnt-out bulb. There are very simple single-button models, and some come with convenient features like a LED light installed inside of it. This tells you when the light is in the “on” position.
16. Proximity Light Switch
Proximity-style types of light switches are useful to have in your home when you want to limit your energy waste. The switches can easily turn the lights on in your home when you’re in the room. Once you exit the room, the light switch will automatically switch the lights off. This makes it very easy for you to save energy, and you won’t have to worry about searching for the light switch when you’re entering a dark room.
Since environmental concerns are on the minds of many people today, being able to reduce your overall energy consumption is very appealing. You could save a very minor amount of money on your energy bills if you decide to install this light switch. However, unless you’re a very wasteful person when it comes to energy consumption, you won’t see a huge difference.
This light switch type is going to appeal to certain people more than others. Most people like to have control over the lighting in their homes. Allowing your proximity switch to turn on when you go into a room can wind up feeling inconvenient, depending on your feelings on the matter. Some people like to keep things dimmer overall, and having lights turn on to full brightness every time you enter the room may be unpleasant.
If you like this idea, it shouldn’t be too hard for you to set up this switch on your own. However, they’re more common in community rooms in your home instead of the bedrooms. A lot of people put them in their living rooms.
17. Selector Light Switch
A selector type of light switch can be a vital pick if you’re trying to set up lighting that has different modes. This switch will allow you to choose between two different settings quickly and easily. This is a type of switch that is very common on fans. They let you switch between fan modes and speeds without a problem. When it involves lighting, this switch lets you move between different lighting modes. Some people use this switch if they have different-colored lighting modes. It allows you to pick the one that you want to use at any given time. It’s a very easy solution for these lights, and you’ll find them used in a host of different places.
The most common selector light switch type is the rotary switch. It works a little like a dial that allows you to move between different modes. There are also other types of this switch available, like ones that have different buttons on them that you press or ones that work like toggle switches. Each type should work well for your intended purpose.
18. Touch-Plate Switch
Touch plate types of light switches get turned on and off by touching them instead of having to engage a button or toggle-style switch. They’re electronic switches that you can operate by touching the switch plate. They won’t have moving parts like a rocker or toggle switch, and they’re considered to be quiet switches since there are no snapping parts used to control your lighting system. All you have to do is touch them once to turn it on and again to turn it off.
Touch plate switches are very common in commercial settings because it’s quick and easy to tap the switch plate and have the light go on and off. Kids like them too. Light Switch by Chris Blakeley / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
19. Vandal Resistant Switch
Also called vandal-proof switches, you usually install these types of light switches outside in anything that the general public uses. For example, they’re common in vending machines or in pedestrian crossing signals. They come designed to tolerate very heavy usage without a problem, or abuse without breaking down. They resist moisture and dirt, and you’ll find them used to control power tools, voting machines, and security alarm systems. They usually get protected by thick stainless steel casing or heavy-duty plastic casings. However, these aren’t different light switches on the inside. It’s the outside that sets them apart.
20. Wireless Light Switch
Finally, a wireless type of light switch allows you to control them using a smartphone or a remote control using Bluetooth, WiFi, or a radio signal. You can control them using a handheld transmitter, and they use radio transmissions to work. Today, you don’t even need a separate remote for this switch due to technological advancements. A lot of them also come with the ability to cycle through light colors or dimness levels.
We’ve outlined 20 types of light switches to consider when you’re trying to change your home’s design aesthetic or upgrade a room’s look and feel. Some of them are more convenient and some are better for outdoor use, so it’s a good idea to weigh your options before you make your final choice.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.