All About Switches

All About Switches

The wall switch is one of the most basic, and yet critically important, electrical devices in a building.  There are several different types of switches, and although they may look the same when they are installed and their face-plates are on, they can function quite differently.  All of the common types of switches come in different styles and colors, along with various ways of control, such as toggle, rocker, slider, push-button and even remote controlled.  The style, color and type of control usually have no effect on the switch function or type of wiring required. 


It is important to note that switches, like outlets have appropriate ratings for amperage, wattage and even the type of load that is to be controlled.  We briefly discuss some of these terms below to help better understand the significance of each.  It is always best to consult with a qualified electrician and have them determine what device is best suited for each situation.  There are hundreds of types of switches and controls in use in the United States today.  Improper selection and installation of electrical devices can result in personal injury, loss of property - such as fire, and in some cases even death.

A & K Services of Iowa has the knowledge and experience to help you choose the appropriate device for your situation.  We offer a tremendous selection of devices for all client needs.  Contact us today and let  A & K Services of Iowa guide you in the right direction!  





  • Amperage

Amperage refers to the amount of current that a particular appliance uses.  The amount of amps a switch or device are rated (or otherwise UL listed) for can range anywhere from nearly 0 to 30 amps and possibly more depending on the demand of the appliance or device in question.  In residential homes, for example, most common switches and controls are rated for 15 or 20 amps, however, in the commercial or industrial setting, switches and controls may be rated for hundreds of amps.

  • Wattage

Wattage is an electrical unit of measurement that is the result of the rate at which energy flows.  To simplify this in easier terms, watts are basically the miles-per-hour measurement of the electrical world.  Most people understand wattage as it applies to the rating of a light bulb.  The higher the wattage of a light bulb, the brighter it appears to be.  This also means that the higher the wattage, the more power is used.  This results in increased energy usage and a larger utility bill.

Why is wattage important?  There are several functional factors that wattage plays a part in.  Most devices are rated for amperage as discussed above.  Some devices, however, such as those responsible for controlling lighting are also rated for wattage when they are used in conjunction with purposes such as dimming or even fan operation.  If the listed wattage is exceeded on a device, the device may overheat and a fire may result.

  • Single-Pole Switch

The single-pole switch is the general-purpose workhorse of switches.  It is used to control lights, receptacles or other devices from a single location.  A characteristic feature of a single-pole toggle switch is that it has ON and OFF markings on the toggle handle.  These markings will not be found on other switches such as three-way and four-way devices.

  • Three-Way Switches

Three-way switches are always used in pairs and allow the user to control a light or device from two different locations.  These switches do not have ON or OFF markings because the on and off positions will vary depending on how the switch is used.

  • Four-Way Switch

The four-way switch is used in between two three-way switches to provide control for lights or devices from three or more locations.  If the user desires to have control from more than three locations, a four-way switch would be installed for each additional location.  Similar to the three-way switch, a four-way switch will not have ON or OFF markings because the on and off positions will change depending upon how the device is used.

  • Double-Pole Switch​

The double-pole switch is commonly used in commercial or industrial applications, but occasionally is found in residential wiring systems also.  Like the single-pole switch, a double-pole has ON and OFF markings and controls a device or equipment from one location.  Double-pole switches are commonly rated for 30 amps (compared to 15 or 20 amps with standard switches) so they can control higher-demand appliances, motors and machinery.