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The articles concerning electrical are not intended as an instructional guide on performing electrical work. They are designed to provide a general understanding of residential electrical wiring and electrical devices so that you may be better prepared to plan your electrical project with your renovator and/or electrical contractor.

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Lighting is an important part of any decorating scheme, and how you control your lighting will impact on the it’s ease of use, flexibility and ultimately the effects you can create. There are several different switching systems that permit lighting to be controlled from more than one location. Though some of these are required for certain areas of your home such as hallways and staircases, you should consider this to add convenience to other parts of your lighting plan.

Dimmers are a must have for any lighting plan. They provide the ability to precisely control the intensity of light. Today’s dimmers offer many choices and style, they even include intelligent systems with remote control and memory settings.


Single Pole
This is the most common type of switch in residential homes. Single pole switching provides the ability to control a light or series of lights from a single switch. In most homes, this type of switch is used in all areas other than staircases and hallways.

3 Way
This is the next level of switch. 3 way switches provide the ability to control a light or series of lights from two switches in two different locations. You will find this type of switching in staircases and hallways. They are required by code in these areas. You should also consider using this type of switching in larger rooms, open concept designs or when you need to pass through one room to get to another.

4 Way
Although not commonly used, a 4 way switch provides the ability to control a light or series of lights from 3 switches in 3 different locations. This type of switching may, for example, be desired where a staircase opens in the center of a long hallway that services the front entrance at one end and other rooms at the other end. In this situation the hall lights would be controlled by a switch located at the front entrance, another at the bottom of the staircase and one at the far end.

Dimmers are a must have for any lighting plan. They provide the ability to control the brightness (intensity) of your lights. In many circumstances, especially for recessed lighting systems, operating the lights at full intensity is not only visually unpleasing but it also wastes electrical energy.

Dimmers are available for use in single pole, 3 way and 4 way switching systems. However, regardless of the switching system you can only have one dimmer per switching system. If you are using a dimmer in a 3 way or 4 way switch system, you must decide which is the most convenient location for the dimmer. The other locations will remain as standard on/off controls.

In situations where there is a need to provide dimmer control from more than one location consider using an intelligent dimmer with remote control capabilities, or a home automation system that provides multi control capabilities. For more information on these see our article(s) on Home Automation or from Manufacturers, check out some of the major electrical manufacturers.

Note: When using a dimmer in 3 or 4 way lighting circuit, use a dimmer that incorporates a trim control. This allows you to set the dimmers lower dim level so that the dimmer cannot be lowered to a point where the lights will be completely off. Remember you can only have one dimmer within the circuit, so If your dimmer is lowered to the point where the lights are off then the lights will not turn on from any of the other switches. This is very important for staircases to ensure that they will always be lit regardless of the dimmer setting.

Electrical wiring should only be performed by a qualified professional. Most electrical work requires inspection. Improper or faulty electrical work can result in fire or electrical shock causing injury or death. Before performing any electrical work, check to make sure that the breaker or fuse servicing the circuit you are planning to work on has been turned off or removed. Do not attempt to perform any work on live (powered) circuits or devices.