How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
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Are wall light switches required be up for on and down for off?
Saturday, July 14, 2018
The building codes have requirements for where a light switch must be installed, but we know of no code citation that says a light switch must be installed so that the “up” position of the toggle energizes the circuit. However, it is customary to do it that way for single-pole switches in the United States.
The U.K. is opposite: you normally toggle down to turn on a light switch. The issue is further complicated by 3-way light switches—the kind that, for example, are used to control the lighting for a stairs from both the top and bottom—and simply toggle from on to off, or off to on, when the switch position is changed.
We don’t write up a single-pole light switch that is installed with the down position as “on” in our inspection report, but do mention it to a homebuyer for two reasons:
- When the switch is installed backwards from what is standard in the U.S., other than a 3-way switch, it means that a professional electrician did not do the wiring and there may be further unprofessional wiring hidden from view.
- Once a prospective homeowner knows about it, they can choose to live with it, since it is not a safety defect, or have it reversed.
There are also three-way light switches that are used in pairs to control lighting from the top and bottom of stairs or opposite ends of a long hallway. The position of the switch does not indicate either on or off. Go to our blog post How does a three-way switch work? to learn more.
Also see our blog post How can I figure out what a mystery wall switch does?
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