How-To: Installing Residential Light Switches

Someone on the Heartland Owners Club forum posted about replacing his small rocker light switches in his RV with residential style light switches, so we thought we would do the same. We decided on ivory colored rocker switches and plates. The other piece to buy is a Carlon “1-Gang Non-Metallic Low-Voltage Old-Work Bracket”.  This is essentially an open plastic gang box for existing construction.

The main tools used were a flat-bladed screwdriver, a phillips screwdriver, a sharp box-cutter knife and wire stripper.

If you have the larger rocker switches as shown in the following pictures, you’ll need to slip a flat-bladed screwdriver in the side and push in towards the middle. Grasp both sides of the rocker with your fingers, squeeze and pull and you should be able to pop the rocker out of the fixture.

Pry with screwdriver

Pry with screwdriver

Squeeze and pull

Squeeze and pull

Rocker removed

Rocker removed

Once the rocker is removed, remove the two screws holding the switch to the wall and pull the switch away. There may or may not be a lot of slack in the wire, but pull as much out of the hole as possible and, if it feels like it might slip down inside the wall and ruin your day, tape the wires to the wall for safekeeping.

Remove the screws

Remove the screws

Pull switch away

Pull switch away

Wires on the back

Wires on the back

Connectors pulled off switch

Connectors pulled off switch

The opening needed for the 1-gang box is about 2 1/4″ wide by 3 3/4″ tall. Use a pencil to draw out a rectangle this size. Note that on slideouts there is a metal stud at the trim side. Make sure to cut at least 2 inches inboard from the back of the trim. For our first switch, we cut about 1/4″ off and found the stud. We ended up making the hole 1/4″ wider than necessary to clear the stud.

Measuring.

Measuring.

Hole marked

Hole marked

We used a sharp box knife to cut through the wallboard. It is essentially about 1/8″ particle board, so it cuts fairly easily with a sharp blade. Note that there may be wires close to the back side of the wallboard, so we just kept scoring each side of the hole until the blade was just slicing through to the inside. Once cut, pop out the cutout.

Scoring the wallboard

Scoring the wallboard

Wallboard removed. Note stud at left-hand side of this hole.

Wallboard removed. Note stud at left-hand side of this hole.

Test-fit the gang box in the hole to make sure the opening is sufficient. We found that tightening the two tabs on the gang box would not grab the thin particle board and let the box slide around in the opening. The boxes are made for thicker wall material (such as drywall), so our wall material needed to be made thicker in some manner. We put two velcro command strips together, peeled the backing off one side and stuck it just inside the hole above and below the hole. This added the necessary thickness to the wall so the gang box would grab tightly. Then, it was just a matter of tightening the two screws on the tabs. Make sure the tabs don’t grab any other wires when they flip up or down.

Test fit

Test fit

Putting command strips inside the wall to thicken it

Putting command strips inside the wall to thicken it

Tighten the two flapper screws to pull the box in tight

Tighten the two flapper screws to pull the box in tight

With the box tightly in place, grab your light switch. Note that it has a green screw on it for an earth ground. If this were 110 volt AC lighting, you would need this. Since we are working with 12 volt DC trailer wiring, there is no ground circuit. We just removed the green screw and discarded it.

Remove this green ground screw.

Remove this green ground screw.

Clip the flat connectors off the existing wiring. If there are two wires in one connector, you want to make sure you keep those two wires together. Strip about 1/2″ of insulation off each wire. Twist any single wires to prevent loose strands. Twist any pairs of wires together.

Cut off connectors

Cut off connectors

Strip 1/2" insulation off

Strip 1/2″ insulation off

Wire with insulation removed

Wire with insulation removed

Pair of wires

Pair of wires

Pair twisted together

Pair twisted together

The switches we bought have a hole in the back that you insert the wire(s) into. Once inserted, you tighten the screw on the outside of the switch and it draws a clamping mechanism in on the wire internal to the switch. Take one of the wires (or the pair) and insert into a hole, tightening with a screwdriver. Take the remaining wire (or the pair) and push into the other hole, tightening that screw as well.

Push end into switch and tighten screw

Push end into switch and tighten screw

Pull on wires to make sure they are tight.

Pull on wires to make sure they are tight.

Once the wires are tight in the switch, you should be able to test the switch to make sure the lights still work. If they don’t, double-check your work. Remember, don’t use the green ground screw and you should have at least one wire in each of the other two connections on the switch.

If everything is working, mount the switch to the gang box and tighten the two screws.

Mount the switch

Mount the switch

Tighten screws

Tighten screws

With the switch mounted, test again to make sure it turns the lights on and off. If so, screw on the switchplate and you are done.

Switch mounted

Switch mounted

Switchplate installed.

Switchplate installed.

We did four single switches in our trailer on the first run. We have two more singles, one double and one triple switch in our trailer that we are going to go back and replace, as well. They make a double and triple switch body that each fit into a single gang box like we used for these single switches, so we can use the same sized gang box.

For a single switch, cover plate and gang box, we spent a total of $12.02 with tax.

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