When you own a home, something will eventually break and need repairing or replacing. For major issues, HDB often requires that you hire a licensed contractor to perform the work. But for minor issues, you can save a lot of money and learn valuable skills by doing it yourself.

A few days ago, just before my husband and I were about to have dinner, I turned on the overhead dining table light, and heard a faint “pop” that came with a tiny spark. Then, the light switch fell into my hand. The two tiny plastic fastener pins holding the switch in place had popped out. Because these pins were broken, I couldn’t just pop the switch back into place.

There are many common reasons why light switches fail. For my problem, it was most likely something that could be fixed by replacing the light switch.

Because light switches are one of the most commonly used things in your home, it’s only a matter of time before one fails.


Common Types of Light Switches in HDBs

Light switches in most HDB flats look something like this:


This particular light switch (shown above) is a 2-gang switch because there are 2 switches (that control two lights) on 1 faceplate. If you only had one switch (like the picture below), it would be a 1-gang switch.

These switches (including the one I had to replace) are also single pole switch switches. This means that my faulty dining light can only be controlled from just a single source. A 2-way switch means that the light could be controlled by two different sources. For example, some living room lights can be turned on by one switch near the front door, and turned off by another switch in the hallway. That example would be a 2-way switch.

Because mine was a single pole switch, replacing it would be a tad cheaper and easier. A single pole switch only has two terminals (L1 and COM), and is the simplest of switch arrangements — either on or off. When the light is “on” the COM terminal is connected to the L1 terminal. When it’s “off” the COM terminal is not connected to anything and no current flows through the switch.


How to Replace a Single Pole Switch

Before reading the steps below, here’s a brief disclaimer: Obviously, I’m not a licensed electrician and you will need to take full responsibility for your decisions and actions.

Step 1: Buy a replacement.

I found a 2-gang, single pole switch online that matched my existing switches (MK brand) for only $5 online. The problem was that shipping could take a few days. Although dining in the dark sounds fun and adventurous, cooking in the dark does not. So I went down to the neighbourhood home/hardware shop and bought one for $7.

Step 2: Turn off your Fuse Box (aka Circuit Breaker Panel or Electrical Distribution Box).

Turning off the main switch in your fuse box cuts off all the power to your flat. This means that replacing a light switch has to be done in the dark and without aircon. But it also means you won’t get electrocuted. Fortunately, we all have our handphone lights, and the whole process takes just 5-10 minutes.

Step 3: Pop out the faceplate using a flat screwdriver (if your faceplate looks similar to this one).

For this particular type of switch, there is a notch at the bottom where you can insert your screwdriver. It will take some force, almost like you’re going to break it. But eventually, it will come off. Some other (older) types of switches have screws on the left and right side of the faceplate that will need to be removed. But this one does not.

Step 4: Remove the two screws holding the base in place.

This may require that you also remove the switch(es) as they are blocking access to the screws. For me, pulling off the remaining switch (as the other had already fallen off) felt like I was going to break it, but it actually came off quite easily.

Step 5: Wire the new switch exactly as the old one.

To be absolutely certain the right wires are going in the right places, work on one terminal at a time.

Disconnect the wire(s) from one terminal from the old (faulty) switch and connect the wire(s) to the corresponding terminal of the new switch. For a 2-gang, single pole switch, this means doing this process 4 times.


Step 6: Screw in the new base, put the switches back on, then put the faceplate on. Turn on your fuse box. Done!

NOTE: If you feel uncomfortable about doing this on your own, or would rather watch someone experienced do it first before attempting it yourself, there is no shame in hiring an licensed electrician. In fact, for socket outlets, HDB requires it. Although light switches are generally easy to replace, there may be other reasons (more serious reasons) as to why the light switch failed in the first place. So getting a professional to come in, especially when you don’t feel comfortable, might be the best option.

The cost for replacing a light switch by a licensed electrician is generally around $40 to $75, inclusive of call-out fees.


Reasons to Do-it-Yourself

Besides saving money, there are other good reasons for making this a DIY project. The primary reason is that the process of learning and mastering a skill builds motivation, confidence, and self-esteem. Listening to motivating speeches (like TED talks) or reading an inspirational book will only go so far. Actually trying, doing, failing, trying again, succeeding, and repeating this process will do more for your self-confidence and personal growth than attending every Tony Robbins seminar.

This is my answer to when adolescents ask me, “How do I build confidence?” Doing stuff. Lots of stuff. Failing and working through problems. This is the sure-fire way. Sorry, it’s not as simple as just power posing. I wish it were.


7 Comments on How to Replace Electrical Light Switches in HDBs

  1. The next time you decide to help people fix something, you might want to use the proper terminology so as not to confuse people. There is no such thing as a 1 way switch. Its actually called a single pole switch. And there is no such thing as a 2 way switch. It’s called a 3-way switch

    • Thank you, Master E, for correcting the terminology. These were actually the terms we used in the States when referring to switches. Maybe it’s region-specific, or maybe I was told the wrong terms to begin with. I will go ahead and make the corrections to this post. Anyway, the aim was just to help people. Thanks!

  2. “For my problem, this was most likely due to a fuse burnout which caused a short in the circuit.”

    That just makes no sense at all. A fuse opens a circuit when it blows, it doesn’t cause a short.

    “And all I needed to do to fix this issue was to replace the light switch.”

    Surely if a you’ve had a fuse burnout out you’re gonna have to replace that too?

    • Hi Leigh, thanks for your comment. I originally did think it was the fuse because of the spark, but now I think it was just the switch and the pins on that switch that broke and needed replacing. Anyway, I have removed those lines from the post. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  3. Master E, the writer is correct on the 2 way switch. In my nearly half century as an electrician I have not come across a 3 way switch. In the industry, we usually say 1 gang 2 way switch. If you look at the back of the switch, there will be 3 terminal labeled C, L1, L2. C receive the live wire and the others for control of lights. Savvy Saver, your HDB link is broken. Correct link is https://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/residential/living-in-an-hdb-flat/home-maintenance/home-care-guide/electrical-accessories-and-wiring. HDB only mentions socket outlets because it carry high current and prone to fire risk. Under the Utilities Act, ALL electrical works MUST be undertaken by an licensed electrician.

    • Thank you Chao Zhouzi for this information. I have updated the links and reverted back to calling it a 2-way switch after Master E had told me otherwise.

      • 2 gang 2 way is the standard UK convention, which Singapore also follows. 3 way switch is the US convention. You can confirm this through Google.

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