How to wire wall lights to a switch
Wall lights provide more than illumination. They shed their light with direction and purpose, giving a room individual character and ambience. Wall lights also serve a practical function in areas of a room where specific activities take place, such as above a kitchen work surface or a bathroom mirror.
Whatever the purpose of your proposed wall lighting – to provide a night-light above a bed, to illuminate a painting or framed photograph, to create intimacy in a large room or to welcome visitors as they approach your front door, for example – there is an abundance of designs to choose from. With such a vast selection available, it is worth giving careful consideration to which light fitting is most appropriate before commencing any DIY work. Before we start, please read the important safety warning below:
WARNING: ELECTRICITY IS DANGEROUS
If in any doubt, or where required by the law, consult a competent, registered electrician. All products must be installed in accordance with local building regulations.
Where should you install your wall lights?
Unlike table lamps and standard lamps, wall lights can be positioned precisely where the light is needed. They don’t occupy valuable table or floor space and they don’t need connecting to power sockets with an obtrusive and potentially dangerous length of cable.
In a large rectangular room, such as a living room, where wall lights are to be used to provide additional localised lighting, the common practice is to mount two lights on one or both of the longest walls, at a quarter of the way in from each end. The lights are normally set approximately three quarters of the way up the wall, depending on ceiling height.
Of course, most large rooms are not straightforward rectangles. There are corners, recesses, doors and windows to contend with. In each case, a well-positioned wall light can significantly enhance the appearance and character of the room. When positioning lights for specific tasks, such as to illuminate your face when stood at a bathroom basin, you need to bear in mind how far from the wall the light fitting will protrude. Otherwise you may make the situation worse by creating uncomfortable glare or an unnecessary obstruction.
Prepare to install your wall lights
Fitting new wall lights involves disruption and mess in your home as well as additional work ‘making good’ after the job is finished. To prevent accidents, make sure you have a secure place to stand that allows you to access the work area and any tools you need without danger of losing balance.
1. Survey the area
This project will involve cutting cable channels into the wall and lifting floorboards. Ideally, therefore, wall lights should be installed before any re-decorating takes place. Check that you are able to access your ceiling wiring from the floor above and take note of the material your walls are made of. There is a lot more effort involved in cutting a channel through solid masonry than plasterboard, for example.
2. Isolate the electrics
Before you commence any work, you must isolate the electrics. To do this, cut off the power supply to the relevant circuit at the consumer unit then remove the fuse itself, so no one is able to switch it back on. If you are at all uncertain which fuse relates to your circuit, turn off the main switch on the consumer unit to cut the power to the whole house.
3. Verify the position of your lights
Consider carefully where you wish to position your new lights. Measure – then measure again, just to be sure – before marking the wall where your lights will go. Fit the wall light base plates where you have marked. You could temporarily attach the actual light fittings at this stage to confirm they look as you intend them to.
4. Create routes for the cabling
You will need to cut out channels in the wall for the power, switch and light cables to run. Read through this article to help you identify where these channels will go. If the wall is solid, the cables should be put inside a conduit and the channels fixed up with plaster afterwards. If the wall is hollow, such as a stud wall, you can avoid cutting out a channel by simply feeding the spur cable behind the wall.
You will also need to remove the floor boards directly above the light fitting, where the power cable will feed down to the light, and drill a hole in the ceiling for the cable to pass through.
Wire wall lights to a ceiling light power supply
The cable that brings power to your wall lights is a spur cable. It can originate from a ceiling rose or lighting circuit junction box. You simply need to run the spur cable from this power supply point to a new junction box in the ceiling void. The cables for your lights and switches can then run from this junction box.
1. Connect the power spur
Most modern houses in the UK have their lighting circuits wired using the loop system. This involves an electric cable running from the consumer unit to several light fittings, one after another. This provides power to all the light fittings on the loop – and a potential power source for your wall lights. Unscrew the ceiling rose or lighting circuit junction box and connect the spur cable to the loop circuit cable as shown in the diagram below:
- The spur cable live (brown) connects to the ‘live’ terminal block
- The spur cable neutral (blue) connects to the ‘neutral’ terminal block
- The spur cable earth (green/yellow) connects to the ‘earth’ terminal block
Replace the cover on the ceiling rose or junction box, taking care not to trap any wires as you do so.
If your light fitting has a built in switch, your electrical work is complete, and you can skip the following section and simply connect your spur cable to your lights. If, on the other hand, you need to install a wall switch in order to operate your new wall light, read on.
2. Connect switch and light cables
The switch and light cables connect to the spur cable using a junction box (B), as shown in the diagram below.
Open the junction box and connect the switch, light and spur (power source) cable as shown in the wiring diagram below:
As the switch cable completes a live circuit, both its live and neutral are live. For this reason, the neutral wire in the switch cable should be tagged with brown sleeving to mark it out as being live.
- The switch cable live (brown) connects to the power source spur live (brown)
- The switch cable neutral (blue/brown) connects to the light cable live (brown)
- The power source spur neutral (blue) connects to the light cable neutral (blue)
- All earth wires connect to a common earth terminal.
3. How to wire a wall light fitting
The light cables connect to the wall light fittings. Your wall lights will most likely come with instructions to help you identify where each wire should connect. They will incorporate terminals to which you connect the live, neutral and earth from the light cable exiting the junction box.
Wire wall lights to a switch
The switch cable runs from the junction box to the point where you wish to install your switch. Once you have the switch backplate fitted into the wall with the switch cable entering through the back of it, you need to connect the wires to your switch.
There are two common types of switching for wall lights: one-way and two-way:
One-way switches enable a circuit containing one or more lights to be turned on or off with a single switch.
Two-way switches enable a circuit containing one or more lights to be turned on or off from two different locations. Two-way switches are commonly used in hallways and landings, with one switch placed upstairs and the other downstairs.
1. How to wire a one-way light switch
To wire up your one-way switch, firstly, tag the neutral (blue) with brown sleeving to mark it out as being live, then:
- The neutral (blue/brown) connects to the bottom terminal on the switch
- The live (brown) connects to the top terminal on the switch
- The earth connects to the earth terminal.
When you have securely fixed each wire into position, ease the switch cover into position, taking care not to trap any wires. Secure the switch in place with the screws provided.
2. How to wire a two-way light switch
For the two-way switch circuit to operate, a ‘link cable’ must be installed between the primary two-way switch and the secondary two-way switch. The link cable has an additional wire (i.e. three core plus earth). The colours of the three conducting wires in the link cable are typically brown, black and the grey.
To wire your two-way switches, firstly, tag the neutral (blue) wire of the switch cable, and the black and the grey of the link cable at both ends with brown sleeving to mark them out as being live. Then:
- The neutral (blue/brown) of the switch cable connects to the L1 terminal on the switch
- The live (brown) of the switch cable connects to the L2 terminal on the switch
- The black/brown wire of the link cable connects the L1 terminals on both switches
- The grey/brown wire of the link cable connects the L2 terminals on both switches
- The brown wire of the link cable connects the C terminals on both switches
- The earths connect to the earth terminals in each switch.
Tidy up your walls, then turn on your new lights!
When you are sure all your connections are correct and secured in place, turn on the power at the consumer unit. If everything is working as it should, turn the power off again at the consumer unit and begin repairing the damage you have inflicted on your walls. As an added safety measure, keep the power for the circuit turned off until any plasterwork is dry.
Well-positioned wall lights bring a whole new dimension to any room. By installing them yourself, you get the added benefit of a cost-effective solution that meets your needs with bespoke perfection.