Paul Bianchina: Replacement timers offer simple control for exterior lights
Good exterior lighting has long been acknowledged as one of the best ways to keep your property safe and secure. But to be effective, those lights obviously have to be on, and constantly trying to control your exterior lights by turning switches on and off manually each night is pretty much impossible.
The simple solution is to replace the manual switches that control your exterior lights with built-in timers. These compact timers are designed to fit into the same electrical box that the switch is in now, even if the switch is located in a box with other switches or outlets, and they utilize the same wiring. Some will even utilize the same cover plate.
One timer is used to replace one standard switch, and that timer will operate the same fixtures currently being operated by that switch. Timers are available in a variety of push-button and digital configurations, and to replace both single-pole and three-way switches.
Selecting a timer
When shopping for a timer, the first thing you need to know is whether the switch you’re replacing is a single-pole or a three-way. Single-pole switches control a fixture from only one location, while three-way switches control a fixture from two different locations.
Next, you want to look for a timer that gives you the type of control over the fixture that you’re looking for. You may want to only have the light come on once at night and go off once the next morning, or you may want to have the option of having the light come on and off multiple times, to simulate occupancy when you’re away on vacation.
Finally, be sure the timer’s operation is easy for you to understand. Trust me, not all of them are! The timer should be easy for you to program to get the on-off results that you want, and also should have a manual override so that you can turn the fixture on or off when needed without disrupting the program cycle.
Timers should not be used with mercury vapor lights, or with any type of light that’s controlled by an exterior photocell or motion detector. Some types of fluorescent fixtures are not compatible with timers either.
Installing a timer
As with any electrical work, you first need to read and understand the installation instructions. Make certain the power is off to the switch before beginning any work. If you are uncertain about any step in process, contact a licensed electrician before proceeding further.
Installing the timer in place of a standard single-pole switch is typically quite simple. Remove the switch cover and set it aside, along with the screws. Unscrew the switch, and pull it out of the box. Disconnect the two wires leading to the switch, and remove the switch. Now simply attach the two wires from the timer to the two wires you just removed from the switch, using wire nuts to make the connections. Mount the timer back into the electrical box, replace the original plastic cover plate using the original screws, then install the timer dial (if equipped).
Timers for three-way switches can be installed at either of the switch locations. Remove the three wires leading to the existing switch, and connect them to the three wires from the timer using wire nuts. Install the timer back into the existing box. At the other switch location, a jumper wire is used between two of the poles on the existing switch. It’s a simple operation, and complete instructions are included with the switch.
Typically, you’ll first have to set the time of day, paying attention to a.m. and p.m. Some timers utilize a rotating dial, others a push-button digital setup. From there, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to set the time or times you want the timer to activate the light.
I suggest keeping the instructions in a location close to the timer, at least until you become familiar with its operation.
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