Common Electrical Lingo

Learn some common electrical lingo so you understand the language.


Single-pole Switch: one switch that controls one light or a group of light fixtures. It has two screw terminals on the side plus one green screw for the ground wire.

Three-Way Switch: has two switches that control the same fixture or fixtures. It has two like colored screws, one darker-colored screw, and one green screw for the ground wire.

Four-Way Switch: used with three-way switches when more than two switches control the same fixture. It has two sets of like colored screws (for a sum of four), plus one green screw for the ground wire, making five screws total.
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Single-Pole Dimmer: replaces any single-pole switch with a dimmer.

Three-Way Dimmer: replaces only one of the three-way switches in a set to control the light fixture. In most cases, unless using high-end dimmers, neither will replace a four-way switch.

Dimmers come in four different types which are as follows:

  • Incandescent: used for light fixtures, i.e. most surface mounted light fixtures, table lamps, and most recessed can lights.
  • Low Voltage/Magnetic: uses a magnet to lower the 120v house current to 12v for low voltage can lights and some track light fixtures
  • Electronic: uses electronics to lower the 120v house current to 12v for some low voltage specialty lights–generally lighting systems where the transformer is mounted remotely from the light fixture.
  • Combination: Handles incandescent, Florescent, and LED.

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GFCI / Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter: most easily recognized by the two buttons in the middle of the outlet. It is used wherever water is nearby, such as kitchens, bathrooms, outside outlets, and in unfinished basements, due to its sensitive nature to power surges.

Single Outlet: this outlet has only one spot to plug something into it. It is commonly used where a dedicated piece of equipment will be used near water. A clothes washer is the most common use in a residential home.

Duplex Outlet: a standard outlet. It is called a duplex because it has two places to plug into.

Switched Outlet: a duplex outlet that is controlled by a switch or dimmer. In most cases only one-half of the outlet is switched.

Non-grounded Outlet: single or duplex outlets without the third hole below the two vertical slots. This outlet doesn’t have a ground wire running to it. If you have any equipment that requires a ground, it is best to get the outlet grounded than to use an adapter.

Tamper Resistant. has small doors in the vertical slots to prevent children from sticking objects into the outlet. GFCI, duplex, and single outlets are all available in tamper resistant.
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Single-Pole: one single breaker.

Double-Pole: two single breakers with a handle tying the two together.

GFCI Breaker: A breaker that protects the entire circuit instead of just one, or a group of outlets, as the GFCI outlet does. The breaker will have a yellow or white button on it.

AFCI / Arc Fault Circuit Interrupt: a breaker that is now used to protect the bedroom outlets. It is designed to detect any arcing going on in the wiring and shut of the power to prevent a fire.[hr top]

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