How to Install a Timer for Exterior Lights

With the holidays right around the corner, you might be thinking of setting up an impressive (or at least passable) light display for friends, neighbors, and passers-by to see. Those fancy lights can also eat away at your wallet when the electricity bill comes in. If you have to turn manually your lights on/off every night, then there may be cases where you forget to turn them off (wasting money in the middle of the night) or turn them on (robbing the world of your display).

An easy way to solve this common problem is to install a timer in place of a switch. This will make sure your lights go on and off at the exact same time every day, saving you money and making you look good!

Working with electricity is dangerous. Make sure you turn the power off at the circuit breaker. If at any point you feel uncomfortable with handling the wires, call a professional.


Turn off your power at the circuit breaker

Turn off your power at the circuit breaker

Turn the switch off at the breaker to stop the flow of electricity. If you’re doing this alone, plug a lamp into the switch and test each breaker until you determine the correct switch. (if the switch is connected to a ceiling lamp then the same principle applies, wait for the light to turn off).

Once the breaker is taken care of, you can also remove the plate cover and test the switch with a non-contact voltage tester to confirm the circuit is off.

Unscrew the existing switch

Unscrew the existing switch

Remove the plate from the wall by unscrewing it. Underneath you will see screws holding the switch to the wall, unscrew them as well.

Pull the switch out of the wall carefully by pulling the top and bottom tabs of the switch toward you.

how to install a timer for exterior lights3Loosen the two terminal screws on the switch and disconnect the wires. Bend the wire connected to the top terminal towards the upper part of the socket (load wire) and the wire from the bottom terminal toward the bottom (line wire). Loosen the ground screw and disconnect the ground wire from the switch.


If the ends of the existing wires have become worn, cut them back and strip the insulation so you can work with fresh wire. Take a look at the diagram that came along withy our switch to determine where the wires go. The wires may attach either directly to the switch with screws, or might have short “pigtail” wires that need to be joined to the existing wires using wire nuts. If your house doesn’t have a ground follow the instructions that should have come with it on how to deal with the ground!

Place it nice and flush

Place it nice and flush

If it seems like the answer is “Defer to instructions” for this section, that’s because it is. Every switch will be different, and while the installation will be similar, positions will change, and exact methods will change.

Attach cover plate

Attach cover plate

Once the wires are attached, place the timer into the wall box and set the flanges flush with the wall. Line up the screw holes and replace the terminal screws. Replace the plate and attach the remaining screws.


Once the cover plate is back on, turn your power back on. Set the”on” time to a minute ahead of your current time, and the “off” a minute after that to make sure everything works. Once it’s set, you’re set! Set your outside lights to whatever you want the timing to be and enjoy having one less thing to think about every day.


An easy project for some awesome results. No more wasted money, and no more people missing out on your awesome light display.

Got questions? We got answers! Reach out to us over at Koopmanlumber.com with any and all questions and we’ll do our best to help you out!

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