I saw this etsy project:

Working Arcade Light Switch

And while it's pretty cool, I'm not huge into arcade or fighting games, so I was going to make my own, and change the buttons.

How would be a good and easy way to do that?

I don't want to make my own switch, but rather, reuse an existing switch. I don't want to modify the internals of a switch, because I want to leave safety mechanisms in tact.

My first thought would be to use a "decorative" switch and replace or cover the button mechanism, but the biggest problem with that is that the switch sticks out too far to be easily covered by the wall plate. So, I'm thinking I want to recess the switch somehow, and I might be able to manage something by bending the metal part the screws screw into, but I'm not sure that's a good option, and feels quite hackish.

Any suggestions?

Update: I think that everyone misunderstands my request? I don't want to open up the light switch. I want to change the appearance of the system.

Thought experiment: Let's say I really like chocolate bars, so I want to make a chocolate bar light switch. I want to follow all the UL rules.

  1. Glue a plastic chocolate bar to a rocker light switch. I look at it from the front, and it looks great, covered the switch. but I look at it from the side, and I can still see the light switch, I don't like the look of it (because I want to hide the light switch).
  2. I measure the amount the chocolate bar sticks above the wall. Let's say that's 1 inch.
  3. I take a jig saw, and cut out all the sheet rock that would be covered by the chocolate bar.
  4. I remove the switch, electrical box, and move all in-wall wiring aside for the time being.
  5. I then remove 1 inch (or the amount discovered in step 2) of the stud the electrical box was attached to, everywhere that is now exposed by the sheet rock.
  6. I reattach the electrical box, now 1 inch more recessed than it was before (presume there's still room, because it's a big wall)
  7. Re attach the wiring, and put the switch back into the electrical box.

Voila, I now have a chocolate bar lightswitch, and it looks the way I want. Did I violate any UL rules? Or otherwise do anything an electrician would say is a bad idea? I don't think so. If so, please let me know which step is wrong. I could do all of this, but step 5 is an annoying step, (as is step 3). Can I avoid any of those steps and recess the light switch in another way?


Here's a better example of what I'm talking about. https://www.etsy.com/listing/1263636948/

  • This whole project seems quite hackish regardless of how you position the underlying switch. :-)
    – Kellenjb
    May 9, 2012 at 21:34
  • 1
    It might be helpful if you specified exactly what kind of buttons you want to have.
    – Kevin Reid
    May 10, 2012 at 0:43
  • I'm thinking I'm going to try to add PS2/PS3 controller buttons.
    – McKay
    May 10, 2012 at 15:44

5 Answers 5


I would not recommend this. Switches are tested to electrical safety standards which includes making sure they have adequate insulated properties that prevent you the user from getting a shock. They are also designed to drain a short circuit to the earth/ground by cross bonding metal components built inside the switch. Modifying a switch could invariably invalidate those safety features. Making it a hazard for you and anyone else using said switch.

  • That's exactly what crossed my mind when I read the question.
    – Steven
    May 10, 2012 at 1:38
  • Precisely, I don't want to modify the switch itself. I don't want to take it apart. I want to put other stuff in front of it to give it a new appearance. But if I do that, it makes it stick out an extra couple inches, which makes it look ugly.
    – McKay
    May 10, 2012 at 2:15
  • 2
    @McKay Also realize that by installing a UL listed wiring device other than how it was intended to be installed, you ruin the UL rating. Additionally, wiring devices must remain accessible. I am an electrician, I don't recommend doing it.
    – Tim Post
    May 12, 2012 at 14:23
  • I added an example, to better explain what I'm looking for?
    – McKay
    May 15, 2012 at 5:06

Please do not try to modify an existing switch. This could prove dangerous and a fire hazard. Instead, consider using a flush style rocker switch such as a Pass & Seymore as shown in this link. http://www.legrand.us/dimmers-switches/light-switches.aspx#.T6uHJujPH0c They are available at Lowes and many other retailers.

  • Precisely, I don't want to modify the switch itself. I don't want to take it apart. I want to put other stuff in front of it to give it a new appearance. But if I do that, it makes it stick out an extra couple inches, which makes it look ugly. Thanks for the information about the flush-style switch, but that link didn't show anything in particular.
    – McKay
    May 10, 2012 at 15:43
  • Based on further research, I think the "flush style rocker switch" you recommend is the decorative switch I linked in my original question, and it still sticks out too far, I want something slimmer, or more recessed.
    – McKay
    May 10, 2012 at 16:41
  • I added an example to better explain what I'm looking for?
    – McKay
    May 15, 2012 at 5:06

If you really want to do this, you'll probably need to call an electrician and explore some low voltage controls for your lighting. Many wireless options exist, and you could conceivably make them look like an 80's arcade, or the engineering deck of a space ship.

What you have to remember is wiring devices must come with a UL rating. If you modify, use or install them in a manner that was not prescribed by the manufacturer, you immediately ruin that rating. That goes for high and low voltage systems, all must be approved.

Some, however require only momentary push button switches (like you'd find in arcade games) with a certain voltage / amperage rating.

Would anything bad happen if you found an unconventional way of mounting a decora rocker switch so everything lined up just right? Probably not. But I can't advise you that doing so would be a good idea.

  • I added an example to better explain what I'm looking for? Please help me understand how I'm violating UL ratings?
    – McKay
    May 15, 2012 at 5:06
  • Note, I didn't say violate :) You just void the rating by modifying the device in any way (that also goes for the rough in box currently housing the switch). If you bend the metal on the switch to install it, you void its rating. If you modify the box, you void the rating of the box.
    – Tim Post
    May 15, 2012 at 11:08
  • You can however cut the little ears off all four corners of the switch, it's designed to let you do that so it fits in certain types of enclosures (which is why they come pre-scored). Bending the metal tabs where the 6/32 screws hold it to the box violates the rating of the switch.
    – Tim Post
    May 15, 2012 at 11:10
  • So, do you believe that the original etsy switch also voids the UL rating?
    – McKay
    May 15, 2012 at 14:43
  • From the images given? Probably. Again, see the last part of my answer. I'm telling you (as an electrician from the US) that what you're doing would not pass an inspection if you in any way modify the switch, or the rough in box that holds it.
    – Tim Post
    May 15, 2012 at 15:14

What you want to do is recess the UL listed junction box in the wall, mount a UL listed light switch in it, cover it with a UL listed cover plate, then put some sort of decorative "thing" on the switch handle. Correct?

As I understand it, I think you could get away with this. Boxes are designed to make the cover plate flush mount, but I think that's only an aesthetic concern and that so long as it's all covered, I think you'd still make your code compliance.

Note, to mount the box recessed, you do NOT remove any of the stud, you just mount the JB farther back on the stud leaving clearance behind the drywall. Metal JBs can have holes drilled in them to allow for mounting w/o invalidating their UL listing. This would allow you to mount it anywhere along the side of the stud. Plastic JBs cannot be modified this way - that doesn't meet their UL listing for installation, plus, a lot of them are fairly brittle and trying to drill/screw through them would crack them, rendering them essentially useless.

The hard part might be mounting the cover plate because they are, by definition, larger than the box they cover to contain any arcing should there be a fault in the wiring, preventing a fire from starting. (This is why you'd have to use a UL listed cover plate behind your decorative "thing".)

That cover plate would have to come off with nothing more than a screw driver. Fiddling with it to get it out of a hole in the wall might be considered (by an inspector or an insurance adjuster, should something go wrong) to be an installation not in accordance with instructions, thus invalidating the UL listing.

To get around this, you might be able to cut a larger hole in the drywall so the plate slips straight through, but then your decorative "thing" would have to be bigger than the plate to completely hide the hole (unless holes in the drywall are part of your decorating aesthetic).

Something to consider: You mentioned using the buttons off of a video game controller. Old-style push-button light switches are still made (to modern, UL-approved specifications). You could simply glue the buttons from the controller onto one of these push-button light switches mounted to the wall in the normal, standard way. This would give you the "controller look" with almost zero effort once you've changed out the switch and cover plate. You could even use hot glue to attach the buttons as it would be reasonably easy to pry the button covers off to show an inspector that you've really got a UL-approved switch behind it. Of course, you could decorate the cover plate to make it look like the rest of the controller if that was your goal.


Here are two possible ways to do this.

1) Along the lines you describe.

Light switches are designed to be mounted in junction boxes that are either in or on walls (flush or surface mount) and covered with cover plates. You should try to do what you want without deviating from the design.

It is acceptable for a light switch to be in a recess or niche. Look at this niche for an art work. It has lighting. A switch could be located on its back wall.

enter image description here

The niche could be very small, as long as it's big enough to mount the switch and cover plate as intended. Then you can completely cover the niche with your decorative switch manipulator, and I think you have what you want.

2) Much easier: Smart switches

Replace your light switch with a Smart one. It can be somewhere else, or it can be a smart-only switch with no physical switch to it. Then you can buy a Smart Buttons (Flic, Yolink, etc) that can EASILY be decorated as chocolate bars or whatever you want, and use those to send commands to your Smart Hub (Alexa or whatever) and from there to control your smart switch. You could even do this entirely without a wall switch using Smart light fixtures or bulbs (Hue, Cync, etc) controlled by your smart switches and/or Voice commands, with just a master switch in or near the panel to hard disable them.

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