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Okay, to be fair my experience is mostly with Poland, though I have observed this electrical interior design decision in a few neighboring countries while travelling, but can't generalize there.

Coming from an American perspective it always peeved the hell out of me that light switches to brighten the main lamp of the room, restroom or corridor you're in are to be found outside that room very commonly, though on the wall not far from the doorway/one of the doorways you may not know about yet. Of course it never bothers the locals because they grew up with and got used to such things without even noticing.

To me it just seemed to defy convenience, security/privacy and common sense, though (I had thought) some might argue it's convenient to light up a room you're about to enter at the doorway (so why not just barely inside then?).

In honestly I tend to observe this less nowadays than when I'd visit my relatives or establishments in the 90's, when this building practice seemed predominant.

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so that I can simply turn the lights on before I walk into the room? and turn them off after leaving them? During my short visits to some countries that does follow switch-inside-room policy, It has always annoyed me that I need to walk straight into the dark room and fumble my way to find the light switch. why not place the switch outside where there's plenty of light?! –  LocustHorde Mar 7 '12 at 15:59
    
Wow, after all the discussion this has stirred up, I hardly feel it is one's place to arbitrarily pick a correct answer. I too am no building specialist (only a professional at living indoors like most everyone anyway), however tend to find the legacy approach the most reasonable explanation thus far, even more so than apparent building code references from various countries. Still--call me a flaming patriot--I would be pleased to see representation from Poland itself voiced, anyone? :) –  Marcos Mar 10 '12 at 17:10
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5 Answers

Some possible explanations:

  1. Electrical components, containing high power circuits like a switch, have harder safety requirements in a bathroom, where there is access to water and the risk of injury from an electrical shock or a discharge is higher, than on the outside.

    Compare for example the low power sockets intended for a shaver that you can find in some bathrooms, with the normal high power sockets in other rooms.

    SEK provides Swedish electricity regulations. Smarthem wraps the bathroom scenario. From a UX perspective, the point of interest is not the exact regulations, but it proves the switch could be put on the outside for other reasons than UX.

  2. It could be argued it is harder to find the switch inside a dark room, with small or no windows, after entering it, than turning on the light first, from the outside.

    We have all been having trouble finding the switch inside a dark room at some occasion, I guess. Unfortunately, the fact that they sometimes are not to find anywhere in the room makes finding them there even harder.

Thoughts:

I agree that it defies convenience and consistency, nonetheless.

The reason for you observing this less nowadays may partly come from safety advancements in electrical and heating and sanitation technology.

I find it very practical on the outside of bathrooms for an other reason though, when the person occupying the shower does not hear you knocking. :)

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Sounds likely to me –  AndroidHustle Mar 7 '12 at 14:01
    
+1. Here in Ireland, for bathrooms, the switch must either (a) be outside the room, or (b) be a pull-cord, so the actual switch is on the ceiling, where it is likely to stay dry. –  TRiG Mar 7 '12 at 18:41
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IMO for bathrooms it's even bigger irony. Take my brothers' scenario in which often somebody zips by the narrow corridor thinking someone else forgot and left the side bathroom fan&light on, and without realizing it's actually occupied, smacks the switch OFF as a public service. Moments later...shrieks and shouts until someone else comes to the rescue from the outside, investigating the situation, and eventually turning the light back on. A frequent tragedy that could have been averted by proper placement of the switch INSIDE where it applies. There already are sockets for shaving etc. –  Marcos Mar 7 '12 at 20:23
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It's reason 1 above. This is controlled by the Building Regulations in the UK. There are a large number of construction rules about how things should be done to ensure safety. (remember that the European Voltage 230 - 250 V is much higher than the US's 110 V) –  PhillipW Mar 7 '12 at 23:40
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I added references to Swedish regulations, just for proving there can be other reasons for where to put the switch than UX reasons. No need to go further into electricity technology. –  JOG Mar 8 '12 at 11:00
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Placing a switch inside a room could also be an emerging convention. We have a bungalow built in 1920 and there are several instances -- bathroom, porch and basement -- where the light switch is placed outside the room to be lit.

It's possible that in the early decades of the last century a general pattern for residential wiring had not yet emerged, so electricians placed switches wherever it was convenient.

New technologies often take years, or decades, to settle into generally accepted patterns. We're in that stage of flux now with the web and especially the mobile web. It may be another decade or more before accepted patterns emerge for most interface issues.

When that happens, there will be less of a need for UX types. I suppose then we might find work as electricians.

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I agree. +1 for interesting point. But even though "a pattern has not settled" yet, there can still be reasons for a design. Bathroom, porch and basement - all seem to apply to explanation 2 in my answer. –  JOG Mar 7 '12 at 18:26
    
I tend to find this theory much sounder than others so far. At any rate, solid research and expertise would probably be asking for too much, if any even exists on the matter. –  Marcos Mar 7 '12 at 20:34
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I know for a fact that at least some of them (Bathroom, toilet) was on the outside because of regulations (read the local law). This was so in at least France and Sweden.

You could have a specially (probably extra water tight) 110 volt jack in a bathroom for example but the 220v light switch had to be on the outside.

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Probably true. In the UK bathroom light switches have to be pull cord and the only sockets that are allowed are shaver points. –  ChrisF Mar 8 '12 at 9:44
    
Are you able to provide a link and summary to some of these local law you are referring to? –  JonW Mar 8 '12 at 9:45
    
hjoenergi.se/elsakerhet_vatutrymmen.htm (swedish) byggahus.se/forum/el/6860-110v-uttag-vem-saljer.html (swedish) It is the IP_ regulation (IP44, IP22 etc) see this link : byggahus.se/forum/badrum/… (swedish) –  Valmond Mar 8 '12 at 12:29
    
What I have found is that today you can install 220 volt (in sweden anyway) if (and only if) it is grounded and you have a 'jordfels brytare' (a thing that cuts off the current if it leaks to ground. HTH –  Valmond Mar 8 '12 at 12:35
    
@Valmond: The English term is ground fault interrupter, basically the same thing translated word for word. (Oh, and shouldn't that Swedish word be written together without the space?) –  Ilmari Karonen Jun 29 '13 at 21:21
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Speaking from England, it is still usual to have light switches in the rooms they are lighting. However, there are a couple of exceptions, for perfectly good reasons:

  1. Lights for entranceways are sometimes put further into the house. This is not just porch lights, but if you have an entrance lobby. It is done like that so you can light up the entrance itself from inside the house, and see who is at the door. It also means that you can leave it on to be a welcome for someone coming home late, without having to step into the ( usually cold ) lobby itself.
  2. Bathrooms and toilets, as mentioned above, so that the amount of electrical items in the rooms is kept to a minimum.

It is probably a cultural difference, but I like switches to be in the room, because if i am sitting in a room as it gets dark, I would rather not have to go out of the room to put the light on. Other latitudes may be different.

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There is a standard in the Netherlands (NEN 1010) that actually describe where electricians should place the lightswitches in rooms. The rule of thumb is, place the lightswitch inside the room, at the side of the door that opens. I don't remember the exact wording and I can't find the book for the standard at the moment.

It makes sense placing the lightswitch this way, because you can simply reach up with your arm and touch the wall and you will probably find the light without having to search much for it.

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