Switch Wiring Nightmare Pictures

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by iminaquagmire, Sep 10, 2008.

  1. iminaquagmire

    iminaquagmire DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    207
    The other night my girlfriend and I were trying to find a switched outlet in the bedroom of her new apartment, and upon being unsuccessful, I decided to take the cover off and have a looksee. I knew there was no point in having a switch if it wasn't going to control something. When I took the switch out, I was amazed to see this:
    [​IMG]
    I don't know how they ever thought this was the right way, but for obvious reasons I don't like it. I don't know where the neutral goes and on top of that, I tested the feed and know it has power.


    After that I moved onto the switch in the kitchen and found more of the same:
    [​IMG]
    This switch appears to have had a little arc blast damage (hard to see in picture) and has no ground. It however does control the ceiling fan.


    Disgusted I checked the living room switch and found this:
    [​IMG]
    It doesn't do anything as far as I can tell and I'm not sure what the two-way is doing in there with the red traveler.

    ****
    If there were wires coming in and going out, I could see an inept person just hooking up a new switch wrong. But this is just totally wrong. Short of rewiring the entire apartment and probably the entire building, I see no way to bring this up to code.

    I have not talked to the maintenance person, but I don't think they would be very receptive to that. My thing is that I think she and everybody else has the right not to die in a fire caused by their faulty wiring. They have the obligation to not let that happen. If it came down to it, how would one see that this gets fixed if the building owner doesn't see the need? Go to the city and inform them of the need to send an inspector out there?
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,814
    Location:
    New England
    What you are seeing is fairly common. It was easier to run power up to the controlled fixture (light, or whatever), then just run that hot down to the switch. Now, if they did it right, they'd mark the switched wire with a red band of tape to indicate it was switched. So, all the switch is doing is breaking the hot, it's just that it is feeding hot back to the switched thing on (probably) the white wire. red on a single pole switch just normally indicates it is switched, not that it is a 3-way, and is also normal.

    On a single pole switch, it doesn't matter which power lead goes where (just as long as you don't hook it to the ground lug!).
  3. Billy_Bob

    Billy_Bob In the Trades

    Messages:
    422
    Looks basically safe to me.

    I would have more firmly attached the ground wires to the metal boxs with a screw. Or these days use a pigtail because the switch would also have a ground connection (but mostly use plastic boxes, so pigtail is not necessary).

    The boxes could have been mounted a little further out and the drywall guys could have done a better job. I know I would have been yelled at if I did drywall work like that!
  4. Alectrician

    Alectrician DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    689
    Dude. You know just enough to be dangerous.


    Quit trying to impress your GF and put that stuff back together and call the management to see why your switched outlet doesn't work.

    Test both halves of each outlet to see if it's switched. If not, someone replaced an outlet without breaking out the tab on the hot side. The electrician will look for wiring in a recep box the has a white tied to blacks, likely the closest one to the switch.

    1st sw. White is hot, black sw leg. Very common installation. Ground is not terminated properly but could be worse.

    2nd sw. Bottom terminal looks burned. Can't tell why

    3rd pic. No travelers here. It's a SP sw. Black wire hot, red wire sw leg.

    So leave it alone because you are obviouly not qualified to be screwing with it.
  5. drick

    drick In the Trades

    Messages:
    392
    Looks ok to me. However you have a switched outlet somewhere. Probably someone forgot to break off the tab at the outlet, that's why the switch doesn't do anything. If this is the case both sides of the switch are hot all the time. (Turn the switch off and check voltage to ground on both sides) If this is so your best bet is to start by looking at the outlet closest to the switch and see if the switch wires terminate there. You are looking for 1 romex that is wired to both outlets on the duplex receptacle on the hot side. When you find it just break the tab between the two outlets on the duplex receptacle and you should be good to go.

    FYI working on electrical in an apartment is really a bad idea unless your licensed and insured. Its not your place, others live there and there is always the potential for fire as you pointed out. You DO NOT want to be the last person to touch it in the event something goes wrong.
  6. iminaquagmire

    iminaquagmire DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    207
    I realized exactly what you all posted right after I started the thread and looked back at the pictures. I never wire switches that way and have never seen them that way. I always wire in a line and a load with separate romex cables.

    I'm not an electrician and I don't pretend to be one. If something is over my head I don't touch it and I'll have my electrician brother do it. As for this, I know better than to mess with commercial and apartment stuff. I was just looking for some insight into what I now realize is totally normal. Not every DIY'er thinks they have no limits.
  7. brownizs

    brownizs In the Trades

    Messages:
    196
    Location:
    Springfield, IL
    Again, nothing wrong with the 3 pic's, and messing with a Rental property that you do not have interest or ownership in, can get you in trouble.
  8. Alectrician

    Alectrician DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    689
    You are a smart guy and I am impressed. A lot of people get really defensive in situations like this. Good job !
  9. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,263
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    colors

    Initially you fell into the same mindset that the bomb defusers on TV do, namely that the red wire is always the critical one. But you got hung up on the white always being the neutral, when in fact it can be whatever the installer wanted it to be, neutral, switched hot, traveler, etc. You have to check its purpose before deciding whether it is wrong or not.
  10. Southern Man

    Southern Man DIY Hillbilly

    Messages:
    530
    Location:
    North Carolina
    Not very helpful in a DIY forum. Stop trying to impress yourself. :cool:
  11. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,263
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    impress?

    Not very helpful in a DIY forum.

    Why not? The poster's original premises were incorrect and he was casting aspersions on the person who had originally installed it even though the installation was correct. If he had done a proper analysis in the first place he would not have started taking other switches apart, willy nilly, and then assumed that they were also incorrect according to his faulty interpretation of what he found.
  12. Alectrician

    Alectrician DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    689
    Did you read what I wrote?

    I told him to leave it alone. Good advice.

    I told him how to check for the switched outlet and how his apartments switches were wired.



    Congratulations. You are that guy :cool:
  13. jbfan74

    jbfan74 Electrical Contractor

    Messages:
    131
    Location:
    Newnan, GA
    I don't ALWAYS agree with 220/221, but in this case he is dead on.
    Just my nickles worth!
  14. Southern Man

    Southern Man DIY Hillbilly

    Messages:
    530
    Location:
    North Carolina
    Pot, meet kettle. My comment was directed at your insults to the guy: "Dude. You know just enough to be dangerous....Quit trying to impress your GF..." This totally distracts from any value that your advice would otherwise give.
  15. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,263
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    advice

    quote; My comment was directed at your insults to the guy: "Dude. You know just enough to be dangerous....Quit trying to impress your GF..."

    I thought he was being very generous. Many would have stopped at the above quote and told him to call an electrician who knew what he was doing. Instead he tried to correct the bad diagnosis, and in so doing, he had to assume the poster would be able to follow his logic and directions, which does not always happen. Sometimes you need to use a 2x4 to get someone's attention.
  16. Southern Man

    Southern Man DIY Hillbilly

    Messages:
    530
    Location:
    North Carolina
    Sometime you do need a 2x4 but as a first response unless you know the guy it more often than not overkill at best.
  17. iminaquagmire

    iminaquagmire DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    207
    HJ hit it on the head. I mistook what I saw and got concerned. Immediately after I posted the question I realized what they did and understood why the outlets didn't work. Thing is that all of the electrical work I've done was either new work (new framing and open walls) or totally new circuits either back to the panel or in a junction box (exposed of course). I've never installed a switch with only the hot leg coming into the box because the wiring never necessitated it. I've always done it with the power going into the box then out to the load. Even my electrician brother didn't understand it at first because he only does new construction and has never had to wire anything that way either.

    That said, 220/221 was right in what he said. Not about trying to impress my GF, but in that I did not know what I was doing. While I did figure it out on my own, somebody else who would have written a post like that may not have. They may have done something that would ACTUALLY have caused a fire.

    I didn't really take offense to anything that was said. I understand that while the pros on this forum may not always give out the best DIY advice, sometimes its either not possible or it wouldn't do any good to the person utilizing it simply because they don't have the knowledge to. Some people may not know their limits when it comes to this stuff. I think my first post showed that I was past my knowledge of the subject.
  18. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,263
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    exactly

    One problem with writing anything is that it is subject to interpretation by the reader, and that interpretation is often colored by his/her experiences or biases. Thus even the most lucid explanation can be misinterpreted and create a hazard when the reader does it the way he thinks it was presented. I once did a plumbing job for a friend who had received a very precise and accurate drawing of the drain system from the city building department. Unfortunately, he installed the piping the way he "thought" it looked like it should be, and was somewhat upset when I told him that the inspector would spend the first five minutes at the job rolling on the floor laughing and the next 5 seconds writing out a reject tag, (unless he spelled out the violations in which case it would take another five minutes).
  19. pudge565

    pudge565 New Member

    Messages:
    24
    that 3rd swith is not a 3-way if it says on and off which I can see from the picture it says off it is a single pole switch.
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