Light switch replacement problem

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  #1  
Old 06-08-07, 03:38 PM
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Light switch replacement problem

Ok, I feel kinda stupid asking this, but electrical work is most definately not my thing... I'm trying to replace 2 light switches, one single pole, and one dimmer. The single pole switch has a connection for the ground, but it appears that the ground (white wires) is already attached to the box itself. So firstly, If the box itself is grounded (I assume anyway), can I just omit hooking the ground up to the switch? And secondly, the dimmer has a ground wire attached to it's frame. Can I just ignore grounding this as well and just tear the ground wire off of the dimmer? I already tried running ground wires from the switches to the white grounding wires in the box, but nothing happens when I turn the power back on.... I'm kind of lost here....
 
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  #2  
Old 06-08-07, 03:44 PM
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White wires are typically not grounds, but neutrals. Ground wires are bare copper or copper with green insulation.

I take it the boxes are metal? If they are not, they do not need to be grounded.

I don't even believe light switches need to be grounded at all.
 
  #3  
Old 06-08-07, 03:52 PM
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Further info

Ok, I should clarify... The new dimmer has a green wire and 2 black. The old dimmer is lacking the green wire. And the boxes are made of metal - the white wires are attached to the back of the box with a screw. Neither the old dimmer nor the old toggle were connected to anything more than red or black wires... no green or white... I'm kind of getting the impression I can ignore the neutral connection to the switches and just tear off the ground wire from the dimmer... But then again, I just might cause a short instead...
 
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Old 06-08-07, 04:34 PM
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I'm not a electrician, so someone with more knowledge then me will chime in, but, the green ground wire just needs to be attached to the screw on the box, the white neutrals should be wirenutted together. The black hot to the bottom screw of the switch, and the other black or red, which goes to the light, on the top screw.

I don't have any of my electrical books on hand, but you should go to a home center and pick up a few of them on residential wiring. These helped me out a ton, along with this forum, on many occasions.
 
  #5  
Old 06-08-07, 04:43 PM
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Might wait a little bit

Thanks for the help. I tried hooking up the toggle to the red and black wires only, and ignoring the last screw on the switch. It works fine. I have no idea what the last screw is for though....
As for the green wire on the dimmer, attaching it to the box seems to make sense to me the more I think about it, but I may wait for clarification from someone who is absolutely positive if that's the correct approach.
Years ago my father exploded a screwdriver handle mucking around in the fusebox(forgot to turn the power off first). As a result I show electricity the respect it deserves and don't muck with things I'm not pretty sure of first...
 
  #6  
Old 06-08-07, 05:19 PM
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Disconnect the white wires from the box immediately. Somebody incorrectly, and stupidly, connected them to the metal box.

Connect the ground wire from the dimmer to the metal box. If the box is grounded, then connect a ground wire to the toggle switch.
 
  #7  
Old 06-08-07, 06:17 PM
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Took a closer look

Ok, so on closer inspection it turns out that the white wires are NOT connected to the box. The wires that are connected to the box just happen to come up in the middle of the whites, so I assumed they were part of that bundle. Everything worked before. Here's where ALL the wires went BEFORE I started mucking with it.

2x uninsulated wires: Come in the bottom of the box in two places, and each attaches to a screw on the back of the metal box.

2x White wires: Come in the bottom of the box in 2 separate places. They are all twisted together and then one white wire goes out the top of the box. They are not connected to ANYTHING in the box.

3x Black wires: Come in the bottom of the box in 2 separate places, and one comes in the top. The ones that come in the bottom are twisted together with 2 other black wires (split). One of these 2 other wires is attached to the original toggle switch, and the other is attached to the original dimmer. The wire that comes in the top is attached to the other connection on the original dimmer.

1x Red wire: Comes in the bottom of the box and is attached to the other screw on the original toggle switch.

The original dimmer had no green wire, whereas the new one does, and the original toggle had only two screws, and the new toggle has 3. (I hooked up one of these toggles in another room, and just ignored the 3rd screw and it works fine. So i assume I do nothing with this screw...)

I have hooked up the new toggle with the red and black, and ignored the 3rd screw again as this works in another room.(What is the purpose of this 3rd screw anyway? Just to annoy me?).
Regarding the new dimmer, I have tried: The two black wires connected the same as with the original dimmer switch. But with 3 variations - 1. Green wire from dimmer attached to screw holding box to wall 2. Green wire attached to bundle of white wires 3. Green wire attached to uninsulated wires attached to box. I get no effect from EITHER the toggle or the dimmer with ANY of these variations. And yes, I did turn the power back on first.
I hope someone can explain to me what to hook to what because I just realized I can't turn the power back on until I deal with this mess, and I have also turned off power to my alarm clock which I need to wake me for work tomorrow! *sigh* Someone please shoot me.....
 
  #8  
Old 06-08-07, 06:46 PM
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This "third" screw, usually green, is where the ground wire would normally go if you had plastic boxes and not metal. This is the screw I believe you are referring too, unless you bought some 3 way switches.
 
  #9  
Old 06-08-07, 06:51 PM
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The uninsulated wire and the green wires are ground wires. Never ever connect them to a white or a black wire. Connect them all together and connect the bundle with a pigtail to the metal box.

If the switches don;t work, then you have bad switches (you may have fried the dimmer) or you do not have them hooked up properly.

Regardless, this is trivial to fix.

The black wires that are connected together are to get connected together and to each switch. The output wires, that is the red wire and the black wire (the same one as before) get connected to the other side of the switches.

Before you try to blame the switches, use your tester or analog meter (you do have one, don't you?) and verify power into the box and power leaving the switches.
 
  #10  
Old 06-08-07, 07:36 PM
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Getting it now but...

Ok. Thanks. I think I get this now. In the meanwhile though, I need to get the power back on... I'll just tape off the two black wires for the dimmer in the so I can just use the lights controlled by the toggle for now. One last question though... You said to connect the green wire from the dimmer to the uninsulated wires, and then pigtail it to the box.. I've already tried connecting the wire to the box along with the uninsulated wires - I'm assuming that means I've probably fried the dimmer.... Bummer. Which makes me wonder, if the toggle isn't grounded, do I even need to ground the dimmer at all, or can I just tape off the green wire and not bother? Is that unworkable or unsafe?
 
  #11  
Old 06-09-07, 05:11 AM
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The dimmer should work without a ground (unless you fried it). However, if your system is grounded (which it sounds like it is), then to be safe and within code the dimmer needs to be grounded.
 
  #12  
Old 06-10-07, 11:56 AM
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Thanks all

Thanks for your help guys. I hooked everything up, but I still have no power to ANYTHING in that room, so it looks like a fried the breaker in the process. Off to Home Depot I go! I think it should work once I get a new one. Thanks again.
 
  #13  
Old 06-10-07, 01:09 PM
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I seriously doubt you "fried" a breaker. Instead of buying a new breaker, buy a voltage tester (not a digital meter.)
 
  #14  
Old 06-10-07, 04:39 PM
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Nope. Definately killed the breaker. With the old breaker, I had no power to either the bedroom or the bathroom. I replaced it with a new one and I now have power to the bedroom, but not the bathroom, so that was part of the problem. Here's something though - I took the toggle out and just connected the 2 wires directly together. The idea being that the light it controls should just come on permanently. However, still no light. So either I have things wired so that I'm drawing the current away from the fixtures, or something else is wrong either in the box, or somewhere between the fusebox and the box.
 
  #15  
Old 06-10-07, 05:22 PM
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I do not see how it is possible that replacing a breaker can fix half a circuit. Without a tester, you are throwing parts at it and hoping something works.
 
  #16  
Old 06-10-07, 05:51 PM
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Unhappy

Actually, I should clarify... The breaker I replaced is one unit, but TWO breakers. I don't however know which breaker controls the bedroom outlets, and which controls the bathroom, so I've just been flipping both of them for safety reasons. As I said before, with the old breaker in place, I got no power to EITHER room, but with the new breaker I now have power to the bedroom, but not the bathroom.
In the meantime, I have tried every combination of hooking the loose wires in the box together WITHOUT switches to interupt the flow of power - The logic of this being that either the connection is right, in which case the bathroom light will come on (although I won't be able to turn it off), OR the connection is wrong and will trip the breaker. I don't need a tester to know that the wires are dead, I just can't figure out why.... Could I have fried a wire (copper by the way) somewhere up the line?
And yes, I checked all the bulbs....
 
  #17  
Old 06-10-07, 06:43 PM
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Are you saying two breakers either with the handles tied together by a bar or perhaps a single handle for both. That may mean you have a multi-wire circuit.

Do you have a GFCI in the bathroom? Have you checked it?
 
  #18  
Old 06-10-07, 06:50 PM
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So you are using the circuit breakers in the "fusebox" to determine if your wiring is correct...

"Never underestimate the value (or the safety) of an electrician" is my final advice on this thread.
 
  #19  
Old 06-10-07, 08:47 PM
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You are in over your head, and have no idea what you are doing. Please call an electrician before you kill yourself or burn your house down.
 
  #20  
Old 06-10-07, 09:14 PM
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I'll just reply to everyone...

Ray: 2 separate switches, and GFCI is in the bathroom. I pressed reset but it doesn't help.

MAC702: Yes, I said "fusebox", I realize that technically it's a breaker box, but I grew up in a home with fuses, and "fusebox" just stuck. Though you might have a point about the electrician....

racraft: No, I don't really know what I'm doing. I mentioned that in my first post. However, I have changed 3 other sets of switches this week, but they were in the upper portions of the house. The basement I'm working on was built by someone other than the home builder, and it MAY have been a monkey... And don't worry, I'm not going to kill myself - I'm not poking my fingers or tools around any live wires. Again though, I concede you may have a point about calling a pro.

One last question though (And then I swear I'll call a pro tomorrow..)
Is it safe enough to just cap each of the loose wires individually with connectors for now, and then turn the power back on so that I can have power in my bedroom at least?
 
  #21  
Old 06-11-07, 05:43 AM
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Yes, it is safe to cap the loose wires individually (as long as they are in a box) and then turn power back on.

I suspect that you MAY have a multi-wire circuit, which may be part of the problem.
 
  #22  
Old 06-11-07, 08:59 PM
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Well, I've gone as far as I feel safe doing with this mess...
I'm going to ask a guy I used to work with to take a look at it. He was studying to be an electrician and I think he can probably handle it for a reasonable price. I think I'm going to pick up a few books on home wiring to bring my knowledge up to speed before I try anything like this again.
A HUGE thanks to all who tried to help me with this mess.
 
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