Lost Power At Light Switch

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  #1  
Old 12-05-11, 09:55 PM
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Lost Power At Light Switch

Hi everyone, I have a somewhat confusing problem and am hoping somebody might have a bit of advice. I'll try to simplify this but there's quite a few points of info here:

-My house has aluminum wiring
-Our living room lights were blinking on and off, so I checked the dimmer swithc. every time I wiggled it, the lights blinked.

So, I shut off the breaker, unscrewed the wall cover plate, unscrewed the holster and pulled out the dimmer switch.

It's an old dimmer switch which has 2 black wires coming out of the back- nothing else.

Inside the receptacle, there are 2 black wires, 2 white wires, and 1 red wire.

The 2 black wires were twined together, and then twined in with one wire on the dimmer switch.

The 1 red wire was twined in with the other wire on the dimmer switch.

The 2 white wires were twined together but attached to nothing else.

Everything was capped and electric-taped.

The problem seemed to be the 2 black wires twined in with the 1 dimmer switch wire; it was loose.

I tightened/re-twined all of the wires, and sure enough, power was working again and no blinking. I was able to tap and shake all the wires to see if any were loose; but it was all okay.

Here is where it all went wrong:

I chose to get rid of the dimmer switch and put in a normal sp switch (single polarity). What I didn't realize was that the new switch was for copper wire only. (I'm not sure this had anything to do with the problem though).

So anyways, I got rid of the dimmer, and put in the new on/off switch. I attached the red wire in the receptacle to one screw on the new switch, and the 2 twined-together black wires in the receptacle to the other screw on the new switch. The other 2 white wires remained as is: twined together, capped and taped.

I tested the power, and it worked. (Now keep in mind the new switch said it's for copper wire only.) But it still worked.

So, I pushed all the wires back into the receptacle, making sure nothing came loose on the switch. As I did this, I noticed the receptacle was moving a bit and was slightly loose.

Nonetheless, I tightened everything back in, restored the power at the breaker panel, and now there is nothing.

I cannot get the light to work anymore.

I tried to reverse the new switch, re-attach the old dimmer switch, and still nothing.

It was working fine before I pushed all the wires back in along with the swithc; I'm guessing something has come loose in behind the receptacle where the main wire runs up from the breaker panel up to this particular receptacle.

Is it possible something has come loose in behind the receptacle?


One other note:

There are 4 other plug outlets on the wall in the living room which are also no longer working now. They are all to the right hand side of this receptacle. The other 2 plug outlets to the left of this receptacle are working.

Sorry for this long-winded problem, but I'm trying to be as specific as I can.

if anyone has any ideas, that would be great. Thanks so much.
 
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  #2  
Old 12-05-11, 10:37 PM
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this is a diagram of the original configuration which still worked but was blinking intermittently because of the two black (hot) wires from the receptacle being loose:



 
  #3  
Old 12-05-11, 10:46 PM
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and here is the current configuration which is not working. Keep in mind that it *was* working before I pushed the new switch back into the receptacle and tightened everything up. (The receptacle was a little bit loose).

I am unable to get anything going now. Neither the dimmer nor the new on/off switch is working nor are any plug outlets further 'downstream' working.



 
  #4  
Old 12-05-11, 11:16 PM
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You really should not have two wires under the same screw but use the wire nut to splice the two plus a short "pigtail" and connect the pigtail to the switch.

At this point I would suspect that you somehow caused the white wires to lose their connection. Having aluminum wiring is already problematic.

Do you have any kind of electrical testing equipment?
 
  #5  
Old 12-05-11, 11:30 PM
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Thanks Furd.

I'll have a tester by tomorrow afternoon to check for continuity.

On another note:

When i *did* have it working, the two white wires were twined together, but not capped.

I then shut off the power at the panel.

Then I went back upstairs, put the cap on the white wires, and taped it.

i then proceeded to push everything back into the receptacle, screw the new switch in, and screw the plate ontop. I then restored power but it wasn't working at this receptacle anymore.

I'm wondering if this is when it went wrong?

I thought maybe because the receptacle was a little loose, that I shook something loose in behind it...


So I have reversed everything and started from scratch, but am still not getting any power.


If I did cause the two white wires to lose their connection, how do I restore their connection?
 
  #6  
Old 12-05-11, 11:47 PM
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I'm confused by your use of the word "receptacle". Do you mean the electrical box that contains the connections and the switch? The term receptacle is most commonly used in reference to the duplex receptacle into which you insert the plug from an appliance.

If this is what you mean, there should be nothing behind the box that could be the problem UNLESS some hack did the initial wiring.

As to the white wires...aluminum conductors are a proven hazard unless they are properly connected with approved methods. It IS possible that in your opening up this splice that you caused a high-resistance joint when you re-spliced them OR you could have even broken the conductor when you replaced the wire wire nut and/or taped the joint or pushed it back into the box.

You do not want a "continuity tester" but something to determine voltage. I recommend a solenoid-type tester for the DIYer. Lots to choose from with prices all over the planet.


(Image courtesy of hosfelt.com)
 
  #7  
Old 12-06-11, 12:02 AM
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Yes, sorry, when I say receptacle, I mean the box which contains the switch and the wires. It's a bit loose.

A poor wiring job is definitely possible as there have been many many other problems in this home in terms of workmanship.

Like I said, it was all working well until I pushed everything back into the box and screwed on the switch and plate.

I had to manoeuver the wires a bit, with a little bit of force to make it all fit.

I can't recall if I had the white wires capped (wire nut) when it was working or not. Maybe when I capped it, something happened?

If it's a broken conductor or a high-resistance joint, how serious is it in terms of getting it fixed? Is it something a DIY could do?

Thanks again Furd, it's important to me as our christmas tree is connected to this line and none of the lights are working now and my kids aren't too happy about it



Originally Posted by Furd View Post
I'm confused by your use of the word "receptacle". Do you mean the electrical box that contains the connections and the switch? The term receptacle is most commonly used in reference to the duplex receptacle into which you insert the plug from an appliance.

If this is what you mean, there should be nothing behind the box that could be the problem UNLESS some hack did the initial wiring.

As to the white wires...aluminum conductors are a proven hazard unless they are properly connected with approved methods. It IS possible that in your opening up this splice that you caused a high-resistance joint when you re-spliced them OR you could have even broken the conductor when you replaced the wire wire nut and/or taped the joint or pushed it back into the box.

You do not want a "continuity tester" but something to determine voltage. I recommend a solenoid-type tester for the DIYer. Lots to choose from with prices all over the planet.


(Image courtesy of hosfelt.com)
 
  #8  
Old 12-06-11, 12:06 AM
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Making it work is probably do-able. Making it work in a fully code-approved manner maybe not. First thing to do is to determine where the problem lies. It is possible that it is somewhere other than this particular location but you need to first verify that the power is available here before looking elsewhere.

That's all for me tonight.
 
  #9  
Old 12-06-11, 01:10 PM
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hi Furd, I've managed to restore power to this box.

When pushing all the wires and the switch back into the box, it appears that one of the white wires snapped in half, therefore breaking the connection. So i have solved that.

My last question is:


the new sp switch I purchased says "Copper Wire Only" in small print on the back.

I have aluminum wiring.

How big of a deal is this realistically. Thank you again.
 
  #10  
Old 12-06-11, 07:57 PM
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How big of a deal is this realistically?
Aluminum wire was used in residential branch circuits (15 and 20 ampere 120 volt circuits) in the 1960's because of the high cost of copper. It turned out to be a bad idea and there are documented cases of fires resulting from the improper termination of the aluminum wiring.

Aluminum wiring can be safe IF it is done properly but it is very unforgiving of anything less than professional (real professionals, not just licensed) workmanship. There are special connectors to splice aluminum to copper, some are available to lay people but the best are only available to electricians who have had factory training in their application. I have never dealt with any aluminum wiring myself and as much as I am a DIY kind of guy I would likely want to get a real electrician who had experience with this to do the work.


At the very least, get a switch that is marked for Co/Al. (or maybe it is Cu/Al) It will be a higher quality switch and will probably cost several dollars.
 
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