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Replacing receptacles/switches - wondering about replacing their boxes as well

Replacing receptacles/switches - wondering about replacing their boxes as well

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  #1  
Old 08-16-13, 06:32 AM
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Replacing receptacles/switches - wondering about replacing their boxes as well

We're remodeling our living room. We took down the painted wallpaper on paneling on gypsum lath - all the way down to the studs. The house was built in the late 60's, and I believe the receptacles/switches are from the original install.

First question:
Some of the receptacles are falling apart - the plastic portions are crumbling. I'm going to replace all of the receptacles/switches in this room while we have the walls opened up. Wondering if there's any reasons for or against also replacing all of the boxes at the same time. The current boxes are metal and seem rather cramped in size. I have it in my head that the blue plastic boxes are bigger (deeper?) than the metal boxes (is that correct?), and I might want to change them out for that reason. Is that advisable? Not advisable?

Second question:
The outlets in this room are spread across 3 different circuits. 2 of the circuits are 20amp, and the 3rd is 15amp. One of the 20amp circuits only has 5 receptacles on it, and none of them get heavy usage. I'd like to add an additional receptacle to this circuit, probably by replacing one of the single boxes with a double box. Anything in particular I need to watch out for when making this change? I'm pretty comfortable with replacing outlets, having done that already on 3 other rooms in our house. I've never added an outlet though.

In case this is relevant, the wiring is 12/2 copper wiring.
 

Last edited by jessman1128; 08-16-13 at 06:34 AM. Reason: Adding details
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  #2  
Old 08-16-13, 06:37 AM
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Changing out the boxes is fine and with the walls down to the studs, the timing is ideal. The blue boxes come in different sizes, by the way - make sure to replace with at least as big a box as was there previously, as code dictates the boxes have to be a minimum size or greater depending on what's in them. Also, the metal boxes can be part of your grounding so you want to make sure that is taken into account with your new plastic ones.

As to your second question, this involves connecting the additional receptacle to the existing and using the prior receptacles in the run as examples should suffice. If you're comfortable with that, this is a pretty straight forward job. The book Wiring Simplified is available at libraries, home centers, online and is a great resource for such information.
 
  #3  
Old 08-16-13, 07:25 AM
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In case this is relevant, the wiring is 12/2 copper wiring.
Is this NM cable (aka romex) or is it metal armored cable? Is there a ground wire? Ungrounded circuits are not to be extended. That being said, if the walls are opened up you could run new circuits with modern 12-2/G NM B cable. As I recall, the smallest 1-Gang plastic box is 18 cubic inches and is larger than most older metal boxes.
 
  #4  
Old 08-16-13, 07:32 AM
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Romex. I haven't inspected it closely enough to answer the ground question, but I'm assuming there's a ground wire because the other circuits I've worked on in the upstairs bedrooms have all had ground wires.
 
  #5  
Old 08-16-13, 10:13 AM
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What's the condition of the wires itself? If it's older, black or cloth covered wiring, you may want to upgrade the whole room. If the wires and the boxes are in good condition, you can of course change out the boxes, but it seems like a lot of work for not much gain. *shrugs*

Now is a good time though to add additional receptacles where you might need them. Figure out where the couches will go, end tables with table lamps, TV, etc. Usually the living room isn't a high-draw room, but it's definitely nice to have receptacles where you need them.

Oh, and don't forget about running some coax for cable TV or network cabling for your TV and such!
 
  #6  
Old 08-16-13, 10:32 AM
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What's the condition of the wires itself? If it's older, black or cloth covered wiring, you may want to upgrade the whole room.
If you're referring to the cable/Romex covering, that's black for some of the runs and white for others. I haven't inspected any of the individual wires inside the Romex yet.

Some of the switches in this room are 3-way switches. In fact, 4 of the 6 are 3-way switches. Could it possibly be that the black Romex is 12/3 and the white is 12/2? or vice versa?

Oh, and don't forget about running some coax for cable TV or network cabling for your TV and such!
My wife actually suggested this, but I haven't given it much thought yet. I better figure out quickly what to do because we're on a tight schedule to get this room finished up and put back together.
 
  #7  
Old 08-16-13, 06:20 PM
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Well, I just ran into something I'm not sure about. One of the outlets - several, actually - have 3 sets of wires feeding into them. See pictures. How do I transfer this to a new regular receptacle? Can I connect 2 sets of wires around the screws on one side, and 1 wire set to the screws on the other side? If so, does it matter which wires go where?

The 3 white wires are all back-stabbed into one side of the receptacle, and the 3 black wires are back-stabbed into the other side of the receptacle.



 
  #8  
Old 08-16-13, 06:25 PM
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Hmm...just read an old thread on this forum. Sounds like I need to group the blacks together with a pigtail to attach to a screw on the new receptacle, and then same thing for white. Is that correct?
 
  #9  
Old 08-16-13, 06:32 PM
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Most regular posters here discourage using any backstabs because they can prove unreliable. Assuming it is not a half switched receptacle attach a pigtail to all the whites and a pigtail to all the blacks and the pigtails to the receptacle. Some pros here prefer to use pigtails even when there are only two sets of wires. They feel it is more reliable.

(Fun Fact: The most common reply we first make regarding help with a dead receptacle is: Move any backstabs to the screws.)

I'm not seeing a ground wire in your picture. Is there one?

Edit: You posted as I was writing. Answer to what you asked is, yes. See first paragraph.
 
  #10  
Old 08-16-13, 06:48 PM
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There are three ground wires, but two of them are broken off. Only one is attached to the receptacle. The ground wires are also thinner wire than the blacks and whites.
 
  #11  
Old 08-16-13, 06:52 PM
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For a few years when grounded cables first became mandatory the grounds were one size small than the conductors. All three grounds must be connected together. Is there enough of the broken ones to splice?
 
  #12  
Old 08-16-13, 07:06 PM
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2 of them, I think so. The 3rd is barely long enough to reach into the box. I'll have to tie a pigtail to that one I guess.
 
  #13  
Old 08-16-13, 07:09 PM
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One of the outlets - several, actually - have 3 sets of wires feeding into them.
As Ray said, stay away from the back-stab.

But I recently ran across the newer Leviton receptacles. The mid-level ones (about $2.50 each) have these new swanky screw/pressure plate terminals, which I think hold better than the traditional pressure plate terminals. Each screw takes 2 wires, which allows up to 4 hots and 4 neutrals on one device.

You still need to be careful about box fill, 3 cables in a box is a tight fit.
 
  #14  
Old 08-16-13, 07:14 PM
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I just pulled the old metal box off and put a new plastic one on. It's bigger - 20 cu in, so I'm hoping I can fit everything in.
 
  #15  
Old 08-16-13, 07:17 PM
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For the ground wires, not sure what gauge the existing is, but it's smaller than 12. Can I use 12 for the ground pigtails? That's all I have available at the moment.
 
  #16  
Old 08-16-13, 08:12 PM
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Yes, you can use 12 but it must be bare or green. Or you might want to pick up some of these:

[ATTACH=CONFIG]16452[/ATTACH]

I just pulled the old metal box off and put a new plastic one on.
You can get deep plastic boxes if you need more cubes.

Posted by: ibpooks
Okay, for #14* you use the figure of 2 cu. in. per conductor. You only count conductors that enter or leave the box; so, pigtails do not count. All of the ground wires in the box count as one conductor. The cable clamps (if internal to the box) also count as one conductor; single gang plastic boxes are exempt from counting the clamps as a conductor. Finally, count each switch and receptacle in the box as 2 conductors. Add these up and you have the total conductors for the box.
*#12 is 2.25
 
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  #17  
Old 08-16-13, 09:05 PM
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If I'm interpreting the "cu. in. per conductor" instructions correctly, I need 20.25 cu. in. 3 black and 3 white wires = 6 conductors; ground wires = 1 conductor; receptacle = 2 conductors. (6+1+2)*2.25 = 20.25. The new box is stamped 20.3 cu. in. Just big enough. It was a tight fit getting it all in there. I finally got it all put together and in the box, at which point it dawned on me that the receptacles don't get installed until after the drywall goes up. At least the pigtails are installed though. That was half of the battle.

Not sure how to proceed with this now. Half of the receptacles are on a circuit that extends to other rooms in the house. I want to replace all of the boxes while the walls are opened up, so that means removing the old receptacles. I guess I might just need to proceed with installing all of the new receptacles, and then when we're ready to put the drywall up, temporarily remove the receptacles.

At least 2 of the other receptacle boxes also contain 3 cables going in, so those will be interesting as well. Hopefully the ground wires aren't broken in those.
 
  #18  
Old 08-16-13, 09:30 PM
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This room also contains a 3-gang box containing three 3-way switches. I just peered inside that box to see if it was going to be as complicated as the receptacle I just finished. There's 5 cables running into the box. Each switch has 3 wires attached to it. Finally, there's a mess of black wires connected only with electrical tape, and the same for white wires. Was that acceptable back in the 60's? Joining wires with tape?
 
  #19  
Old 08-16-13, 09:42 PM
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Was that acceptable back in the 60's? Joining wires with tape?
No.

containing three 3-way switches.
It is very important before disconnecting any wires you mark the wire that is on the common terminal of each 3-way switch. The common is the odd colored screw (other then green), usually dark gray.
 
  #20  
Old 08-17-13, 07:26 AM
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Not sure how to proceed with this now. Half of the receptacles are on a circuit that extends to other rooms in the house. I want to replace all of the boxes while the walls are opened up, so that means removing the old receptacles. I guess I might just need to proceed with installing all of the new receptacles, and then when we're ready to put the drywall up, temporarily remove the receptacles.
If you pigtail your whites and blacks as previously described, the hot and neutral conductors will be extended to the other rooms without immediately installing the receptacles in the room where you will be putting up new drywall. This is one advantage of using the pigtails, the device is not dependent on continuing the circuits. Another advantage is when you do install the receptacles, you'll only have 3 wires connected to each device making them much easier to install. Just put a small wirenut on the end of the white and black pigtails till ready to install the receptacles.
 
  #21  
Old 08-17-13, 07:29 AM
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Was that acceptable back in the 60's? Joining wires with tape?
No.
But, in the '60s it was pretty common to see a tightly twisted connection just taped. The tape didn't join the wires and make the connection, but just insulated it.
 
  #22  
Old 08-17-13, 09:09 AM
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The 1-gang box that I'm converting to a 2-gang box (to add a second receptacle) has 2 cables feeding into it. What's the best way to wire this for 2 receptacles?

-Connect the blacks and whites with 2 new pigtails each, and wire each receptacle with one set of pigtails.
-Connect the blacks and whites with 1 pigtail, wire one receptacle with the pigtail, and wire the other receptacle off of the first receptacle?

Grounds are broken off here as well. I think I'm going to have to get some crimping connectors with a crimping tool, because they're so short I don't think I have enough room to twist a wire nut on.
 
  #23  
Old 08-17-13, 09:34 AM
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More questions - with pictures!!

One of the cables feeding into the box I'm working on has a nick in the outer cable. The white wire is exposed for a fraction of an inch - not the wire itself, but the white covering. Is this a concern?



A different cable feeding into this box had some electrical tape wrapped around it between the box and the floor.



I took the tape off to discover this:



Do I need to do something with both of these, and if so, what?
 
  #24  
Old 08-17-13, 03:20 PM
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-Connect the blacks and whites with 2 new pigtails each, and wire each receptacle with one set of pigtails.
I'd go with 2 pigtails from each, black and white. Yes, you'll have to repair the ground wires and also have 2 ground pigtails too.

A different cable feeding into this box had some electrical tape wrapped around it between the box and the floor.
What's up with the bulge under the tape, I couldn't tell from the picture, but it looks like an inline splice which would be a code violation.
 
  #25  
Old 08-18-13, 09:23 AM
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Taping over the nick in the cable sheath, using a high quality tape such as 3M 33+ may be a sufficient repair for that cable. You should replace the section of cable that has the sheath open, with some of it possibly missing.
 
  #26  
Old 08-18-13, 09:25 AM
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The outlets in this room are spread across 3 different circuits. 2 of the circuits are 20amp, and the 3rd is 15amp.
Is the 15A circuit the lighting circuit or are some of the receptacles on that circuit?
 
  #27  
Old 08-18-13, 10:18 AM
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You should replace the section of cable that has the sheath open, with some of it possibly missing.
I'm assuming this means cutting the cable below that section, and then inserting a new section, joining the wires with wire nuts, and probably putting the junction in a new box nailed to the stud?

Is the 15A circuit the lighting circuit or are some of the receptacles on that circuit?
The living room uses 3 different circuits - 2, 8, and 10. The 15A one has the most on it. Here's the breakdown of what's on each circuit currently:

Circuit 2 (20amp): 2 living room receptacles, 4 bedroom receptacles, 1 bedroom ceiling light
Circuit 8 (20amp): 1 receptacle/light combo in basement, light in garage attic, 3 living room receptacles
Circuit 10 (15amp): 5 front room receptacles, 5 ceiling lights, 1 patio light, 2 living room receptacles

I'd like to add two additional receptacles - one to circuit 2, and one to circuit 8.

What's up with the bulge under the tape, I couldn't tell from the picture, but it looks like an inline splice which would be a code violation.
By the way, no inline splice. Just a damaged sheath. The cables inside don't appear to be damaged at all.
 
  #28  
Old 08-18-13, 11:25 AM
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I'm assuming this means cutting the cable below that section, and then inserting a new section, joining the wires with wire nuts, and probably putting the junction in a new box nailed to the stud?
Correct, and the box must remain accessible.
 
  #29  
Old 08-18-13, 11:47 AM
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Correct, and the box must remain accessible.
Well, that stinks. Not exactly the look we're going for in the living room to have an extra box in an unusual location. I think the other side of this wall is either in a closet or the garage, so maybe I can have the box face the other wall for accessibility purposes.
 
  #30  
Old 08-18-13, 11:52 AM
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It is very important before disconnecting any wires you mark the wire that is on the common terminal of each 3-way switch. The common is the odd colored screw (other then green), usually dark gray.
Going back to the 3-way switches now, is there any way to safely disconnect the existing switches, without connecting the new switches, in such a way as to allow the remaining parts of the circuit to continue to be live? I'm guessing the answer is no. If no, then I guess I'll put the new switches in now, and then just yank them when it comes time to do the drywall on that wall and have the entire circuit dead while that section of drywall is up.
 
  #31  
Old 08-18-13, 12:20 PM
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I think the other side of this wall is either in a closet or the garage, so maybe I can have the box face the other wall for accessibility purposes.
That would be fine.

I think the other side of this wall is either in a closet or the garage, so maybe I can have the box face the other wall for accessibility purposes.
Yes. Wire nut any loads not part of the lighting circuit to line.
 
  #32  
Old 08-18-13, 03:31 PM
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I just disconnected the three 3-way switches in my 3-gang box in the living room. I labeled the common wires for each switch, as well as the travelers for each. I'm not sure if the way it's wired is correct, so I'm looking for some advice before I connect the new switches the way it is currently wired. There's a few pictures at the bottom, but here's the breakdown of each of the 5 cables coming into the box. There's a splice of all whites wrapped with electrical tape. There's also a splice of 2 blacks and 3 pigtails - the 3 pigtails correspond to the 3 common connections.

In case it's relevant, for the three lights in question, only one of them has it's matching 3-way switch also in the living room - on the other side of the room.

With everything disconnected except the splices, the 3 pigtails are hot. So at least 1 of the blacks must be hot; possibly both?

Cables 1 through 4 are 14/3; cable 5 is 12/2

Cable 1: black and red are travelers for switch 1; white splices with the whites; ground is cut back to where the sheath is cut and not connected anywhere

Cable 2: black and red are travelers for switch 2; white splices with the whites; ground is grounded to metal box

Cable 3: black goes to splice for commons; red is cut short and floating; ground is cut back to where the sheath is cut and not connected anywhere

Cable 4: black and red are travelers for switch 3; white splices with the whites; ground is cut back to where the sheath is cut and not connected anywhere

Cable 5: black goes to splice for commons; white splices with the whites; ground is grounded to metal box



 
  #33  
Old 08-18-13, 09:23 PM
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maybe I can have the box face the other wall for accessibility purposes.
The cable with the damaged sheath appears to go through a sill plate. Why don't you make the splice to the replacement cable in the basement?

is there any way to safely disconnect the existing switches, without connecting the new switches, in such a way as to allow the remaining parts of the circuit to continue to be live?
Yes. If the two travelers for a switch are the black and red wires in one 3-conductor cable, wire-nut the wire connected to the common terminal on that switch to its black traveler. Cap its red traveler with a smaller wire nut until you're ready to install the switches.

I prefer to install devices after all drywall is finished and painted.
 
  #34  
Old 08-18-13, 10:26 PM
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The cable with the damaged sheath appears to go through a sill plate. Why don't you make the splice to the replacement cable in the basement?
That section of the "basement" is a cramped crawl-space with a small access-hole. I was able to make the splice above the floor, so no need to maneuver in the crawl space. The other half of the house has a full basement.

I will need to pickup a box extender for my splice box though. It's facing the closet, and I wasn't able to nail it far enough forward for it to come flush with the top layer of plaster in the closet. I think it was 1/4"-3/8" short.

Yes. If the two travelers for a switch are the black and red wires in one 3-conductor cable, wire-nut the wire connected to the common terminal on that switch to its black traveler. Cap its red traveler with a smaller wire nut until you're ready to install the switches.
I tried this, and turned the circuit back on and didn't have power to any place on the circuit. Discovered why when I went down to turn the circuit back off - it had blown.

Did you see anything problematic with how this switch box is currently wired?

One correction to my cable breakdown for this box: swap switch numbers for cables 1 and 2 - cable 1 is for switch 2, cable 2 is for switch 1
 
  #35  
Old 08-19-13, 08:28 AM
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My primary concern with the wiring in the 3-gang box is the red wire from cable 3 that isn't connected to anything. I just tested it with the circuit on and my multimeter shows 1.0 volts for that wire. The other wires (except the 3 hot pigtails) all show 0.
 
  #36  
Old 08-19-13, 09:57 AM
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Discovered why when I went down to turn the circuit back off - it had blown.
Either a neutral or a ground is touching a hot. Sometimes this happens when you push the device back in the box. Try with devices pulled out and all wires separated. If it still does it and this is a metal box look for nicks in the insulation where the host enters the box. Last try make sure you haven't accidentally connected a neutral to a hot.
 

Last edited by ray2047; 08-19-13 at 10:38 AM.
  #37  
Old 08-19-13, 02:33 PM
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Either a neutral or a ground is touching a hot. Sometimes this happens when you push the device back in the box. Try with devices pulled out and all wires separated. If it still does it and this is a metal box look for nicks in the insulation where the host enters the box.
The circuit only blew when I had the hots (commons) wired to their respective black travelers. I disconnected them, capped each of the loose wires individually, and taped over the paired 3-way switches in the other rooms so nobody changes their position. In this configuration, the receptacles on the circuit in the other room still work.

I just discovered something else on this circuit that may be relevant to my question about the loose red wire coming from cable 3 in the 3-gang box. I started working on one of the 1-pole switches on this circuit. There's only one cable coming into the box for this switch. It's 14/3. Black and white were connected to the switch, ground to box, and red was floating loose. With all wires disconnected from this switch and the circuit on, I get varying readings between 0 and 10 volts for each black, white, and red when connected to ground. If I connect black and white together then I get 115v. I'm not sure what this indicates.

As far as the red is concerned, I'm wondering if cable 3 in 3-gang box runs to this single-pole switch, and red simply isn't connected on either end. Although if that is the case, why do I get a very small voltage reading when testing red to ground?
 
  #38  
Old 08-19-13, 03:20 PM
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Cables 1 through 4 are 14/3; cable 5 is 12/2

Cable 5: black goes to splice for commons; white splices with the whites; ground is grounded to metal box

Cable 3: black goes to splice for commons; red is cut short and floating; ground is cut back to where the sheath is cut and not connected anywhere

With everything disconnected except the splices, the 3 pigtails are hot. So at least 1 of the blacks must be hot; possibly both?
One. It should be the black in Cable 5.

What size is the breaker for this circuit? What size is the wiring connected to it?

Did you see anything problematic with how this switch box is currently wired?
That depends in part to the answer to the question above. In addition to what that answer tells us, there's this:

Cable 1: black and red are travelers for switch 1; white splices with the whites; ground is cut back to where the sheath is cut and not connected anywhere

Cable 2: black and red are travelers for switch 2; white splices with the whites; ground is grounded to metal box

Cable 4: black and red are travelers for switch 3; white splices with the whites; ground is cut back to where the sheath is cut and not connected anywhere.
All of the ground wires need to enter the box and extend at least 6" out the front of it. They need to all be spliced together in the box. The metal box needs to be bonded to ground. There should be a ground wire to each switch.

Yes, if each of those is a separate wire that's nine ground wires total.
 
  #39  
Old 08-19-13, 05:07 PM
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What size is the breaker for this circuit? What size is the wiring connected to it?
It's a 15A breaker; the wiring connected to the breaker is 12 gauge.

All of the ground wires need to enter the box and extend at least 6" out the front of it. They need to all be spliced together in the box. The metal box needs to be bonded to ground. There should be a ground wire to each switch.
The existing box is metal, but I'm planning on pulling it and putting in a new plastic box. For the grounds that are cut, I'll have to pigtail them just inside the box and then once I have good lengths for all the grounds, splice them all together with 3 new pigtails so I have ground for each switch. Does that sound correct?
 
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Old 08-19-13, 08:31 PM
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Just thought of another question that may or may not be relevant to any of my existing questions in this thread. What causes receptacles to spark when something is plugged in? Is there a common cause? Several receptacles in other rooms of the house have this symptom - and have had it for quite some time.

I want to express my gratitude to all those who have given me advice/answers thus far in this thread. You're all amazing and I really appreciate all of the help.
 
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