Question about switch wiring

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  #1  
Old 03-15-15, 03:06 PM
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Question about switch wiring

Hi,

I have an older house with aluminum wiring. At some point (prior to my ownership) there have been copper wires pigtailed to all aluminum wires. I was replacing a switch in a bedroom that controls a fan/light combo unit. There was a red and black aluminum wire pigtailed to a sole black copper wire, and then there was a black aluminum wire pigtailed to a sole black copper wire. I hooked up the new switch exactly how the old one was hooked up, but when I switched on the breaker, the fan/light always stayed on and could not be switched off by the switch. I ran into a similar issue on another switch in my house, but that switch had 3 wires, 2 black wires and 1 red wire (nothing pigtailed together). I had an electrician friend help me figure out which was hot and which was neutral, and got that figured out.

So I un pigtailed everything and did some testing, and found out that the hot wire was pigtailed to one of the neutral wires creating a unbroken circuit. So I ended up pig-tailing the 2 neutral wires together and then hooking up the switch with the hot wire on top and the neutral pigtailed wires on the bottom. After I flipped the breaker everything worked as normal. However, I do not understand why it was working before, but then I changed to a new switch and it was always on? Why would the hot wire have been pigtailed to a neutral wire? Is this something that has to do with the age of the house?
 
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Old 03-15-15, 03:29 PM
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Welcome to the forums.

the hot wire was pigtailed to one of the neutrals
No.... you found a hot wire pigtailed to a white wire but the white wire was not neutral. If you connected a hot and neutral together you would create a dead short and trip the breaker.

You cut in or changed a switch loop where the hot is fed to the light or fan.... and a single two wire cable is brought to the switch. In that instance both white and black are used as hot wires.

Any time a white wire is used for an application where it is not neutral..... it should be taped or colored a different color (not white) so that it doesn't get taken as a neutral.
 
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Old 03-15-15, 06:33 PM
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Thanks for the quick reply. So I basically switched which wire was originally pig tailed to the two wire group and now the switch works properly. Is there any reason for concern in my doing this? I currently have the breaker off, because I wanted to check before leaving it on. I also ran into this issue in another room (also with a fan/light) and switching the wire that was initially in the "two wire group" solved the "fan/light always on" problem as well.

Would a specific type of switch (the type that was being used before) require the hot wire and white wire be pigtailed together, whereas the new switch would not? I wouldn't think so, but I am still learning.

I guess my main question is, more about there being a reason for concern in what I did on these two switches? Should I call an electrician to come take a look at this just to be safe?

Thanks.
 
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Old 03-15-15, 07:40 PM
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I guess my main question is, more about there being a reason for concern in what I did on these two switches? Should I call an electrician to come take a look at this just to be safe?
You were replacing a switch, was the new switch CO/ALR rated or was the new switch attached to copper pigtails? You unpigtailed and pigtailed several aluminum wires with copper wire. I trust you didn't use wire nuts since aluminum and copper wire should never be in direct contact.
 
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Old 03-15-15, 08:41 PM
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Hmm.. Ok, then I think I may have a larger underlying problem here. I have been replacing outlets and switches throughout the house, and at every switch and outlet there are copper wires pigtailed to aluminum wires. They do have this grey/black paste on them underneath the wire nuts (which I am assuming is Noalox or something similar), but they are definitely touching. I think I am going to call an electrician to come check everything out.

Thanks everyone for your help.
 
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Old 03-15-15, 08:46 PM
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You were replacing a switch, was the new switch CO/ALR rated or was the new switch attached to copper pigtails?
The new switch was attached to the copper pigtails.
 
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Old 03-15-15, 09:11 PM
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Old 03-15-15, 09:29 PM
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Pigtailing can be worse...
That's what I am afraid of...
 
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Old 03-15-15, 10:35 PM
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Should I call an electrician to come take a look at this just to be safe?
Not something all electricians are familiar with. Might be better to DIY it so you know it is right. With the right connectors pigtailing is safe.
 
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Old 03-16-15, 07:42 AM
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The new switch was attached to the copper pigtails.
The pictures in the link Ray provided show the Ideal purple #65 Twister wire nut, the only wire nut U.L. Listed for direct connecting aluminum wire to copper wire. They have an extremely high failure rate like the pictures show. There is NO WIRE NUT LISTED OR APPROVED to direct connect one aluminum wire to another aluminum wire like commonly needs to be done when connecting neutral conductors in a switch box.

Not something all electricians are familiar with. Might be better to DIY it so you know it is right. With the right connectors pigtailing is safe.
I couldn't agree more. Many electricians are not familiar with aluminum wire practices and many electricians have never even seen aluminum wire muchless have ever worked with it.

I am going to suggest one more resource.

http://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/118856/516.pdf
 
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Old 03-16-15, 09:08 PM
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Not something all electricians are familiar with. Might be better to DIY it so you know it is right. With the right connectors pigtailing is safe.
What would be a correct connector to pigtail these wires?

In the article that Joe posted, it states that the two acceptable ways to add copper wire section's to the end of aluminum is to either use the COPALUM Method of Repair (which needs to be done by a specially trained electrician) or to use The AlumiConn Connector, which also says to be installed by a qualified electrician. What would be the DIY way?

I know I should probably be getting the house rewired and get the aluminum wire out of there, but this is the first house I have owned and money is a little tight right now. So I am trying find an interim solution until I can start saving up again, since this would be quite an expense.
 
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Old 03-16-15, 10:08 PM
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AlumiConn Connectors and Polaris connectors are DIY installable without special tools.

Examples: http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&key...l_9ivv40b3uy_e

http://www.aplussupply.com/nsipolari...connectors.htm
 
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