We have a 78' rancher here in Texas we just moved into and just replaced all the power receptacles/ outlets. So of them were tricky some of them were straight forward, the room was split up into two circuits but got it figured out. I got to the one light switch in the room to replace it with a rocker switch and it as I disconnected it realized the ground, top, and bottom screw in terminals were all black hot wires. Upon further inspection I found three neutrals screw capped together, and three grounds all screw capped together. I plugged them in what I thought was exactly the same as they were before and it did't work. I decided to grab a pen and paper and keep trap of all the possible combinations and the results to figure out where the problem was. This switch controls the light in the room but also feeds power in to the bathroom right next to it. Here are the results.

Wire 1- Ground, Wire 2- Top, Wire 3- Bottom; Results [Light: No; Bathroom: Yes]

Wire 1- Ground, Wire 2- Bottom, Wire 3- Top; Results [Light: No; Bathroom: Yes]

Wire 2- Ground, Wire 3- Top, Wire 1- Bottom; Results [Light: Yes; Bathroom: No]

Wire 2- Ground, Wire 3- Bottom, Wire 1- Top; Results [Light: Yes; Bathroom: No]

Wire 3- Ground, Wire 1- Top, Wire 2- Bottom; Results [Light: No; Bathroom: No]

Wire 3- Ground, Wire 1- Bottom, Wire 2- Top; Results [Light: No; Bathroom: No]

So that looks like every combination and I couldn't get it to work. I am wondering if it is the switch it self... It is just a standard rocker switch, not a three way.

The next thing I tried was twisting the 3 hots together with a black piggy back to the top screw terminal and twisting the 3 neutrals together with a white piggy back and running that to the bottom screw terminal and left the grounds alone. [Result: Breaker tripped]

Finally I added a copper ground piggyback and twisted it with the 3 other grounds and ran that to the ground screw terminal. [Result: breaker tripped]

So, after all that I am still lost and can't get it to run. For some reason the AC is also on this circuit but it had been running perfectly fine, no trips with the previous switch. My best guess is it is the actual switch but I could use some help from the experts. This is the first day either my wife or I have really done any electrical work and while we figured a lot out, I am really lost here... Any help would be very appreciated, thank you!!!

*** Correction all existing wiring and new piggybacks are 12ga

  • 3
    All due respect you need to get a book on electrical wiring and read it cover to cover. Your "throw every combination at the wall and see what blows up" is madness. Not least, because if you found a combination that did what you want. you would've stopped there, no matter how dangerous that left it!! Jul 23 '17 at 16:07
  • You know this is the second question I have read today and I have to say; You DIY's could make life so much easier on yourself if you would just invest in a simple ammeter which costs between $20 to $35. An ammeter will give you voltage, continuity and of course amperage. Considering the amount of time you have already spent. You could ring this thing out in about an hour and you're done. Jul 23 '17 at 22:12

Your switch is fine

The switch is fine -- it just needs to be wired correctly. Keep the neutrals nutted together, and pigtail the ground to the switch's ground terminal (I have no clue why a black wire got landed on a ground screw in the previous configuration, but it was clearly wrong). (You can strip your existing 12AWG white pigtail bare and reuse it for pigtailing the ground, BTW.) Then take the feed (3) and the bathroom (2) black (hot) wires and nut them together to your black pigtail, which lands on one switch hot screw. Finally, land the remaining black wire on the other hot screw.

  • When you say feed (3) are you referring to the 3 neutrals and tying them in with 2 of the hots? Other than that I get what you are saying. Thanks for the help, you are a lifesaver! Jul 23 '17 at 15:54
  • No, I'm referring to hot #3 -- the neutrals stay with each other and don't connect to anything else in this party Jul 23 '17 at 16:02
  • okay, so my feed is the 3 black hot wires. I take two of those, wire nut them together run them to the screw terminal. Then take the one that is left and run it to the other. I just have a top and bottom and they don't look to be marked + or - just (L) and (R). Does it matter the orientation? Thanks again. Jul 23 '17 at 16:07
  • 2
    OP: Dude, you're the one who numbered them. Re-read your own post that you wrote. You defined a numbering system there. It's your numbering 3PE is referring to. Jul 23 '17 at 16:12
  • @JordanMickelson -- when I say "feed (3)" -- I'm referring to the cable you numbered 3 in your question :) Jul 23 '17 at 16:20

Stop, just stop the blind experimentation. The fatal flaw is that once you get it to do what you want, you'll stop, and leave it just like that no matter how dangerous this now makes it.

You may have found it wrong

The other flaw in your approach is assuming previous work was correct. Normally I argue for that, but not when 3 blacks go to 3 terminals on a switch!

People are hooking hot wires to grounds for Pete's sake! You're not at fault for the last guy's bad work, but you need to know what's right so you know wrong when you see it.

DIVIDE and conquer

Don't waste your time trying to "hook it all up at once" as you did above, you tried 6 combinations, because you made a point to use all the wires. Waste of time. Divvy up the job into logical chunks.

In your case, the better approach is to notice that the grounds and neutrals are configured so all the hots are really hot. So it can't hurt to splice any two together. JUST TWO. Cap the orphan. 3 possible results:

  • nothing
  • bathroom light switch works
  • room light is on constant

And I bet you've already figured out that in the "nothing" configuration, the orphan black is the supply. Huge win. Mark it!

Now the one where the bathroom light works -- that's your final configuration except add a pigtail to the wire nut. The pigtail and the remaining dangler go to the switch. Done.

Oh yeah, the ground. Do Grounds First. Why? Perception. When you hook up a thing last, and that causes it to fail, you think that's the problem. Proper grounding is right by definition. Anytime you hook up the ground last, and it fails, the previous work is the problem, not the ground. Doing grounds first puts you in the right head.

  • Thank you, obviously I have a lot to learn but I appreciate your response and will keep trying to learn, I feel like we are in for some more surprises in this house :) Jul 23 '17 at 17:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.