I have a intermittent kitchen circuit and caused by a flaky light switch. When I open pull out the light switch, I see apparent shorting damage at the side and back terminals (see image). Damaged Leviton decora rocker The circuit was working intermittently. The hot supply was plugged into the back stab/quick connect and supply to downstream plugs was connected to the side terminal. I believe my intermittent circuit was caused by a flaky back stab connection - the back stab fell out when I removed the plug and there is no visible contact inside.

Here's my question: Since the side and back terminals are connected within the switch, why would I have shorting damage between those? Plus my circuit breaker never tripped, no one smelled or heard a short.

  • Broke the cardinal rule of "don't use backstabs and also screws". Also broke the cardinal rule of "don't use backstabs". Sep 3, 2017 at 19:48

1 Answer 1


Welcome to "why I hate back-stabs and will never use them" 101.

The shorting damage is from arcing between the wire and the poor connection to the back-stab terminal. If it got bad enough, there might indeed have been arcing to the wire continuing to elsewhere. This arcing happens because back stab connections are junk, and don't connect reliably - when they are not connected, the incoming hot wire was 120V while the rest of the outgoing wire and side terminal were 0 volts, until it arced and made a brief connection, possibly even welding itself together for a short period of time until thermal stresses broke the weld and it arced again.

Your circuit breaker would not have tripped (unless it was an AFCI) because the connection was not "directly to ground or neutral" - it was to the loads that were supposed to be solidly connected to the hot, and those loads were either powered (when connected) or not working (when disconnected) but not drawing excessive current in either case.

I honestly have no idea (other than massive skulduggery) how this junk ever got listed. I won't use them, I will remove and replace them if encountered, and I consider them a distinct fire hazard (as you can see.)

Note that not all "back entry wire terminals" are back-stabs - the ones with a plate actuated by a screw are fine (when properly tightened) but the ones where you stick a wire in and do nothing more are utter junk, IMHO. There's a tiny contact area that relies on spring pressure alone to make any sort of contact, and it fails with great regularity.

  • Ah, arcing damage not shorting (to a ground) damage. Thanks Ecnerwal!
    – ALC
    Sep 3, 2017 at 14:04
  • And thanks for the tips about back-stab terminals!
    – ALC
    Sep 3, 2017 at 15:09
  • Yes, if your house is full of backstabs or aluminum wire, get AFCI breakers. Doesn't fix the problem, but keeps it from doing that! Sep 3, 2017 at 19:47

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