Recently moved into a house and found that one switch in the kitchen doesn't work. It looked like the switch to control an overhead light. I replaced bulb but still no luck. The switch seemed to be broken.

I originally doubted that the switch would break thinking it was extremely unlikely. However, I have seen (and replaced) other switches in the house after similar doubt. All previous switches I replaced were in the upstairs of the house which was an addition and had nice and easy wiring to work with.

When I removed the switch in the kitchen I was surprised to see rope insulated wiring and what looks to be no grounding. Now, unfortunately I didn't take a picture of how the old (seemingly broken) switch was wired. But when I removed it inside the wall I saw 2 wires completely tied together, and two free wires. It looked like in the back of the box there was more rope but I really couldn't get to it.

I took the volt-meter and found that I had 120 volts going from each free wire to the two tied wires. Going between the two free wires I got 0 volts.

Long story short, I shorted the new switch I bought. Im am going to call an electrician to do the job but I want to understand whats in there.

Are the two free wires hot runs? And the two tied together common? Or is the one tied together hot and the two commons? I had originally thought the two free wires were travelers to another switch in the entrance into the kitchen that has a switch that doesnt control anything. But using the voltmeter and toggling that switch has no effect on the readings.

Either way I carefully taped up the wires and put them back in the wall and covered the panel. Probably the electrician will come when I won't be home so I won't get the lesson (and I'm not sure how keen they would be to have me over their shoulder while they are working).

Any thoughts? Anything I should have checked out also?

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    How did you connect the switch? The correct answer is probably the 2 free wires to the two terminals on the switch. And what do you mean by "shorted the new switch"? – longneck Nov 13 '17 at 18:22
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    Just stop. It's abundantly clear from your knowledge gap that you are learning electrical 101 by taking apart your house. Stop. The light never worked, so you won't miss it. Don't call an electrician. Do go to the library, browse all their books on how to do self-help electrical wiring, find one that feels accessible to you, and read it cover to cover.. Then come back 'round to this problem. Don't learn by plinking i.e. by asking questions, doesn't work because the student doesn't even know which questions to ask. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 13 '17 at 20:10
  • I would echo the notion of reading a book at the library. If the box is metal it should be grounded (probably by the conduit). Check the voltage between the wires and the box to learn which is hot. This won’t tell you how to wire the switch. Or even if you should. – Stanwood Nov 14 '17 at 4:18

Put it back together the way you found it.

I don't really care if you substitute a new switch when you reassemble it. I'm more concerned with the wires being where they belong.

The #1 mistake people make in situations like this, is they take too much stuff apart because they're curious, and then they end up with a mess. And it's even harder to troubleshoot because remember, it started broken. This is gravely misguided. Not least because what's installed may be wrong. It is certainly broken, and my guess is not there.

Do your learning from books, and read the whole book. Not online, because online is like looking through a keyhole: you need the big picture, the entire landscape. Without that, you can't even know which questions to ask.

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  • Not fun comments to read but I appreciate it. I knew I was in over my head which is why I gave up and put things back as safely as I could. Many layers of electrical tape. I will call in an electrician to fix it and do my best to learn from him what I can. – JustAnotherDad Nov 14 '17 at 14:36
  • I will definitely look for a community college course and pick up a library book. I agree that internet reading doesn't give you the full picture. However, at some point I will have to get my hands dirty and try things myself. I am comfortable doing so because I know when i have went beyond my abilities. humble pie eaten... – JustAnotherDad Nov 14 '17 at 14:38
  • @JustAnotherDad Don't overthink it, the library book will suffice. Give yourself a week to absorb the book then once more into the breach! – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 14 '17 at 22:36

1: Glad to know you called an electrician, because as I read your question I became really concerned for you. For all we know; what you thought was rope was the copper ground wire wrapped in its insulation - which to a novice might look like rope.

2: That switch might have been a 3 way switch and when it broke someone else just tied wires together to make things 'work' or not or they tried to put a single switch in and it did not work and they then tied stuff together.. who knows what it is with out pictures and with out measuring and looking.. so for anyone here to explain what is going on - they can't with out more details - which you can't provide at your current understanding.

3: Echoing others - learning AC house wiring by pulling things apart is not the way to learn - it is the way to get and electric shock or electrocuted (killed by the electric shock). If you are in a large city some high schools sponsor vocational education for adults, other community colleges also have courses.. learn that way - you will be glad you did.

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