Fix?enter image description here Purchased a mid 50's built house last year. Knew that a switch in one of hallways had a switch that appeared to do nothing... Having done many simple wiring projects (lucky to have done renovation with a friend who was an electrician) that passed building inspection, I thought I'd check this out myself! I checked receptacles, lights, even looked for possible pump or furnace connections, to no avail. So I opened the switch box to see if it was maybe disconnected ... and found 5 wires in the box.

The drawing represents what I found. The switches themselves had only two screws each, both on the same side, with a ground switch at the back. All of the white wires were maretted together. Note that switch 1 and 2 (and switch two and three) have a jumper between them and that switch two has 4 black wires on a single screw (which is the safety concern I have.) I am hoping someone here can tell me if:

  1. three wires on a single switch screw is advisable
  2. they have ever seen a set up like this before, and
  3. what the function of switch three might be?

ADDENDUM: I have been rummaging around in the attic (yes, low and cold) and determined that the feed from the panel enters the switch box as wire D. The mystery switch goes to a wire that runs the length of the attic to another part of the house with a second attic (there was an addition in the 70's). I believe the solution to the terminal overload is a pigtail (everything in the green circle) that includes the power feed from wire(cable?) D.

Intended Fix

  • 1
    Five wires or five cables? Do the lettered boxes represent cables?
    – isherwood
    Dec 6, 2017 at 18:30
  • 1
    I'd be tempted to jumper a live to switch-3's open terminal and see what happens ... but if your house catches fire it's not my fault! Maybe you have a switched outlet somewhere nearby?
    – brhans
    Dec 6, 2017 at 18:43
  • isherwood - it's standard 14/2 wiring, so a black, a white and a neutral together. Have always just called the combination a "wire" - but terminology clearly isn't my thing, which I realize can be a problem when you are asking questions!
    – R Andrews
    Dec 6, 2017 at 19:20
  • And I'm an idiot because I forgot to show a second jumper between the open terminal on switch three and (You guessed it) that already overloaded terminal on switch two! - it has 4 wires on it!! I'm going to have to change this!
    – R Andrews
    Dec 6, 2017 at 19:22
  • I have edited the drawing. Thanks for the suggestions!
    – R Andrews
    Dec 6, 2017 at 19:27

3 Answers 3

  1. Having more than one conductor under a screw is usually illegal and considered unwise. Pigtails would fix that.

  2. It's not uncommon to see a hot chained across multiple switches. ("Jumper" is a better term--"traveler" usually refers to three-way switch wiring.) The only concern there relates to question 1. Again, change it to a pigtail configuration.

  3. We can only guess. You'd normally trace the downstream conductor, but there apparently isn't one.

  • Thanks! I will have to address switch #2. It looks to me as though the mystery switch heads into the attic, so I am hoping I'll be able to find it and trace it... I love older homes (although I once had one a hundred years older than this one!)
    – R Andrews
    Dec 6, 2017 at 19:13
  • Sounds like switch 3 may be a fan or light in the attic, Deffinately pigtail the 3 under 1 screw that is not good +
    – Ed Beal
    Dec 6, 2017 at 19:46
  • Well, after a fun session in my tiny little attic, I have discovered that wire D looks like the power and that mystery cable leads all the way over to the opposite side of the house. It doesn't seem to hook up to anything in the attic, but Ed Beal that was a great idea! I am going to post what I think is the solution with thanks again to Isherwood!
    – R Andrews
    Dec 6, 2017 at 20:46

With the new pigtail config then you should be good if everything is properly grounded and the box is big enough. If the box is metal (which I suspect it is) then the ground wire should be bonded to the box.

  • Thanks, Dean. It is a metal box the ground wires are screwed to the box. I'm off to search attic # 2
    – R Andrews
    Dec 6, 2017 at 21:05

1./2. You can use splicing connector to connect all 5 wires to power up switches safely.

  1. To answer this you have to trace down where the C cable leads to. If you are not sure, disconnect the switch, blank the cable to C and write it down somewhere. If something suddenly stopped working you have a good chance it relied on the switch 3.

Having hot wire leading "somewhere" in the house is not good idea. You may need to drill a hole somewhere and finding such cable by the drill is not good at all.

  • Thanks. I disconnected the lonely wire and it is not hot now - it traces off into the old garage, through the attic and removing its power supply has altered nothing over there, so I will not reconnect it until after I have cut and re-routed the attic side of it to a new circuit of overhead lights I will install.
    – R Andrews
    Mar 8, 2018 at 23:42

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