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I recently hired an electrician to add a light fixture in my home. The electrician used the backwire holes on the back of an existing outlet to power the new light fixture. I had to disconnect the light from the receptacle side because the light that was installed kept strobing and the fixture wasn't on a switch that I could just turn off. The light is on a photocell and it was strobing because it was too bright for itself, when it turned on the photocell thought it was day time and would shut off again. I verified this was the case because I put black tape on the photocell and it would stay on if the tape was kept on the sensor. Anyways when I removed the receptacle I noticed a couple of odd things:

  1. The neutral wire was just hanging loose, I think what happened here was the neutral wire didn't properly catch the clamp on the backwire hole. But the odd thing is that the stripped part of the neutral wire was only about an eight inch in length. That seems way too short to use the backwire.

  2. The other odd thing is that I found a piece of wire stuck inside the hot side of the backwire of the second terminal of the receptacle. So either that wire was stuck in there always since the home was built, or the electrician messed up once and ended up using the other terminal's hot side backwire, or he hooked up the neutral wire mentioned above to the hot side backwire of the second terminal(this is not likely since the light worked fine when I tested it while he was there). Not sure exactly what happened here.

My question is, when I'm ready to hook up a new light again, is it safe to use the back wire method again or should I just use the unused side terminals on the outlet? I've read that sometimes the clamp that holds the backwire breaks if you ever remove the wire. I did have to use force to remove the hot wire from the backwire hole, event after inserting a flat head into the hole that releases the wire it was pretty hard to get that wire out.

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    why would you even ask. just use the screw terminals. that way you can be sure of a good connection. – jsotola Dec 31 '17 at 19:24
  • Is it okeay to use the same receptacle or should I replace the whole thing? Is it possible for the clamp that holds the backwire to break free if I had to force the wire out? – bob Dec 31 '17 at 19:43
  • OP, backstabs are single-use. Once you pull the wire out, either by twisting or by jabbing the release lever, the spring strength is gone, and is not safe to reuse. How do you know if a backstab has been used once? You don't need to worry about that if you Never Use Backstabs. Backstabs are the source of most connection problems in many of our experiences, and IMO the reason they now mandate AFCI. @jsotola because people don't know how bad backstabs are. After all, the government/NFPA/UL allow their use, so they have trouble believing they're really that bad. – Harper Dec 31 '17 at 20:47
  • Also, most new "photocells" actually use an electronic control chip made by Texas Instruments. This chip has a clock and memory, and "learns" what light and dark look like over several days. I believe they also have logic to stop the "flashing" thing after a few flashes. – Harper Dec 31 '17 at 20:53
  • I left the light connected for a couple hours, it didn't stop strobing so I disconnected it. – bob Jan 1 '18 at 1:03

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