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Below is an image of cables previously connected to a double light switch at a building in the UK. The occupant wanted to know why there was an additional white cable and how to go about fitting a new switch.

What would be the first step, and what should be done with the additional cable if it cannot be identified?

Cables in UK metal wiring back box

  • @wiringmess Your question was deleted while I was answering it, so I have posted it again. – Sam_Butler May 13 '19 at 14:57
  • It clearly wasn't hooked up before... so unless something is broken, why are you worrying about the extra cable? Also are there actually cable clamps screwed into those knockouts, or do they just disappear up a hole? – Harper - Reinstate Monica May 13 '19 at 19:51
  • @Harper I posted this question after another user deleted his/her question while I was answering it. Have you never seen horrific, unsafe domestic wiring before? That cable could have been disconnected and still be live. Leave it as it is and a couple of years down the line someone else will be asking the same question. See my answer. – Sam_Butler May 14 '19 at 9:48
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It may be necessary and almost certainly will be safer to hire a qualified electrician.

The first step in diagnosing this problem is to identify the conductors.

You have a multimeter, but you should check that your leads, probes, and the meter itself are rated for mains voltage. Switch off the entire electrical supply at the consumer unit or main isolator switch. Use a voltage tester or--at a minimum--a neon test screwdriver, to verify that each conductor in the back box and at light fittings is dead. Do not conduct the following test on a live installation. Turn off all circuits.

One way of identifying conductors is to connect the live and earth and/or neutral and earth wires of a single cable together using a terminal block or similar at one end, then at the other end, test continuity between the L+E or N+E with your multimeter. You can discount the possibility of an existing short by testing continuity between the conductors before connecting them together at one end.

In your case, you need to know which of your red and black wires go to/from light fixtures, and which are live or neutral feeds. Given the age of the installation, it is unlikely you will have a neutral at the switch.

You may not be able to identify the additional white-sheathed twin and earth cable in the back box, so strip it back and terminate each conductor. Do not connect them together, do not tape them, and do not leave it unterminated. If you can identify it, and find that it is dead, you may be able to cut it back or remove it completely, thus avoiding future confusion.

Once you have identified the conductors, you will be able to connect a switch according to the manufacturer's instructions.

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The white cable is what we call Romex in the U.S. or NMB cable. The first step is identifying the supply from your customer panel or breaker box, the next step is identifying the load wiring. If your double light switch is what we call a 3 way in the us you will need to identify where each wire goes (traveler or common) at the light and or other switch. Once you have the wires identified finding a schematic or pictorial of the connection on line is easy. If you have problems figuring this out once you have mapped all the wires out post that information here and there are quite a few professional electricians that help folks on this site that can help you to connect them correctly.

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  • I had already answered this question, but you're right. Romex/NMB is known as twin+earth in the UK (we refer to 'ground' as 'earth') or more properly 6242Y (6243Y for three core + earth used for e.g. multiway switching). A double light switch is just two switches in a single gang accessory; US 3-way = UK 2-way. – Sam_Butler May 14 '19 at 9:50

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