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Hello all! New Years Eve problem occurred. We have 3 switches in our master bathroom. One controls the light above (or that’s what we were thinking because when you click it- it turns on the light), second controls the ventilation and third controls the vanity lights. When we click the last one we hear buzzing so we didn’t use it until now when we decided to fix it upon buyer’s request. Anyway...

We opened up the switch and surprise, surprise- 9 wires!!! 9!!! After my husband couldn’t figure it out, he taped them all so we can try this morning. He tried the switch in our master bedroom- nothing, tried the first switch for the bathroom- nothing. The outlets are working, but the other 2 switches that are working okay are also with 9 wires.

If anyone has any idea how to fix them I will be very grateful! The buyers are coming again in 3 days to have a look at the house, and we want it fixed beforehand, but we can’t afford to pay someone since will be a “holiday pay”. Thank you!

Ps We are foreigners so if someone have the patience to start everything from scratch- amazing!

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    9 "wires" in 3 cables. Is that black/white/green-or-bare in each cable? Or something else? – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Dec 31 '19 at 14:55
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    One cable is probably power in, one is a switch loop to the fixture, and one goes out to lighting in other rooms. You're going to have to do some investigation to figure out which is the hot cable, then we can move forward. Are you equipped with a basic understanding of house wiring principles and a line-level voltage tester or multimeter? – isherwood Dec 31 '19 at 16:04
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    Also, why did you disassemble it all and not take photos? Are the screw hooks still in some of the wires? Those are important clues. Untape everything (with the breaker off) and get better photos, please. – isherwood Dec 31 '19 at 16:05
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    Can you post photos that show the back of the box in question please? – ThreePhaseEel Dec 31 '19 at 16:10
  • Please also post a photo of the switch that was buzzing. – noybman Dec 31 '19 at 18:02
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Big mistake... maybe

The bare wires are easy -- those are always Safety Ground.

In residential wiring, the information on how to make connections is provided by position. That is to say, how to connect them is told by how they were connected before. Get it? By unhooking all the wires at once, you destroy that information.

Now, there's only two reasons to do that; either your husband is deranged, or he reasonably saw that the wiring arrangement was perfectly simple and straightforward, and easy to remember. (These are called "switch loops").

I'm noting that the cable sheath was kept on the wires very far into the box, and not split into individual wires until 3" from the end. That is very much in favor of the "Simple, legal, easy-to-remember" theory.

However, it's worth mentioning that the "simple, legal, easy to remember" arrangement cannot possibly affect lights, switches or outlets anywhere else in the building - only the controlled light/fan. So if that is happening, then we have a huge, stinky mess on our hands: this wiring job was already shoddy and dangerous before your husband ever touched it, and a DIY fix is out of the question. You will need to either hire it done (sorry), or disclose the defect and let the buyer fix it. I recommend the latter, because that lets the buyer choose different fixtures etc. while they are in there doing the work.

Assuming the legal/simple way

So, proceeding on the assumption that the legal way is the way it was done, and that you are using plain switches, not these "smart switches"...

Each cable gets handled one at a time. For that cable, the bare goes to the switch's green Safety Ground screw. There are two screws remaining. Put black and white there. Which one goes where, does not matter.

For the ground screw, you must shape the wire into a shepherd's hook that will go around the screw shaft (under the head) at least 180 degrees, and it's good workmanship to crimp it so it goes around even more (and won't fall off). It's probably that way already. Put it on clockwise, so when you tighten the screw, it tightens the hook.

For the other two wires, if they are straight, use the "backstab" back-wire holes: there will be a little graphic illustration on the outlet that will tell you exactly how long to strip the insulation. Do it just like that, and then, shove it in the hole all the way until bare wire can no longer be seen. (On better switches, you must tighten down the screws to get the wire to hold. Tighten them quite firmly. But please don't use that type!)

You could also attach to the side screws using shepherd's hooks similar to the ground wire, and that's better if done properly. Honestly, given your level of skill, I want you to use the backstabs because if you cut the insulation the right length and push them all the way in, they're impossible to screw up. Otherwise you need a torque screwdriver to set the screw torques right (usually, people set them too loose.)


The regulars here will object: yes, we generally think of backstabs as universally bad, because they go "open" for no reason, and that is a huge nuisance. However, here, they are selling the house. The nuisance won't be theirs, so it's much more important that the work be the safest possible given OP's skill level. Besides, these are switch loops; nothing will be affected by an "open" except the lamp itself.

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    WOW! Hell has frozen over, the cows have come home and donkeys fly.... Harper has recommended backstabs. (but can't fault his reasoning). – JACK Dec 31 '19 at 16:52
  • The shephards hook will bring the cows home, but just in case mistakes are made, when using a screw terminal, you typically want ~1/2" of copper exposed, and pay close attention and care to not catch any wire sheathing under the screw head nor leave a large chunk of wire unsheathed too far back from the screw (hence the 1/2" approximation). In the event you use a SCREW lock terminal you dont need a shephards hook. I'm not going to recommend a fix using backstabs, I would lean towards the hiring it out path. – noybman Dec 31 '19 at 17:56

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