I just moved into my first home and the light fixture in the water closet broke. I replaced the fixture with a new one, but the light only flashes on, then turns off. I checked for loose connections, but that didn't solve the issue. Help me troubleshoot.

I thought it might be the switch so I pulled off the switch plate and found this mess:

enter image description here

Can anyone tell me if it's wired correctly? There are five (5) wires, each with hot, neutral, and ground all coming into the box. As far as I know, the switches only control the light and fan, respectively. I have no idea what the other 3 wires might be for. Here is a diagram showing the wiring:

enter image description here

  • @NiallC You beat me by 30 seconds :)
    – BMitch
    Sep 23 '12 at 0:59
  • +1 for taking the time to draw a diagram, not to mention actually pulling the switches out of the wall before taking the picture.
    – gregmac
    Sep 24 '12 at 22:39

Does the light switch feel any different than the fan switch? The switch can feel funny if it fails.

Also, what kind of fixture it is? It's probably not relevant, but it's not a bad detail to add.

OK, looking at your diagram, I'm happy to see that all the gnd and all the neutral are tied together. That really helps, as it means you don't have anything too weird going on.

I'm going to describe what I see in that diagram, so that we're on the same page (or so that you know I have no clue).

From what you've drawn, I assume that the wire going to the light fixture is the one on the left, the fan is the one on the right.

One of the center 3 lines goes back to the breaker. The other two of the center three lines are actually branches that feed something else (basically, they are chained off of here). That big bundle of 4 wires on the one leg of the light switch are just a way to get everything tied together without a separate wire nut.

At this point, as long as all connections to the switch are good, and you think the fixture is good, then I'd say it would have to be the switch itself - they are mechanical, and they do go bad over time. If you have a multi-meter, or some kind of circuit tester, then you should be able to check the power at screws of the fan switch - the one coming from the light switch will be hot all the time, the other side will only be hot when turned on. Then try the light switch - I bet it's not actually working correctly.

If you don't have a tester, just replace the light switch. They don't cost much, and then you'll know for sure.

  • 3
    +1 Also would recommend pigtailing the hot connector. Trying to tap four wires under a screw terminal is just asking for trouble (and contrary to most codes). Minor heating issues with a connection like this could be a source of an inconsistant connection.
    – bib
    Sep 23 '12 at 1:43
  • @bib - interesting, I didn't know that might be against code in some places. Though now that I think about it, I can see why. Sep 23 '12 at 12:50

Well, it turned out that the light fixture was just a lemon. I did end up replacing the switch as Michael Kohne recommended, but to no avail. I also pigtailed the hot connector as bib recommended because I agreed that four wires on one screw was a little absurd. When that didn't work, I exchanged the light fixture and sure enough the new one works just fine. Go figure. Thanks all for your advice!

  • Glad to hear you tracked it down - too bad it was a bad fixture - that's kind of unusual these days, and I have to say that given the situation, I'd never assume that was the case either. Oct 6 '12 at 1:12

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