I have very little electrical knowledge. I now believe I have done one of the most ignorant things I've ever done. Updating my home to sell, figured I'd switch out the switch and outlets. And here we go. I removed all outlets and switches all at once. Just figured black, white, ground. Nope not at all that's not how it works. I am lost where to start, I've been searching for whatever type of wires are in the box, that doesn't work either. The only switch I've been able to properly change is the important on, the bathroom. I appreciate any guidance at all.

  • I edited out your signature because it's not appropriate for this site; please see diy.stackexchange.com/help/behavior for more information about this policy.
    – Niall C.
    Aug 9, 2020 at 23:24
  • If you don't already have them, get a non contact tester, a multitester and an outlet tester. amazon.com/Klein-Tools-69149-Electrical-Non-Contact/dp/… Aug 9, 2020 at 23:27
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    Upload pictures of each junction box. Aug 9, 2020 at 23:30
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    If you took pictures of any of the wiring on the back side of switches and outlets now would be a good time to share those as well.
    – Michael Karas
    Aug 10, 2020 at 0:12
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    There are VtC for details, and I agree, but this poor bloke really needs the help. Lets give him time to get his phone charged and take some pics and not scare him away quite so fast. Consider, if the only place in his whole house that has electricity is a bathroom light, his phone may already be dead and he can't respond. He might not even be able to go to work to charge his phone at the office with all the stupid rules in place right now...
    – FreeMan
    Aug 10, 2020 at 10:57

2 Answers 2


There's two ways to approach this.

One, spend time learning about how your house was wired. You'll need to be comfortable with hot wires dangling in space while you poke at them with the meter probes and figure out what's hot and what's not. I can imagine that you're also a little bit under the gun, since most of your breakers should be off and it is getting dark.

Two, just chalk this up to experience and get a real electrician as soon as possible. They'll fix everything in relatively short order.

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    Based on the question, I'd consider two very strongly.
    – Ecnerwal
    Aug 10, 2020 at 15:53

So you learned the value of altering the system one part at a time, and testing changes thoroughly, eh?

Aloysius has the overview locked in. Trial and error or an electrician. If you're going to go the first route, I'd upload some pictures of outlets and your electrical panel so everyone knows what you're dealing with. Do you have conduit like we do here in Chicago? Non-metallic cabling with a ground? How big is the panel? Is the box labeled? How many branch circuits? An 800- and a 4,500-square foot house are very different propositions. Should we presume you have switched and non-switched receptacles? Is it an old home where a DIYer may have installed hidden junctions behind paneling or drywall? Is the cabling or conduit visible from the attic or crawlspace? Do you have a reference for understanding split receptacles? How switches are wired? Do you have basic knowledge of circuits, like the difference between parallel and series? Do you have and know how to use a multimeter? Do you have a boroscope because you're a plumber and you thought you'd flex your trade muscles in a new domain?

Putting those questions aside, the best way is to switch off/unscrew the fuses on all of your circuits. If they are labeled, and you have a clue, then start with one, and work your circuits one at a time and build a map. You can use some of these symbols used in electrical construction. You needn't get all fancy. Keep it to switches, lights, and receptacles. Then get out your multimeter and start with a receptacle. Inspect it. Two wires only? Those are these easy ones. If you have steel conduit, you just need to measure the voltage from the suspected hot to the box. Knock out as many of these as possible.

In older homes, wiring is usually kept pretty simple. The house I grew up was built in the late '40s and a DIY ran cloth-clad flexible metallic conduit all over the place, but none of the receptacles were switched, there were only four circuits for the whole house, and there was only one 3-way switch. In newer construction, especially for upper-class homes, things can get rather complex and it might help to have a basic familiarity with images and terms of standard building practice.

Take off any jewelry. Wedding rings are highly conductive (I speak from experience.) Remember brass is for the hot side, and make sure you wrap those suckers up with electrical tape a few times. If you're using the screw terminals, needle nose pliers make the job easier. Put everything back together and test the outlet. If you have a small lamp handy, just plug it in to make sure all is well. Knock 'em out. If you hit something more complicated than a split outlet (there's a small tab that can make the two-sides independent) or a 3-way switch, just post the question as a separate post with plenty of pictures and information about what you know.

If this sounds overwhelming, best to get a licensed and insured contractor or an IBEW journeyman who does side jobs. But there are plenty of handymen who are quite proficient with standard residential electrical. And in the future, if you want to spruce up outlets and switches, you can simply scuff them up, mask them off filling in the holes with rolled rosin paper, and give them a spray with primer/finish coat from a can. Heck of a lot less work. Good luck!

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