I am replacing the old light switches and outlets in this house. I have a single light switch that controls a standard two-outlet wall plug. (So you can plug a lamp in and turn it on and off with the light switch). I am attempting to replace that light switch and have run into strange problems.

Here is what I've done so far, and I am confused what is going wrong or what I should do next to fix it:

  1. I replaced the outlet a few days ago. After doing so, the light and light switch worked multiple times with no problems.
  2. Yesterday I removed the old light switch.
  3. I attempted to install a dimmer switch, but the inside of the box was different than expected.
    • Rather than having two white wires and two black wires, there was only a single white and black wire.
    • Based on instructions I saw online and received in this thread, I wired one black wire from the dimmer to the black wire in the box, the other black wire from the dimmer to the white wire in the box, and attached the ground wire.
    • I turned back on the breaker with the switch open and the light was on. When I tried to dim the switch, the switch "popped", smelled like burning, and the light went out.
  4. Someone pointed out in that thread that a dimmer on a wall outlet is not to code and can be a fire danger, so I bought a standard light switch and attempted to install it instead.
    • I wired the switch as the instructions indicate, and the circuit popped as soon as it was engaged.
    • Thinking that the white paint on the black wall wire might be a secret code from the past that that's actually the white wire, I reversed the wiring and turned on the breaker. The breaker made a loud humming noise and the light did not work. I disengaged the breaker.
  5. I removed the switch and posted here for help.

What do I do to get this light switch working again?

Old Switch

Old Switch

Inside Switch Box

Switch Box

New Switch

New Switch

New Outlet, wired

New Outlet, Wired

Inside Outlet Box

Inside Outlet Box

As Requested, better photo of inside Outlet Box

More Details Inside Outlet Box

  • 1
    In third/bottom picture, is that a black wire connected to white wire? Also have too much bare wire showing on outlet connection. Remove from the back and use the screws on the side.
    – crip659
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 20:05
  • 1
    Can you pull those yellow wire nuts out of the way and post an updated picture of the outlet box? Also, there should not be any exposed copper on the white and black conductors at the back of your outlet - likely that the stripped length is too long.
    – HikeOnPast
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 20:07
  • 5
    Is there any possibility you shorted those brass screws to the box? Generally, if you're not using them for connection, you should tighten them. (Also, USE THEM. Backstab sucks) Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 21:08
  • 1
    @ChrisCudmore I was going to suggest the same thing. Tighten ALL the screws, also best practice is to wrap with insulation tape when using a metal box. I once fixed a true short when a ground wire somehow worked it's way up to contact with a hot wire screwed on on an outlet. DK how it happened. But it was easy to spot when I turned on the breaker and sparks shot out of the outlet!!!! (Sorry to "NoSparksPlease!). + Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 21:36
  • 1
    For future work, when connecting outlets/switches you do not leave any bare wire showing on any covered/insulated wire connection and all screws should be screwed in tight. Ground/bare wires should placed where they can't touch any thing except the box.
    – crip659
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 11:11

2 Answers 2


White paint on black wire is just from a sloppy painter.

It is recommended to place black tape/paint on both ends of white connected to the black wire(showing it is hot).

Would replace outlet, switch, and breaker, in case one or more was damaged. Would not trust breaker after it was humming.

Place black wire on brass/gold colour screw of outlet and white on the silver screw. Screw all screws on outlet down.

If wanting a dimmer for the light, would think about plug in types. Between the outlet and the plugged in light.

  • How would you wire the light switch?
    – JoshuaD
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 0:50
  • Switch is just white and black, one on each screw. Power goes to switch by the white and comes to outlet by black.
    – crip659
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 9:47

The unnecessary ground wire(s) are hitting stuff

Both boxes are metal. Metal boxes MUST have the ground wire(s) from the cable(s) going to the metal box, FIRST.

Going to the devices is optional.

  • For a switch, there is no need to run a ground wire - it will pick up ground via the mounting screws.
  • For a receptacle, if they are labeled "Self-Grounding", they can also pick up ground via the mounting screws. You find that feature on better spec-grade ($3) receptacles.

Note how all your screws are all the way out, sticking out like Ross Perot ears. Also, your attempt at back-stabbing is leaving a huge amount of exposed bare wire (allowed amount: none). Those things are being hit by the (unnecessary) ground wires, when you push the device back into the box**.

So the ground wires must go to the boxes. But the ground wires to both switch and receptacle can be eliminated by choosing a quality receptacle. Once that's done, you push grounds all the way back into the box, and never deal with them again. This trick only works on metal boxes.

Cleaning up the installation as far as getting rid of backstabs and running down screws will reduce trouble further.

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