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I bought a house last year (house built in the early 80s) and have been in the process of replacing my switches and outlets. Two of my bedrooms have light switches that are wired in a way that I haven't seen before. There are three black wires, and one white wire and no ground wire is present on the switch. These switches have a light in them to indicate if the light is on/off.

Is this a standard light switch or some kind of special switch? When replacing it with a new switch should I just wire it up identically and put the white/neutral wire on the ground screw?

The first set of 3 photos is from bedroom 1. The second pair of photos is from bedroom 2. These closets in each bedroom share the same wall.

The last photo is the switch I have to replace the old one with.

Bedroom 1, photo 1 Bedroom 1, photo 1 Bedroom 1, photo 2 Bedroom 1, photo 2 Bedroom 1, photo 3 Bedroom 1, photo 3 Bedroom 2, photo 1 Bedroom 2, photo 1 Bedroom 2, photo 2 Bedroom 2, photo 2

enter image description here

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    That is probably a three way switch, should be another switch that also controls the same light/s. You never want to connect neutral to/with ground. Only in the main panel. A house from the the 80s should have ground, it might use metal conduit as ground path instead of a wire, but there should be a way to connect devices to it. With plastic boxes it should have a wire to ground, metal boxes do not need it as much, since they use the screws and metal tabs to the box as ground path. Is the third wire connected to a green screw?
    – crip659
    Apr 6, 2022 at 18:24
  • @crip659 Thanks for the reply. Figured I didn't want to connect the ground to the neutral but figured I would ask just in case. The light in each closet is only controlled by the one switch in each bedroom. The neutral/white wire is not connected to a green ground screw. The screw has no special color like ground typically does. It does not appear like there is a ground screw on the old switches.
    – Eric
    Apr 6, 2022 at 18:46
  • Bed 1, Pic 1 looks like there's a green wire nut in the back of the box. If so, that's probably the grounds. Add an extra pig tail of bare/green insulated wire there to connect to the ground screw of the switch.
    – FreeMan
    Apr 6, 2022 at 20:41

1 Answer 1

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Three blacks is totally normal:

  • Hot in
  • Hot out to the next switch or receptacle
  • Switched hot out to the light fixture

The top right backstab (don't use those) and top right screw are electrically connected. On the new switch, either get one that allows two wires under the screw (screw to clamp - one or two wires go straight in instead of one wire looped) or use a pigtail.

The big question is the neutral. A simple switch doesn't need a neutral. But smart switches, timers, motion sensors and lighted switches need to get power from somewhere. The best way is using a neutral wire. (The alternatives - battery, ground, leak through load - all have drawbacks.) However, it is not really clear whether you have:

  • Neutral connected to switch properly (in which case you are fine and connect the same wire to the new switch if it needs a neutral)
  • Neutral connected to switch instead of ground.

but based on the comments, it sounds like this is a true neutral screw and not a ground screw. Many switches do not have grounds, and that's OK if they are designed that way. Many switches will ground through the yoke, but that only works if you have a metal box.

If the new switch has a ground screw, you should connect it to the bundle of ground wires that you should find hiding in the back of the box. They may not be there in an older house, but in a 1980s house they're there somewhere.

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  • Thank you so much for your reply. Really helpful. So if I don't want to replace the light switch with a lighted switch can I just cap off/add the neutral wire connected to the switch to the existing pigtail?
    – Eric
    Apr 6, 2022 at 21:17
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    Most likely (and if this is not the case, please ask about it) the neutral wire connected to the existing switch is a pigtail which you would either cap or remove from the existing bundle - i.e., the other end should already be in the neutral bundle. Apr 6, 2022 at 21:19

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