I had an electrician out this weekend and he replaced 3 light switches. I just opened two of them to check and I noticed that none of the wires are wrapped around the two gold screws or the green screw. This is not the way I have seen my other switches connected. Is it possible to press the wire in the back of the switch instead of wrapping? Is this a safe and long-lasting method also, or should I ask him to come and wrap them instead? He also seemed to leave a lot of the old wiring in the box, because I can see his new wire nuts but also see the old ones. The idea was to update and I imagined old items (except some of the wiring itself) would not be needed anymore. enter image description here

  • It is code and it is faster. The push in connections also seem to be a source of problems in the future, mainly losing connection so stuff does not work, more a PITA than dangerous. Unless you/him know the wires are not needed somewhere, it is usually best to leave them as is. Simple light switches are about the easiest connections to do, faster than phoning the electrician to come back.
    – crip659
    Mar 6 at 20:48
  • @Lindsay Are there any bare copper wires in the box? Or is your home too old to have equipment grouding? Mar 6 at 20:54
  • Looks like that switch is missing a grounding wire.
    – Questor
    Mar 6 at 20:54
  • Did the "electrician" have a license, or would this be a handyman who isn't actually a licensed electrician? If the former, there appear to be grounds to report them to the licensing board. If the latter, that was your mistake in not hiring the right class of worker. The old wiring left in place is normal unless all the wiring is being replaced, and that's rare, and expensive. "a neat and professional manner" does seem to be a fail for sure. Is that box metallic or plastic?
    – Ecnerwal
    Mar 6 at 23:06
  • It was a small business but he has a license. I believe the box is plastic. No bare copper wires in the box, and the place was built in 1970. Other switches have a grounding wire, but not all of them, so that's confusing. I have aluminum wiring also. Are the use of special Al/Cu twisters or Alumiconns necessary? I thought those were always purple.
    – Lindsay
    Mar 7 at 0:58

1 Answer 1


True "back stab" connections, which I think is what you have here, are known trouble spots. They are a single-use mechanism, saves a minute in installation but more prone to problems than traditional screw terminals. Less of a problem with switches than with receptacles because receptacles get much more stress during use (plugging/unplugging things) than switches. But still something to generally avoid for a quality job.

There are also more expensive switches (e.g., "commercial" - typically ~ $2 to $3 instead of < $1) which include "side wire" or "clamp" or similar mechanisms where you can insert the wires straight in (avoiding having to make a perfect "hook") but where the screw holds the wires down (much better than a "back stab"). You don't have those. A builder typically uses the truly cheap stuff because dozens of switches/receptacles per house adds up. For replacement by an electrician, I think the extra cost is worth it. But most people wouldn't know to ask for the better stuff since it all looks the same once it is installed.

As far as the ground wire, switches ground to the yoke automagically when in a metal box. But not with a plastic box. With a plastic box, if there is a ground (really old houses may not have a ground, and for a straight replacement you don't have to add a ground) then it must be connected to the screw on the switch.

On top of all that, the screws should always be tightened down if not in use. Leaving them sticking out as shown is just poor workmanship.

As far as old wire nuts in there along with new wire nuts, there may be a reason for that. If the old wires are not long enough (normally 6" inside the box) then adding a wire nut and an extension wire makes sense. However, if there is already a wire nut and a not-quite-long-enough wire attached to it then it makes sense to replace that piece of wire rather than add another wire nut and another extension. Can't tell for sure without pulling everything out of the box.

  • Or there's a wire nut on the white wires... Mar 6 at 21:47
  • Thank you for the explanation. I appreciate it. On one switch, it is now so overcrowded that the switch smushes a wire nut and it is actually a bit hard to screw the switch back to the box. I am concerned such overcrowding is a danger.
    – Lindsay
    Mar 7 at 1:05
  • That does sound a bit messed up. Under most circumstances, the most that a single regular switch (and your picture shows a single regular switch, not 3-way, not "smart", etc.) should have is 3 cables, 7 insulated wires (hot/neutral in, hot/neutral/switched hot to light, hot/neutral onward to next device) plus 3 bare grounds, but usually less than that, and normally at most 3 wire nuts (always hots, neutrals, grounds). Mar 7 at 2:26
  • 3
    I agree with @manassehkatz, "the screws should always be tightened down if not in use. Leaving them sticking out as shown is just poor workmanship." Mar 7 at 5:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.