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I bought this house one year ago, have had some problems with its electrical. My bathroom switch controls bathroom clothing closet light and the bathroom light. I notice it really sounded funny at times like a short buzz when I would flip them on. I asked around and was told probably switch needs changing out sounded like it was arking. so I bought a couple of switches to change it out. When I got the switch off, I noticed one wire with insulation cut to bare and hook to one switch and then the end of same wire connected to the other switch. So I had one wire connecting both in a rough fashion. I disconnected it from the closet switch as I can manage without that for a while and then wrapped the bare spot with electrical tape then attached it back to the one switch for the bathroom light. Now of course the closet light doesn't work but the bathroom light does and you don't get that buzz when you flip it. So Im thinking this wasn't a good wiring but I do not see another power wire available although there are a lot of wires in that box. Can someone tell me a safe way of connecting that one wire to both switches so my lights work but I don't have that arc? I am a female diyer...Ive installed ceiling fans and stuff cuz its color coded...but every wire in this box is either white or black and there is one copper looking wade in there too. thanks

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    Please add a photograph, and maybe fix up some of your sentences, it will help make things much more clear. The bare wire connected to two switches is a ground. Based on what I see so far you need to contact a qualified electrician. – Bryce Oct 19 '13 at 22:46
  • Your instincts sound good, but your experience sounds limited. Given the bad wiring and the complexity of the box, I think you really would be better off calling in a pro (either an experienced electrical DIYer or an electrician). You need testing as well as wiring. – bib Oct 20 '13 at 0:19
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I think I know what's going on here, the solution is simple if the situation is as I understand it. I'll go over it again as confirmation.

The butchered wire should be the unswitched power from source that continues through the two switches, one for each light in turn, then on to the lights, then return via neutral. If you're in North America and the usual color codes were followed, this wire should be black. (Neutrals are white) The original configuration had a short length of insulation stripped from the end and attached to a switch (closet?). A few inches away, the same wire had a length of insulation stripped, but with insulation left in between the stripped portions. The copper wire itself remained continuous, the non-end bare portion looped partly around the binding screw of the other switch (bathroom?). See sketch below "Original". Only the pertinent wiring is shown, all other wiring omitted for clarity.

You then taped up the inner stripped portion and reinstalled the wire end to one switch, leaving the other without power. Correct?

If so, this is a somewhat common bad practice, mainly because the unbroken partial loop cannot be properly bound to the terminal. The fix is easy. You need a wire nut sized for 3 conductors of whatever wire gauge is used (usually #12 or #14 AWG) and two short lengths of the same gauge black insulated solid copper wire.

Remove your taped patch and cut the wire so that the entire wire is completely insulated except for the final 5/8"-3/4" which remains bare. (See sketch "Cut") Attach this and the two short pieces (ends stripped in similar fashion) with the wire nut.

The other ends of the short pieces are attached, one per switch, to where the original wire was attached. (See sketch "New") There is a particular way to make binding screw connections which you may not see in the existing work. Do NOT make a simple U bend and hook it around the binding screw, you do not get adequate surface contact this way. (Sketch "NO!")

Instead, pre-bend the wire end into a nearly complete circle, so it is configured much like an eye bolt eye. (Sketch "Yes") Re-open the end gap just enough to slip the binding screw through. The loop must go clockwise around the screw so tightening the screw closes the end gap. Before tightening the screw, pre-close the gap as best you can with needle nose pliers. Firmly tighten the binding screw and it will draw the gap the rest of the way closed.

You can see electrically you have the exact same situation, but now you have used good quality methods to achieve the connections.

switch wiring methods

  • I like the sketches. – Michael Karas Oct 20 '13 at 11:05
  • :) thx! I have access to all sorts of digital tools, still nothing like a quick freehand sketch to illustrate an idea. – bcworkz Oct 20 '13 at 19:40
  • There is nothing wrong with the first wiring method, as long as all the screw terminals are tightened properly. – Tester101 Oct 21 '13 at 10:59

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