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Old 05-14-2011, 09:54 AM   #1
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Figuring Out Panamanian Switch Wiring

Hi everyone,

I'm an American living in Panama City, Panama, and encountered some interesting wiring which I am trying to decipher and hoping someone can be of assistance. Code is extremely lax here and I am constantly surprised by the inconsistency of creative and dangerous wiring.

I've done some small home electrical work myself and understand the basic concepts, but this one had me perplexed.

I was helping a friend to replace a conventional switch in an apartment building with a dimmer for a 110V incandescent light fixture that was too bright. I came over and he already had the box open, and had disconnected the old switch. There were 3 wires coming into the top of the switch box: 2 orange and one yellow. The old switch had a ground screw, while the new dimmer did not.

I reasoned that the 2 orange wires were the hot lines - 1 coming directly hot directly from the panel and the other returning hot up to the light, and that the yellow was the ground. I know that commonly return lines should be taped or otherwise indicated as not a direct hot, but figured this just hadn't been done.

I connected the orange lines to the 2 screws on the dimmer, and wired the yellow to the metal box, as the switch had no ground itself. I threw the breaker and nothing happened; turning the dimmer switch, still nothing.

I scratched my head and, as a test, connected the yellow to one side of the switch and orange to another, turned power back on, and voila! Switch is working fine. I isolated the other orange line and taped it up for the time being.

So what could the electrician have done here - I'm now thinking that one orange line was the hot, the yellow is the "return" line to the light, but what could the other orange be? Possibly neutral? Yet if that were the case, wouldn't it have fried the dimmer, or at least tripped the breaker, when I tested it the first time?

I'm planning on getting a multimeter and contacting a local electrician to investigate further but any tips would be appreciated.

Drew in Panama


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Old 05-14-2011, 09:17 PM   #2
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Is it possible that the light was on a 3 way switch and the two orange wires are the travelers and the yellow is the common? See if there is another switch that controls the light. That would be my guess...


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Old 05-14-2011, 09:38 PM   #3
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Might be power in, power out and a switched hot on the yellow.
Answers based on the National Electrical Code. Local amendments may apply. Check with your local building officials.
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Old 05-15-2011, 01:33 AM   #4
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Is everything run in the conduit { pipe }?? if so some case you can able tell which is the power source but get a voltmeter or neon test light you can able tell which one is power source.

I am not really famuair with Panamanian wiring format due It have mixed bag of Américaine and Mexican code and system format intertwined.

Your local Electrician will know the answer as well.

The answer will be based on NEC ( National Electrical code ) or CEC ( Cananda Electrical code ) or ECF ( Electrique Code France )
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Old 05-16-2011, 06:44 AM   #5
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Thanks for the responses.

dSilkanskas: I looked into it and it's not a 3-way switch

frenchelectrician: Everything is run in conduit (it's a concrete building with block walls).

Jim Port: Power-in, Power-out seems the most likely - while both orange wires go back up the same conduit, I'm not sure that they both end up in the same location (perhaps this keeps going around the room in some other direction?). I'll do some testing to confirm.

Thanks again for all your advice.

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Old 05-16-2011, 07:33 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by machodelmonte View Post
I'm planning on getting a multimeter and contacting a local electrician to investigate further but any tips would be appreciated.
Drew in Panama
Hopefully in reverse order if you are not sure about things?

Sounds like the orange wires are hot and the yellow is your neutral. And that switch, not the fixture is wired hot. The switch sits between the two hot wires. When you flip the switch, you complete the power circuit to the fixture. In any event, even in Panama I hope, your hot and neutral wires would not be the same color.

There should be a screw to which you attach the neutral or you may have to switch the switch.

Attaching the neutral or even a ground wire to a box that is not grounded serves no purpose and could zap someone somewhere on the circuit.


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switch wiring panama

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