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dspeh 05-17-2006 10:42 PM

Getting Shocked!!!
First timer...

I have a light switch in my house. Everytime I turn it on the screws (that screw in the face plate) become charged (enough to sting me & my wife when we touch them).

Any ideas what is going on here? I replaced the switch, re-taped all the wires and I am still getting shocked.

Thanks for your thoughts.


Sparky Joe 05-18-2006 12:01 AM

call an electrician!!! The details of what may (or may not) be wrong get a little too in depth for a typical DIYer, but to start to do it yourself you'll need a meter a plug tester and a tick tracer(the last 2 just to save time)

IvoryRing 05-18-2006 10:37 AM


First I'll say that Joe is right - your safest course of action now is to call a liscensed electrician, and pronto.

You are dealing with potentially lethal voltage, and you already know that it is not safely wired (as shown by your getting shocked) - do NOT continue to use that switch. Either switch off the breaker that goes to it (if you can live with the entire circuit being off until the problem is fixed), or at minimum tape a cardboard box over the switch so that nobody can touch it or the wall plate.

Again... if it is enough to 'sting', then it is enough to kill you dead. Do not make the mistake of assuming that just because it hasn't killed you yet that it is safe. There are several reasons behind this, one of them is that the amount of current that will flow through you when you touch the screw/metal will vary based on a number of different factors - one moment when you turn the switch on you may only receive an annoying tingle, half an hour later when you go to turn it off again, you may drop dead.

Any time you can 'feel' the electricity, you are at significant risk. Static electricity is quite different, so don't assume that just because you've survived lots of sparks from static you are safe with 'just a little tingle' from an outlet.

Never assume that "it's got a breaker, so it will keep me safe" - that is not even vaguely true. A breaker is there to keep the wiring from overheating. Any type of breaker, regular, AFCI, GFCI, GFI, will deliver far more current than it takes to kill you. AFCI, GFCI and GFI breakers will trip in certain circumstances that a regular breaker won't in order to be safer for people, but every single one of them has circumstances where they will not trip.

If you are going to tackle issues like a switch by opening it up and doing a replacement, you should have the proper tools and information to keep yourself safe. If you have found out that the switch is still not right by getting shocked again, then that pretty much says you either don't have the tools and/or you don't have the knowledge and/or practices to keep yourself safe.

Before doing anything, I'd ask "when did this happen, what changed?" - something in what changed was done incorrectly, and if that change was done by an electrician (it can happen - even the most careful and by-the-book folks make mistakes), then the correct course of action is to call them and say 'come fix what you broke'. If the answer to this question is 'nothing happened, it just started out of the blue' (this is very different from "I don't remember what happened" or "It happened when I wasn't around"), then you are looking at a situation where the problem is likely caused by something else in the house with a fault/failure it it's wiring and that something else is putting voltage on your switch.

I got started on writing up a set of directions here that would be what I would likely do to diagnose this problem (and, even though being a DIYer, I would likely dig into this myself), but as I was going that and spelling out the various different paths this should go, I realised that Joe was right - there are a whole lot of 'gotcha's along the way and I wouldn't be comfortable with trying to walk someone through it without any idea of their skill & knowledge.

As to the specific issue - your yoke (the metal strap that goes around the back of the switch) is likely hot (which is to say, carrying 120v), and you are providing the path to close the circuit/return the current through your body. This could be because it is incorrectly wired, either at the switch (i.e. you connected the switched load leg to the green screw) or somewhere else (likely the neutral in one of the lights is connected to the bare or green wire). Tracking this down is going to require that you understand how your light & switch are wired up (there are a couple of different ways this can be done).

It is also distantly possible that the section of floor you are standing on is hot, and the wall switch is providing the grounding path (but only when switched on - which is to say, it is also miswired somewhere, but most likely at the switch itself). If this was the case, it would be even more dangerous, as fixing the switch doesn't remove the hazard.

Alan 05-18-2006 12:50 PM

Agreed with both of the above as far as the safety of yourself and your family not knowing how familiar you are with electrical circuits.

However i am curious that if the outlet box was metal, and perhaps the jacket damaged somewhere through the back of the box, would that possibly cause this problem?

redline 05-18-2006 01:00 PM


Originally Posted by Alan

However i am curious that if the outlet box was metal, and perhaps the jacket damaged somewhere through the back of the box, would that possibly cause this problem?

There is a short somewhere in the circuit. Let the electrician resolve the problem. Could either kill someone or burn the structure down if not properly corrected.

Is this older wiring or the newer plastic coated wiring?

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