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Old 05-24-2009, 09:47 PM   #1
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


So we're switching out some switches in our new house and most have been easy, unhook and attach the new ones. Well today I wanted to do the bathroom switches and when I opened it up it was a complete mess. No wire nuts, loose and old electrical tape, green/orange and blue wires some soldered on some going from one switch to the other. When I tried to take out the switches the box fell apart and it wasn't even in there so I figured I should change that too. Long story short I'm starting to put things back and since it was a mess I have no idea what wires went to what. Stupid I know but now we have no bathroom light or fan.

The bathroom has(had) two lights(one overhead and one above the sink, same switch), a fan(overhead with the light different switch) and a heater(overhead with the light different switch). There are four sets of wire coming in and I've marked the hot wires with red dots, one black and one white on different wires. Can anyone try to take a guess how this setup works, I've guessed twice, first time nothing turned on, second time the fan worked but would blow the breaker when I switched it off. Thanks.

The switches are the double switches so there are a total of four but one didn't do anything.

Actually, I wouldn't mind changing it to two single-pole switches, one for light(s) and one for the fan. We don't need the heater and since the other switch did nothing I might as well make it just two switches.
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Old 05-24-2009, 10:16 PM   #2
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


Just a guess - Tie the 3 whites without voltage together. Connect the black with voltage to two of the switches. Connect the black without voltage in the upper left corner to one switch and the black without voltage in the upper right corner to the other switch. Connect the white with voltage and the paired black to the third switch.

Personally, I would tear it all out and redo it.

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Old 05-24-2009, 11:39 PM   #3
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


Dang, that's one ugly hole in the wall! Very short wires too, also where are all the ground wires at?

I second the idea of tearing it all out and re-doing it. To re-wire that correctly and to make it safe with the current configuration is going to be a lot more difficult than just tearing it out and starting over. The romex sheath must extend into the box at least 1/4" and the fact that I can't see any ground wires is pretty scary, especially since you say this is for a bathroom....
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Old 05-25-2009, 12:04 AM   #4
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


Pull that box and move it up in order to get some cable to work with.

The white hot wire goes to a switch along with the black in the same cable. It is probably the original light switch.

The other whites tie together and hook the black hot to another black to see if it's the fan or power going out somewhere else.

Be careful, bonehead.
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Old 05-25-2009, 06:27 AM   #5
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


Thanks. The ground wires are there at the tip they are just point directly outward so it's hard to see. What's the code for the height of switches, would it look funny if I moved it up six inches in order to get the wire in the box and give it better drywall to attach to?

When I did the home inspection the attic had wires all exposed up in the attic and we had the guy fix them, if this is an example of how things are done I'm going to have to go check those wires to make sure they're done correctly.
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Old 05-25-2009, 06:28 AM   #6
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


You mean that with all the wires disconnected as shown, if you turned the power on for a moment, there are two hot wires as marked with the red dots?

And one is black and the other is white?

And the two hot wires came from two different cables?

What is the voltage from each one to ground and what is the voltage between the two?
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Last edited by AllanJ; 05-25-2009 at 06:34 AM.
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Old 05-25-2009, 06:30 AM   #7
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanJ View Post
You mean that with all the wires disconnected as shown, if you turned the power on for a moment, there are two hot wires as marked with the red dots?
Yes, with the power on only those two wires have power. I checked with a voltage tester when the power was back on.


Instead of moving the switch up what if I move it to the other side of the wall in the bathroom? Currently it's right outside the door but the other side is empty so this would give me a new hole to work with. Any negatives to this?

Last edited by RyanD; 05-25-2009 at 06:33 AM.
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Old 05-25-2009, 06:52 AM   #8
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


There is a minimum distance required between the light switch and plumbing fixtures if the switch is on the inside of the bathroom. I don't know what that distance is; I think it is 36 inches from the bathtub.

A cable with a hot white wire and a dead black wire in a switch box has a specific meaning. It is supposed to be kept separate from all of the other wires in the box except that all grounds coming into the box are connected together. This specific white and black are connected to one switch to control light(s) or fan(s) or heater or receptacle(s) whose power feed entered somewhere other than at the switch box. Nowadays a hot white wire must be marked with a band of black or red or blue tape or stain at both ends.

Don't assume the preceding paragraph if the white wire is not marked. The cable with the hot white could instead be miswired where it came from such as up in the attic.

An electrician can connect a portable incandescen light, suggest at least 100 watts, across the aforementioned black and hot white in one cable. Do not simply touch the wires together. If some other light or device comes on, perhaps dimly or slowly, then we have proved that that cable connects to one switch as described above. If nothing else in the room comes on whether or not the portable light lights up, than nothing has been proven or disproven.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 05-25-2009 at 02:12 PM.
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Old 05-25-2009, 07:47 AM   #9
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


So I hooked the white hot and the black to a switch and that controls the light over the sink. What I'm guessing is that worked and he wanted to install the fan/light/heat combo thing on the ceiling so he hacked this in to the existing wiring.

What's interesting and has me confused is the other wires become hot only when the switch for the over the sink light is on. That switch I hooked up, when it's on all the other wires are now hot as well(both black and white). What does this mean?
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Old 05-25-2009, 08:33 AM   #10
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


Well I went to go trace the wires to see how easily they can be replaced and I found the first "repair". All those wires just join and are wrapped in massive amounts of electrical tape that was just buried under insulation. Tracing wires like this is a ***** too.
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Old 05-25-2009, 11:27 AM   #11
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


Quote:
So I hooked the white hot and the black to a switch and that controls the light over the sink.
I could tell that from the pic.
Quote:
The white hot wire goes to a switch along with the black in the same cable. It is probably the original light switch.



Quote:
What's interesting and has me confused is the other wires become hot only when the switch for the over the sink light is on.
That's not what you said. In your pic, all wires were disconnected and you said that one of the blacks was hot.



Quote:
Tracing wires like this is a ***** too.

Welcome to our world. Homeowners and "handymen" are idiots.
(no offense )


Quote:
Instead of moving the switch up what if I move it to the other side of the wall in the bathroom?
Move it wherever you like. I am now thinking that this job has snowballed and you should pull the fan/light wiring apart and check it. He probably did something wrong there too.

You have gone this far. Take it apart and wire it properly. That will give you enough cable to reach the original box location.
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Old 05-25-2009, 12:23 PM   #12
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


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Originally Posted by 220/221 View Post

That's not what you said. In your pic, all wires were disconnected and you said that one of the blacks was hot.
I mean, in addition to the wires that were already hot when the switch is thrown all the wires become hot(the ones that were not hot before).
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Old 05-25-2009, 02:10 PM   #13
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


Quote:
Originally Posted by RyanD View Post
So I hooked the white hot and the black to a switch and that controls the light over the sink. What I'm guessing is that worked and he wanted to install the fan/light/heat combo thing on the ceiling so he hacked this in to the existing wiring. mean?
I need to add more.

I forgot to say that you should not hook the white hot and the black to a switch before knowing that they indeed control a light or fan or something. In your case you were lucky a short circuit did not result. Connecting those two loose ends first to a portable incandescent light brought to the switch box limits any short circuit current to a safe 100 watts or so depending on the light.

Finally, when the switch is connected and the portable light taken away, the light controlled by the switch must come on full strength. If not, turn off the power and take the switch away. There is a problem with the white hot and matching black and we are back at square one.

After the white hot and the black are known to be supposed to be connected to a switch and are so connected, no other wires may be daisy chained to those two wires down at that switch, using orange or blue pigtails or whatever, and continue on to other places where there are lights or fans, etc. But you may hook other lights, fans, etc. up at the box where the light now controlled by that switch is situated.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 05-25-2009 at 02:36 PM.
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Old 05-25-2009, 02:30 PM   #14
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


Quote:
Originally Posted by RyanD View Post
I mean, in addition to the wires that were already hot when the switch is thrown all the wires become hot(the ones that were not hot before).
All the other wires black and white?

Hot relative to what?

We'll need a list (yes, a compendium) of voltmeter measurements of each of the remaining six or so wires to a known neutral, both with the switch on and with the switch off.

The ideal known neutral is a long (single conductor) wire strung from the panel neutral bar up the stairs and across floors to where you are working. You can get away by using the ground wire from the cable in the box that goes down to the panel. Hint: tie all (4?) of the grounds together and then you won't have to figure out which one it is.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 05-25-2009 at 02:43 PM.
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Old 05-26-2009, 07:43 AM   #15
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Replacing switches turning into nightmare.


This was turning out to be way to confusing so I took the advice of just ripping it out and running new ones. I removed all the wires, opened up the fan/light/heat combo unit and re-ran all new wires from the unit to the switch. Since the old hole was too large I made a new one on the other side of the wall and patched the original hole. After about 5-6 hours of work(I'm a noob) everything is finally working the way it should be! :-)

I also ripped out the electrical tape mess he had in the attic and put in a junction box.

Thanks for the input guys.

P.S. I tried to level the switch with the outlet but it appears I didn't do so well. Maybe next time.
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