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Kitchen Light Switch Only Works Intermittently


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17-Aug-2010, 02:05 PM #1
Kitchen Light Switch Only Works Intermittently
Hello,

As you can see, this is my first post here and even though it is not computer-related, I'm glad I found this site as I'm sure I will undoubtedly encounter computer troubles in my future.

But my current problem is with the light switch that controls the kitchen lights.

There are three switches grouped together - one controls a hall light, another controls a single bulb in the kitchen and the problem switch controls four ceiling lights in the kitchen.

The problem is when I turn the switch on, the lights come on and immediately turn off again. If I push the switch and hold it in the ON position, the lights will stay on. Sometimes I have to push and hold a couple of times for the lights to stay on. A bit annoying but not a huge deal.

Well, I decided to change the switches to the rocker/paddle type, thinking that maybe the switch was the problem. I turned off the power at the circuit breaker, unscrewed the switch and removed the wires. I plugged the wires back into the new switch exactly as they were in the old switch. Flipped the switch and voilá! Success!

Well, obviously this is not how it ended. I needed to push the wires back into the box to screw the new switch in and when I did that, the lights went out. Turned the switch on and off - no dice. Changed back to the old switch and that worked but when pushing the wires back into place, yup, no lights.

So I've deduced that the switch is not the problem. I tried jiggling the wires a bit with no luck. Is there a relatively easy fix to this problem or do I need to call in a professional?

Thanks for taking the time to read through my long-winded 1st post.

Jake
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17-Aug-2010, 02:19 PM #2
It sounds like something is going on with the wiring that you should investigate. The whole box should probably be removed from the wall so you can check the wiring. It may be an intermittent connection, or even a short, and could be dangerous if left as is.
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17-Aug-2010, 02:46 PM #3
almost sounds as if there's a cut in the cabling that will compress and allow current to flow through, but if compressed incorrectly doesn't. Which is not a good thing, as that could mean intermittent sparking. I'm no electrician, but I do know I'd call a pro out to take a gander at that and see what is going on.

And welcome to TSG.
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17-Aug-2010, 09:07 PM #4
When there is a multi gang switch box setup as you described, the hots (black) or the neutrals (white) are tied together with a wire nut. It sounds like it might be loose. But as Valis said if you are stumped at this point I would call in an electrician, as loose wires in any connection create heat and fires.
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18-Aug-2010, 10:51 AM #5
I agree with K7M. You probably have a loose (or broken) hot or neutral wire in the wirenut joint. Unscrew the wirenuts and make sure that all the wires (under each wirenut) are bound together...and held together by the wirenut when it's screwed back onto the joint. It's somewhat common for one wire to not be wrapped (bound) properly with the other wires under the wirenut, therefore it only takes a slight movement of the wirenut joint for the wire to no longer make contact...and thus the circuit is broken.
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18-Aug-2010, 12:20 PM #6
Thanks everyone for the helpful responses. Yes, there are 4 or 5 wires bound together with a wire nut. When I removed the nut, it looked like all the wires were wrapped around each other pretty tightly but I unwound the wires and re-screwed the wire nut back on. The lights turned on and off a few times but when I tried to push all the wires back into place, it's lights out again.

Guess I'll have to bite the bullet and call in an electrician/handyman.

Thanks again for the help!
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18-Aug-2010, 12:37 PM #7
Well, the fact that you're having the problem when you push the wires back in indicates you're at the source of the problem.

You probably need a larger wire nut that properly secures those wires. They come in different sizes, and if you have 4-5 wires, some of the smaller ones won't grip them sufficiently to do the job.

One thing to try.

Remove the wire nut and strip the wires back about 1.5". Using pliers, twist ALL of them very tightly together for the length of the bare wire. Cut the excess off the end and leave between 3/4-1" of twisted wire. Put the wire nut securely on that junction.
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18-Aug-2010, 03:03 PM #8
Thanks, JohnWill. I will give that a try this evening.
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18-Aug-2010, 05:02 PM #9
To many wires for the average wirenuts you see in home wiring... 12 awg for a kitchen curcuit.
A typical red is to small for 4 12s in my opinion

on a connection with 4 wires you could split it and pigtail between the two thus making 2 three wire conections.

As JohnWill suggests the connection should be secure before the wirenut is installed.
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18-Aug-2010, 06:05 PM #10
Quote:
Originally Posted by micahpop View Post
Thanks everyone for the helpful responses. Yes, there are 4 or 5 wires bound together with a wire nut. When I removed the nut, it looked like all the wires were wrapped around each other pretty tightly but I unwound the wires and re-screwed the wire nut back on. The lights turned on and off a few times but when I tried to push all the wires back into place, it's lights out again.

Guess I'll have to bite the bullet and call in an electrician/handyman.

Thanks again for the help!

Since you know the source of your problem is in the electrical box try this:

Pull the wires out a little so the light or lights these switches control are on (to put a load on the circuit), then using a non-metallic item (plastic ruler, highlighter, etc.) move the wires around and see if you can detect where the arc is located. With a load on the circuit you should hear and see (if the room is dimly lit) where the problem is. It'll just be a little spark (snap/arc) as the circuit energizes or is broken. It should direct you right to the problem.
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18-Aug-2010, 06:30 PM #11
Ok, Koot - I'll try that, too. If I use a wooden stick, there will be zero chance of me getting shocked, right? I have electrophobia.
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18-Aug-2010, 07:27 PM #12
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Originally Posted by micahpop View Post
Ok, Koot - I'll try that, too. If I use a wooden stick, there will be zero chance of me getting shocked, right? I have electrophobia.
That should work just fine. Just don't wrap it in aluminum foil!
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18-Aug-2010, 07:44 PM #13
I just re read your first post and something caught my eye. You said you "plugged the wires into the new switch". Are you just pushing the wires into the holes in the back or are you putting them under the screws???? If you just pushed them into the connectors, that may be your problem. Put the wires under the screw terminals and tighten them with a screwdriver. Those push terminals hardly work very well, especially with 5 lamps on them. and If the wire is aluminum vs copper you should coat them with Noalox to prevent corrosion.
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18-Aug-2010, 09:22 PM #14
Quote:
Originally Posted by K7M View Post
I just re read your first post and something caught my eye. You said you "plugged the wires into the new switch". Are you just pushing the wires into the holes in the back or are you putting them under the screws???? If you just pushed them into the connectors, that may be your problem. Put the wires under the screw terminals and tighten them with a screwdriver. Those push terminals hardly work very well, especially with 5 lamps on them. and If the wire is aluminum vs copper you should coat them with Noalox to prevent corrosion.
Yep. Especially if these are #12 wires. Now, there should be a unique wire going to each switch, and then a common wire feeding the hot side of all the switches.

Are these wires copper or aluminum?

You stated you unwound the wires in the wire cap. Ummm.... not sure why you did that. Electricians are usually pretty good about twisting them together with side cutters. Those wires need to be tightly wound together. When you twist them back together, go clockwise with the pliers. There should be some white wires under a wire nut, and most probably, a bunch of black wires in another wire nut, feeding all the switches. As was mentioned earlier, four #12 wires is a bit tight for a red. I could do it, but the twist has to be really tight. Otherwise, you might want to pick up a gray wire nut at the hardware store.

If you weren't electrophobic , I would suggest taking the two wires off of the suspect switch and touching them together. That will let you know if the switch is the issue.

Also, might be worth it to take some pictures of this thing, if that is convenient. Primarily, I would pull the switches out and take a picture looking down from the top. Also, (with power off) push the switches down, and take a picture of the inside of the three gang from the front.
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