Fix-It Friday: Light Switches

Fix-It Friday is an occasional series that details the projects I’ve done around the house. Check out some past posts here and here.

Our still-new-to-us home is 60 years old — and that also means the electric is ALSO six decades old. So when one of the light switches stopped switching, I knew it was going to be an adventure replacing it. I bought three new switches and got to it.

Going in, I knew that the left switch was *supposed* to be part of a three-way relay, working a light with switches from the bottom and top of the stairway. I also knew that it wasn’t wired correctly — the top switch turned the light on and off no matter the position of the switch at the bottom of the stairs; but the switch at the bottom of the stairs could only be used if the switch at the top was in the OFF position. Maddening.

The middle switch controls the porch light. Seems easy enough. Finally, the right switch (which was the broken one) went to a nearby receptacle.

Method of Attack
I started slowly, taking off the faceplate in order to access the switches and the gangbox. Here’s what I found:

The plastic switch on the far left looked newer than the other two, which were made of ceramic. The switches themselves were also different, as the two on the right were short and stubby, and made loud clicking noises when you flipped them (except for the one that was now broken, of course). After digging out the screws from under the layers of paint, I then unscrewed the switches from the wall. Oh, heavens — what a mess!

While I realize the wiring is older, I wasn’t expecting this mess of wires in the gangbox. Not only are they all jumping into different switches from the main lines, there’s a nice neat bundle of wires held together with electrical tape. I was at a loss. I have no idea why all these wires were mixed up.

I’m not experienced enough to be brave and dive right in to it, so I did the only thing I could at this point: Made a note of which wire went to which switch, and faithfully replicated the pattern with the new switches.

That was the easy part. I clipped the ends off cleanly and restripped the wires, attaching them to the new switches — two double pole and one three-way switch. There was no way I was going to figure out what the issue was with the stairway switches at this point. We’ll have to get an electrician in to figure out just what’s going on in this case.

I tucked all the craziness back into the gangbox and closed up shop. Put the faceplate back on, and we were back in (usual) business. I can only imagine what the wiring is like in other parts of the house! But it is a marked improvement from the truly old wiring in our old apartment — that place still had the original gas lighting lines in it!

How is the wiring in your home? Have you ever come across something crazy like this?

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