Problems With An Electrical Light Switch

It’s irritating if you walk into a room and flip a light switch and nothing happens. It’s much more frustrating when you do not know where to begin. It could be an issue with the switch itself or a problem with your house’s electrical wiring. If you end up in this situation, there are some common problems with light switches that may be easily diagnosed.

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Determining the issue

The first step is to determine whether there really is an issue with your light switch. Unless there is an apparent problem with the switch (sparks, buzzing nose or hot to the touch, for instance), the issue could also be something else. Check that every one light bulbs are working and tightly screwed in to their sockets. In some circuits, one bad light bulb can cut off power to other lights in the room, so it’s important to go back and check.

Checking the Breakers

If the entire bulbs are fine, unplug all of the appliances within the room and check the breaker box. Try flipping the breaker to that room and the master switch a number of times to see if your power returns. If you’re not sure which breaker runs the light switch, try each breaker one at a time. If you are still not getting any light, it is time to take the switch out of the wall. If flipping the breaker works, it could mean that too many appliances are plugged in and are overloading the circuit.

Safety First

Before removing the light switch from the wall, disconnect power to the switch. Again, if you do not know which breaker runs the switch, turn off each breaker, even the master switch. In case you need light to work, a small flashlight works just fine. It is better to work at nighttime than to get zapped.

Removing the Switch

Once there is no power to the light switch, you can safely remove the light switch from the wall. All you may need is a screwdriver, usually a flat head. First, remove the plate cover by loosening the mounting screws. You will see the actual switch inside. Remove the switch by loosening the screws at the top and bottom of the mount. Gently pull on the switch. It should come right out of the wall.

Check the Connection

First, check the wires to the switch. Over time, the screws that hold the wires in place can come loose or corrode. The wires and the wire screws should be clean and snug against one another. No wires in the switch should touch any metal aside from the screw.

Check the Circuit

If the connection on the switch is ok, test the circuit. You may need a screwdriver, a pair of needle-nose pliers, a wire cap and an electrical tester. Use the tester to see if the wires are “hot,” or carrying an electrical current, by touching its tips to the screws on the switch. If there is no power, loosen the screws holding down the wires and gently pull the wires out. Straighten them with the pliers after which twist them together using the cap. Once they’re twisted snuggly, turn on your breakers. If the sunshine now works, you’ve a foul switch.

Buying a new switch

Luckily, a new switch is cheap; you’ll pay as little as $1 at some hardware stores. Buy a switch that matches the old light switch. Some light switches are more complex and operate on a special circuit system. To be safe, bring the old light switch with you to the hardware store and ask an associate that will help you pick one out.

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References
HomeTips.com: Testing the circuit
The Circuit Detective: Common electrical problems
Ulimate Handyman: Three-way light switches

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