We’ve all seen the gag where a person flips a light switch that seems to do nothing in their home but somehow controls the neighbor’s lights or garage door. Whether buying or renting a home, we have run into that dreaded light switch mystery. Here you will find helpful hacks to help solve which, if any, electrical outlet the switch controls. Remember to always call a licensed electrician before you DIY.
For the most part, electrical outlets and light switches are easy to understand. You plug in a light or appliance and it turns on. Or you flip a switch and a fan or light turns on. Simple! But if you find yourself unable to figure out how to power an outlet or where a switch goes, it is important to understand the basic components of both.
Almost all electrical outlets installed in homes in the United States are 15-amp duplex receptacles because they are compliant with 20-amp circuits. The receptacle itself consists of the shutters, which are the vertical slots at the top of the outlet and the ground, which is the hole at the bottom of the outlet. Some homes are also equipped with 20-amp receptacles, which have a horizontal slot off one of the vertical shutters.
For the most part, people only deal with two components of a light switch in their home: the switch and the plate. The switch is the mechanism that connects to the wires and turns it on and off. The plate is the barrier on the wall that protects the wires from debris as well as people from the electricity. Behind the plate are the wires which send power to the switch. Always hire a professional if you suspect it’s a wiring issue.
While we recommend calling trusted electrical technicians like those at Art Plumbing, Air Conditioning & Electric, there are some hacks you can use to find out what the mystery switch operates. The average home in Boca Raton is nearly 40 years old and nearly half of the 50,001 homes currently in the city, were built between 1939 and 1979! This means that many homes have gone through several renovations that could have resulted in mystery switches.
This often occurs when they cover an electrical outlet with sheetrock or a plate but do not remove the switch. Another common occurrence is that the light or appliance that the switch once operated was removed. This could be an outside light taken out during an update, an old garbage disposal no longer in operation, or a replaced ceiling fan and light combination. In cases such as this, the switch truly does go to nothing.
You may have a switch that seems to go to nothing and an outlet that does not work, often this is because the electrical outlet is a switched outlet. Also called a half-hot or lamp outlet, one receptacle will always be ready to give power while you can control the other one with a switch. Usually found in living rooms and bedrooms, you can easily test this by taking a lamp or nightlight and plugging it into each receptacle while testing the switch in both the on and off position.
Unlike normal or switched outlets, Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) can be more difficult to understand due to their finicky nature. GFCI outlets are required when the outlet is near water and are usually found in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. GFCI outlets protect us from electrocution by monitoring how much power an appliance is receiving then shutting it off when the electricity surges – especially if it gets wet.
Over time and use, GFCI outlets can become more worn and sensitive. If you find your outlet is not working, try pushing the rectangular reset button in between the receptacles. If that does not work, contact an experienced electrical technician such as those at Art Plumbing, Air Conditioning & Electric.
Light switches and electrical outlet problems are not something to take in stride. If you are unable to figure out why an existing outlet will not work or cannot figure out what a light switch goes to with these hacks, you don’t have to leave it a mystery! Call Art Plumbing, Air Conditioning & Electric Boca at 561-391-1048 to solve the mystery today!