Easy DIY Fix: Broken Light Switch

To my surprise the other day, I went to turn on my living room light switch, and it didn’t work. Well, it kind of worked. The light would turn on when tapped down and then turn off when tapped down again. It didn’t even click up and down anymore.

It was right before my daughter’s nap, so I was about to have a good window to fix it!

After nap commenced, I riffled through some of the old odds and ends in the basement (the treasure trove of abandoned tools), and I found a brand new light switch in the box. Score! I shut off the breaker and went to work.

PREP

Of course, what you should do is test to make sure whatever wiring you’re about to work on is completely off by connecting a multimeter, but I like to live dangerously. I just trust that the power is off when everything on the circuit shuts off. Call me crazy.

The previous switch plate had been painted over by yours truly, so to get the plate off without accidentally lifting up the wall paint, I took my handy dandy rusty utility knife (I should change the blade) and cut a separation between the wall and the plate.

IMG_7622

After popping off the plate, I took a look at the switch.

IMG_7625 It was really odd to me. The electrical connections are exposed. I guess that’s how they made them back in the day. I unscrewed it from the wiring and popped it off.

Look at this thing!
Look at this thing!

THERE IS STRANGE MAGIC HERE

Okay, so I’ve mentioned it plenty of times. My house is really old. As such, the wiring in the house is really old. The wires in the wall are crazy stiff, and they are covered in cloth rather than plastic insulation. Again, that’s how they did it before plastics were available. My walls are also stuffed with newspaper instead of fiberglass, but that’s another story.

At least the box is in solidly.
At least the box is in solidly.

The old switch’s connections were on the left, but the new connections are on the right. I spent the next five minutes using a pair of pliers to reposition them, strip a little cloth away and curl them in such a way as to fit the screw connections on the new switch.

To install a switch, you wrap the two black wires around the screws on the switch. You then tighten the screws tight to make a circuit. There’s also a spot for a ground wire, but we don’t need no stinkin’ ground wires.

IMG_7632The toughest part was shoving the switch back into the wall, because those old wires are so tough and stiff. But I finally did it. Mostly even too!

When I took this picture, I was really hoping that it would work.
When I took this picture, I was really hoping that it would work.

I turned on the breaker and it works!

I've finally posted about something that works!
I’ve finally posted about something that works!

To finish it off, I went to Home Depot today and got a decorative switch plate.

IMG_7787

WRAP UP

TOTAL TIME:

about 10-15 minutes

TOTAL PRICE:

  • Light switch: 69 cents for a toggle or $2.17 for a rocker switch, or free if you were me.
  • Switch plate: $5.97 for the decorative plate – or – a plain plastic one will cost you a whopping 25 cents.

So, for less than a dollar and a little know-how, you can fix a busted light switch rather than call an electrician. I certainly fared better than that time I had to call a plumber.

But, please be sure that you shut off the breaker and make sure there’s no electricity running through it, even if you need to test it…after all a multimeter is only $9…

…maybe there’s one in my basement.

-Rob

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