“The light won’t turn off, I had to pull the cord” said Shae as she came down the stairs. “Huh” I responded. That statement makes no sense, there are no corded lights in Frugal Boy’s bedroom. We both went upstairs were Shae explained to me that the ceiling fan light switch had stopped working when she was putting Frugal Boy down for bed.
Sure enough, the switch was faulty and was staying closed irrespective of the toggle position.
We moved Frugal Boy to a different room and I tramped through the snow and ice (of course this is the day of a big snow storm) to the home improvement store to get a replacement switch. I didn’t feel comfortable letting 15 amps flow through a faulty switch all night long while we slept.
After shutting off the power at the breaker box, I removed the old switch. Argh, the installer had backstabbed the electrical connections.
Backstabbing, or more properly known as back wiring, is when an outlet or switch is wired by using a push in slot on the back of the fixture instead of using the side screws. While it is a code approved way of wiring, there are some potential downfalls. Firstly, a simple google search on “backstabbed electrical outlet” will yield many ancedotal stories of premature failure, fires, or other grievances. Secondly, the wires are very difficult to remove. In my case, I simply cut them and that brings on a second problem. With an old house and old wiring, the now shorter wire may need an extension or jumper to make it long enough. They aren’t very difficult to add with some extra wire and wire nut but look at how much easier life would be if they just used the side screws like the below switch in our master bedroom.
I also replaced the upstairs bathroom switch and in the process converted it from a normal switch to a lighted switch. That should make it easier to find at night.
While I had electrical on my mind, I replaced two outlets in our living room that were chipped or loose.
The grand total for replacing 3 light switches and two outlets was $28. I would estimate that having an electrician come out and lift up a tool would start at $75 and would likely end up in the low 100s for a simple job like this. The list of tools required is quite small and will pay for themselves after even a small job.
- flathead screwdriver
- wire stripper multi-tool
- multimeter (I like to double check that the power is indeed off)
- wire nuts
- extra 14 gauge wire (12 gauge if you are working with 20 amp circuits)
- utility knife (for cutting away paint or wallpaper around a cover plate)
There are plenty of instructional youtube videos and how-to books available at your local library.