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Asking the GT braintrust for electrical help

Discussion in 'The Okie Corral' started by Barbarossa, Mar 7, 2012.

  1. Barbarossa

    Barbarossa RedneckBaritone

    Likes Received:
    Jun 13, 2002
    GA native and CO resident
    I am trying to replace the switch for my porch lights with a digital timer, but now I'm not sure how to wire it in.

    My current switch has four wires going to it. One of them is obviously the ground, but the other three wires are all black. One of the black wires is on a brass screw on the side of the switch, and the other two black wires go into the "stab in" connectors on the back of the switch. As far as I can tell, this switch operates three outside light fixtures, and it is the only switch that turns on those lights.

    The timer has a green ground (no problem), a black "line," a white "neutral," and a blue "load" connection.

    Do I even have a neutral line to my current switch? Are all three legs "hot?" I'm just a dumb opera singer and would appreciate help from someone who knows more about this than I do. Many thanks in advance.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2012
  2. Cubdriver


    Likes Received:
    Aug 8, 2005
    Southeastern Litchfield County, CT
    I'm not sure for sure what you have now, but the present switch should NOT have a neutral connected to it - look in the box for a white wire that is tied to one or more other white wires. (A standard switch is put only in the hot (black) line - the neutral isn't switched).

    Is the screw that the black wire connects to some distance away from the push-in connections on the back of the switch? And are the push in connections *right* next to one another (meaning are you confident that they're connected to the same thing inside the switch)? If so, they're likely the switched or 'load' wires.

    Look to see if the black wires leave the box in separate cables, each paired with a white wire (which would likely be wire-nutted to the neutral mentioned earlier).

    One black is the hot supply (possibly the one connected to the screw, but I can't be certain), and the others are likely the lines that go to the lights. Try to get a test light or voltmeter to confirm which is the supply.

    Once you know what's what, the black 'hot' on the timer goes to the supply, the neutral of the timer goes to the neutral cluster (the timer needs 120V to operate, thus the need for both the hot and neutral connections to complete the circuit), and the blue connects to your load(s) - likely the pair presently in the push in terminals.

    It would be best to get a meter or other tester to confirm which wire is the power feed and which are the switched leads (the power will be hot all the time, the switched ones, obviously, will turn on and off as the switch is actuated). And I'm sure you know, but just to mention it, TURN OFF THE POWER AT THE BREAKER OR FUSE BOX BEFORE DISCONNECTING ANYTHING! Sorry to shout, but that's important, unless you want a quick-and-dirty 'at home' perm!

    Good luck with it.

    Last edited: Mar 7, 2012

  3. Resqu2


    Likes Received:
    Aug 24, 2007
    SouthWest VA
    I think cubdriver covered everything so all I'm going to add is a $15 tester was the best investment I made during my last job working as an electrician with a big remodel, I don't mean an overly complicated voltmeter, just a tester that looks like an ink pen, it beeps and turns red when voltage is present.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2012
  4. byf43

    byf43 NRA Endowment Life Member

    Likes Received:
    Apr 13, 2006
    Southern Maryland
    Cubdriver has this covered.

    The only thing I'll add is -
    It sounds as though whoever wired that switch, is using the switch itself as a 'junction box' instead of putting the black wires together and then using a 'pigtail' to run to the switch.

    The 'push-in' connections on switches are the lazy man's way of making a connection. (These connections CAN loosen over time.)

    Always use the screw terminals.