Sunday, October 11, 2009

How many surgeons does it take to change a light switch?

The answer is one - but it might take her all day.

My dad had been working on a few projects around our house which he never got a chance to complete. My wonderful cousin Keith, an electrician, came over last month and finished them up for us. One of those projects was installing lights under the kitchen cabinets. He installed a switch to go with them, but it was white. The rest of the switches in our kitchen are off-white.

"No problem," Keith says, "It's really easy to change those. Just go get the right color switch and you can screw it right in."


Yesterday I finally got around to going to Lowe's (taking J to a Build and Grow workshop) and picked up an off-white switch while we were there.

I'm no electrician, but I did know that I should turn the power to the switch off first. It took me a good 15-20 trips up and down the stairs to figure out which circuit breaker did that. The box is not labeled very well. Turns out the one marked "garage" turns off the power to my pantry and several kitchen outlets. Go figure.

With the power successfully cut, I removed the existing switch. Easy enough. As I tried to put the new one in, I realized I'd uncoiled 2 of the wires a little too much and I needed the needle nose pliers to get them wrapped around the screws right. Several trips out to the garage, digging through the tool box repeatedly, and a phone call to B later, I found them in the basement guest room. A logical place to store random tools.

Finally, I had the new one in place. I ran back downstairs to turn the power back on, ran back upstairs and flipped the switch - no lights.


Back downstairs to cut the power again. Back upstairs to tighten up the connections. They seemed secure.

Back downstairs to turn on the power. Back upstairs to turn on the switch. Still no lights.

Could I have bought a bad switch?

Back downstairs to cut the power. Back upstairs to put the old switch back in and see if it worked. Decided to take a break to read the instructions on the box. Found the English version. Didn't understand much of it - except the last part about this should only be installed by a licensed electrician.

Well, I did have permission from a licensed electrician at least.

Went back to work on the switch. As I was studying it I recalled something I'd just read about the grounding wire being either green or bare. I noticed then that the only bare wire was not connected to the grounding screw, but one of the screws on the other side. The wires were pretty stiff, and when I'd removed the old switch, 2 of them crossed, making it look like they belonged on opposite sides.

Big groan.

I reinstalled the new switch, this time with the wires in the right spot. Back downstairs to turn on the power. Back upstairs to turn on the switch. Viola! Light!

Pleased to have that done with, I screwed on the new switchplate cover. As I stepped back to admire my work, I realized - much to my dismay - that the switches were not the same color. Apparently there are 2 different shades of off-white. This was not obvious to me in Lowe's. I had gone from a switch that was too light to one that was too dark. Couldn't have noticed that 2 hours ago, could I?!

After all the time I had invested in this project, I was not about to let it go unfinished. I cut the power once again and removed the switch. By this time H and D were up from their naps. I packed them up and back to Lowe's we went. I couldn't figure out why the garage door wouldn't close as I was pulling out of the driveway. Oh, yeah. That circuit breaker I'd turned off was marked "garage" for a reason.

Now wise to the nuances of light switch colors, I picked up the "almond" color switch. Which, for some reason costs about a dollar more than the buff colored switch.

With no further ado, I got the right one installed. Having installed and removed the switch a half dozen times that day, I was pretty good at it by then.