Aug 22, 2017
Do You Have a Mystery Switch In Your Home?
It’s a fairly common gag that pops up in sitcoms or commercials from time to time: a house guest flips a light switch repeatedly, wondering why nothing happens. The homeowner shrugs, says it’s always been like that. Two blocks away, a garage door is smashing the roof of a car, or every appliance in a neighbor’s home is wildly flipping off and on.
That’s the riddle of the mystery switch — it seems like it should do something, but it’s not connected to anything. Unless your Northern Virginia house is brand-new, you may even have a mystery switch or two in your home. Is something broken? Is it safe? You’re not sure, so you just leave it alone.
There are some older houses in the Northern Virginia region, despite all of the new construction that we see. Over 72 percent of homes in Warrenton, Virginia, for example, are at least 18 years old and 32 percent are nearly 50 years old. Home wiring problems in these older houses should not be ignored.
So how do you know if it's time to call in the professionals? Here are a few things to consider as you contemplate calling in a Warrenton electrician.
Consider the location.
Is the mystery switch in a room that holds the opening to the attic? Is it near the furnace or the air-conditioning unit? The light the mystery switch is supposed to turn on may be in the attic, or it may be connected to an attic exhaust fan. If the fan has a thermostat and only works when the attic is hot, the switch may not appear to be doing anything in cooler weather.
Your mystery switch may also power the electrical disconnect device for your HVAC system. Try flipping the switch while the system is running and see what happens. If the switch is next to an exterior door, it may power outdoor flood lights or post lights. Try changing the bulbs in the exterior lights and check the switch again.
Finally, kitchen disposals and gas fireplaces are often controlled by light switches. If those appliances don't work or have been permanently shut off, you'll have a switch that does nothing. If you want them repaired or turned back on again, be sure to consult with a Warrenton electrical repair pro.
Is your mystery switch next to a door in your home? Ask any Warrenton electrician — builders' codes require that a wall switch be placed beside the entry door of living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms so the room can be lit upon entry. The switch is supposed to control a ceiling light, a wall light or an outlet for a table or desk lamp.
With the mystery switch in the off position, check for any dead outlets in the room. Check your circuit breakers, GFCI switches and connections to see if the outlet is just “off.” When the outlet is reset, see if your light switch now works, as well. Make sure to test both the top and bottom outlet — sometimes a switch will only control one or the other.
If your ceiling light is part of a ceiling fan, it may also require you to pull a chain or use a remote control to operate it once the wall switch is on. There may also be a switch on your wall to power a light or fan that was never installed, or was later removed. If you’d like to have the switch removed or, for that matter, a ceiling fan added, talk to a Warrenton electrical repair expert.
Renovations are also the culprit for mystery switches. The older the house, the more likely it is that modifications occurred. A previous owner may have made renovations and removed or covered an electrical box or receptacle. If your home ever had added built-ins like cabinets, bookcases or shelving, the installers may have covered a switched outlet.
Just be thankful you don’t have an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright who was so exacting about the interior lines on one of his projects that he installed the switches for the newfangled electric windows inside of a wall! Your Warrenton electrician would scratch his head over that.
There's also a chance that a previous owner removed outdoor lights, the garbage disposal, the attic fan, an automatic garage door-opener or some other long-gone convenience or appliance. Your mystery switch may actually simply be a switch for nothing.
Turn Thought into Action.
If you're comfortable troubleshooting your electrical problem by looking at the wiring yourself, you can check to see if the switch is connected to any wires. You may be able to do this just by removing the faceplate (you MUST turn off the circuit breaker first). You should see a red wire and a black wire, and both should be connected.
If you’d prefer not to inspect your wiring, contact a Warrenton electrical repair professional instead. It’s not a bad idea to have an electrical pro look at a mystery switch regardless — if it’s not working because of faulty wiring, old or frayed wires or live, disconnected wires, your mystery switch could be a genuine home hazard waiting to happen.
If you own a circuit tester or circuit tracer, you can use those—but be prepared to find that you'd need to open up a wall or ceiling to get the full picture.
Can't solve your electrical mystery?
If you need professional electrical repair in Warrenton, call CroppMetcalfe at 540-347-3024 now or schedule a service appointment online.