electrical outlet/switch problem - how serious is this?

this problem has happened twice that i know of. the first time was a couple of weeks ago, and then again today.
one of our power outlets is connected to two light switches. we have a table lamp plugged into the outlet, and tend to turn it on via one of the wall switches when we get home. anyway, both of these times, nothing has happened i've used the switch by the front door. i switched it back and forth a couple of times, with no result. *but* when the other switch was tried next, the lamp came on as normal. and *after* having used the second switch to turn on the light, the first one works as normal again.
now, i felt the semi-working switch plate today and it felt warm, but not hot. the wall also feels warm around it (mostly in a vertical line to the side of the plate), but my husband thinks that there's a hot water pipe running through there since it's just on the other side of the wall from the kitchen sink.
we rent an apartment and are on the second floor, so it does make sense that a hot water pipe is in there, as our upstairs neighbor's kitchen is arranged identically to ours. my point in saying this is that we're not sure the switch plate is actually warm of its own volition, or if it just is carrying the heat from the wall.
we did open up the switch plate tonight, and found that the ground wire was not attached to the screw as was the one next to it (this is a double-light switch), so my husband reattached the wire and then we closed it. we don't know whether that was the problem, though.
as it's friday evening and this monday is a holiday, my apartment manager will be in on tuesday. i can call maintenance if this is an emergency, but i don't know if it is. does anyone have any idea, please?
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It just sounds like one of the switches is going bad, The ground had nothing to do with the problem. Eventually the switch will stop working completely and need to be replaced, but it's not a dangerous situation, or fire hazard

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On Fri, 18 Jan 2008 16:11:08 -0800 (PST), "jess.marie"

The heat sounds a bit suspicious and should be investigated to avoid a possible electrical fire. Until then, don't use the switch--it should be replaced with a new "3-way switch" when the circuit is OFF.
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Sounds like a bad three way switch, but which one? Replace them both and be done with it. It will be quicker than trying to diagnose which one is bad. When replacing a three way switch take note of which wire is on what terminal on the old switch. The best thing to do is to remove one wire from the old three way and put it on the appropriate terminal on the new switch. Then do the next wire the same way. Note that one screw on the three way switches is a different color from the other two. It is very important that the proper wire goes on that terminal from old switch to new switch.
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John Grabowski wrote:

Agree with the diagnosis and solution, disagree with doing it yourself, assuming you can live without that light for 3 days. If you have already left a voicemail for the manager, let his guy replace the switches, and don't tell them you had the cover off. It is a RENTAL, and (being a 3-story) presumably a corporate-run complex. They tend to get real pissy when tenants do their own repairs. (With good reason- 9 out of 10 tenants are clueless about home repair, and hose it up.)
Yes, I used to do minor repairs in my apartment myself, but only when I knew it would be untraceable. I made them do any expensive or messy stuff, like when a wall would have to be opened to repair the cheapass plumbing.
aem sends...
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and be

bad.
from
switch.
way
that
Touch. I forgot it is a rental unit. Let the maintenance people handle it.
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the ground wire wasn't the problem, but it does sound like one of the three way switches is the problem. I'd just replace both of them and see how it does.
s

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jess.marie wrote:

This has happened to me a couple of times: One of the switches was not completely switched but stuck in the middle. Not really stuck but sitting in the center position, neither on nor off. When this happens the light does not come on at all regardless of the position of the other switch(es).... I just got up and went over to my hallway light, (a 4-way setup) and can put any of them to the half way position so that none of the other switches work. Maybe this is what happened to you? If not then it could be a bad switch or loose connection. Is the box metal or plastic? With the switch plate off you should be able to determine if the switch itself is getting warm rather than the wall area being warmed by hot pipes as you say. A warm switch would indicate a bad switch or loose connection.
Kevin
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Kevin Ricks wrote:

Oil furnaces require professional servicing more often than gas furnaces. Cleaning soot from oil furnace heat exchangers, - most do not have the "proper 'sized & length' brushes & vacuum hoses." http://www.udarrell.com/oil_furnace_heat_exchanger.html Also, Gas furnaces can develop very dangerous life threatening conditions that require the servicing of a licensed tech- udarrell
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jess.marie wrote:

In addition to all the other good advice, do you have a fire-extinguisher?
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