Electrical puzzle

In a rental house there is a kitchen ceiling light, and a dinining area light. There is a wall switch with two switches. The switch plate looks like an electrical outlet, but instead of two plug-in's there are two switches that toggle side-to-side (and old style?). Anyway, we just evicted a tenant, and I now find that turning one switch on and off operates BOTH lights together. Turning the other switch on and off ALSO operates both lights together. We didn't own the home that long before we rented it out, but I could swear that the switches operated the lights independently before. I didn't get a chance to pull the box out and look yet (there ain't much room), but assuming there are four wires coming into the box, is it possible the tenant could have accidentally ..or purposefully ...reattached the terminals to function as described above? If so, what is the best way to investigate and get the wiring back as intended?
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M.Burns wrote:

if you dont know what you are doing, call around for prices for an electrician.. or check with the neighbors for electricains who work on the side, probably save about 2/3 rds of what a shop in the yellow pages wants for a service call.....
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Hi,
Light switches for a single light have two wires only. the incoming wire is hot and the one to the light is only hot when the switch allows it. there could be three wires here though. The same 110 volt wire could feed both lights. If there are three wires the same hot feeds both lights so you need to determine which two wires feed the lights and make sure they are on the silver posts of each switch. See if the wires come from two different punchouts in the box. If so you might be able to figure it out by yourself. If you have two power wires one goes to the bras colored posts on each switch but if only one hot wire you will need to add a jumper wire from one of the brass posts to the other switches brass post. If you have a meter you can find the two power wires.
candice
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I'm assuming USA and single-pole switches (?).
You didn't provide enough information to get an answer. Easiest way to get started is to look at what's inside the switch box.
The most typical way to wire the light switches is with only switch legs in the switch box (and no neutrals). It's really hard for someone to screw that up. One possibility is a single 14-3 (or 12-3) entering the switch box. These conductors are used for a common (connected to both switches) and two return switch legs and if you can't quickly verify the correctness, please read no further and call an electrician. Another typical possibility is two 14-2 (or 12-2) serving as switch legs, which is even simpler and a monkey could not miswire those switches.
Otherwise, if a 14-2 (or 12-2) with neutral enters the switch box, with either a 14-3 (or 12-3) to the lights or two 14-2 (or 12-2) to the lights, with the white (neutral) wires connected together, etc., but still quite simple.
If everything in the switch box looks correct, then someone screwed up wiring at the lights.
George Elkins
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Are there any other switches controlling either ceiling light? How old is the house?
Answers to these two would save a lot of guesswork.
This style of switch almost guarantees this is work was done after the original construction. Perhaps not by an electrician, so the wiring could be screwy and not seem "logical" in terms of what we all might expect. Don't assume anything at all. (I have had rentals where the neutral was run on separate cable from the hot wires: that was a real puzzle!)

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what you should have is
-----switch #1----light #1 120in--+ ------switch #2-----light#2
what your renter did was jump the output of switch #1 to switch #2
-----switch #1----light #1 120in--+ | ------switch #2-----light#2

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Those are called combination devices and are still available and used today. They are also available in the Decora style. I am assuming that the combination device in question is two single pole switches. There are also other combinations such as one single pole switch and one 3-way switch.
On one side of the device is a common terminal with 2 screws linked together with a break-off tab. That is the side that the "Hot" wire gets connected to. That way both switches are supplied power from one feed. On the other side are 2 separate screw terminals that should be connected to 2 separate loads.
If the hot was connected on the load side and the loads were connected on the hot side, you would have one switch controlling both loads. If the "Hot" wire was connected to both load terminals, each switch would control both loads.
First identify your hot wire. Next identify each load wire. Put them on the proper terminals.
There could be something else causing your problem such as a switched neutral, but without more information (You need to look in the switch box) this is the best that I can do.
John Grabowski http://www.mrelectrician.tv

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As another poster has said, this switch indicates work done after original construction. It is possible that a fault has occurred in the switch or wiring that has caused them to become linked together.
In my jurisdiction it is illegal for anyone other than a licensed electrician to perform work on a rental unit, not even the owner can work on the electrical system (unless he's licensed). You should keep this in mind. If something happens (fire, electrocution) and it comes to light that you did work without a permit then the balance of probabilities will not be in your favour in any potential court action since your hands were the last ones to touch the system.
-- Steve
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M > In a rental house there is a kitchen ceiling light, and a dinining area M > light. There is a wall switch with two switches. The switch plate looks M > like an electrical outlet, but instead of two plug-in's there are two M > switches that toggle side-to-side (and old style?).
Not an old style -- still available at the hardware stores. The two horizontal switches are used in a single-gang wall box where originally there was only one vertical switch. (The "outlet" style switch can also be combined with a pilot light, or switch plus outlet. As you noted uses a standard outlet cover vs. switch plate.)
M > Anyway, we just evicted a tenant, and I now find that turning one switch o
M > and off operates BOTH lights together. Turning the other switch on and off M > ALSO operates both lights together. M > We didn't own the home that long before we rented it out, but I could swear M > that the switches operated the lights independently before.
Probably did -- that's why the two switches!
M > I didn't get a chance to pull the box out and look yet (there ain't much M > room), but assuming there are four wires coming into the box, is it possibl
M > the tenant could have accidentally ..or purposefully ...reattached the M > terminals to function as described above?
Oh, probably! I'm thinking the (evicted) tenant damaged the original switches and replaced. ...I'm thinking like outlets there are links between the two switches on both sides -- don't have one "in stock" downstairs so can't check this. A link needs to be removed for the switches to operate independently. Or else there is a link on one side and the tenant wired it backwards.
To troubleshoot you'll need to know what's normal -- anything else is probably wrong. Others have provided explanatory details.
Black White 120v feed--------SW1------Light1------120v neutral | --SW2------Light2------120v neutral
If a link is placed on the right side of the switches either switch will the turn on and off Light1 and Light2. (If the left link is removed and a right link is added SW1 would always light L1 and L2 but SW2 would never do anything.)
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