wiring a light switch

I am replacing a wall light fixture in an apartment that, according to the tenant has never worked. The fixture has a black wire and a white wire. The switch is in a plastic box and has red, white and black wires connected and a bare copper wire that was not connected to anything. I tested the fixture as wired and got no power. When I introduced the bare wire into the equation, I got power at the switch but not the fixture. I suspect the box has been incorrectly wired but I haven't done a lot of this work and am confused as to what wires go where. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks -------------------------------------
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On Oct 25, 9:56 am, gstanton_at_triad_dot_rr_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (little herbie) wrote:

The bare wire is a safety ground and should not be used to conduct power under any situation. It sounds like perhaps the white wire is not connected properly somewhere else. It is the "neutral" side of a complete circuit. Red and black can both be hot. Sometimes the presence of a red wire inidcates that there is a second switch in the mix or that the fixture has the capability of having two things in it like a fan/light combination. Since you say this is a wall fixture I suspect the former, there is another switch in the mix somewhere. That this fixture was wired to be turned on and off from two different locations.
Your questions suggest that you have little experince with house wiring. You really might want to get someone with more expereince in the mix. Particularly if this is a rental unit.
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On Mon, 25 Oct 2010 07:13:29 -0700 (PDT), jamesgangnc

I second that. Some things shouldn't be fooled around with unless you're willing to gain a load of knowledge. Electricity is one of them.
--Vic
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On Oct 25, 7:56 am, gstanton_at_triad_dot_rr_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (little herbie) wrote:

It seems that since there is a red wire (which is typically called a "traveler"), that this is part of a multi-switch circuit. This means that there may be multiple switches that control the light fixture. The red wire usually runs to another switch, so either switch can turn on the light. The black wire is usually the hot wire, which means it provides the power to the light. The white is typically the return path for the power ("neutral"). The bare wire is the ground.
I'm not sure what you mean by "introducing the bare wire", but it gives an indication that one of the switches may be wired incorrectly or someone installed a standard switch and tried to use it as a 3-way switch.
Rob
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rlz wrote: ...

...
Indeed...
To OP...first, determine whether this is, indeed a 3-way switch. If it is, it will _NOT_ have any "off/on" markings on the switch handle and will have three connection points on the body instead of just two and a marked handle for a simple on-off switch.
As another noted, the bare wire _should_ be ground only; connect nowhere except to another ground wire (bare and/or green) or the box if metal, etc., ...
--
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dpb wrote:

And if it *is* a 3-way switch, try to find the other on the circuit (same deal, no "off"/"on" on the switch). It is possible to have one 3-way switch not work if there is a dimmer switch elsewhere and if that dimmer has been dimmed all the way but not actually turned off.
--

dadiOH
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responding to http://www.homeownershub.com/maintenance/wiring-a-light-switch-599012-.htm little herbie wrote: You're right. There is another switch at the top of the staircase. What I don't understand is that there was no power to the switch until I attached the bare copper ground wire that was previously disconnected. However power still didn't get to the light fixture. Thanks for your help. rlz wrote:

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On Oct 25, 11:32 am, gstanton_at_triad_dot_rr_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (little herbie) wrote:

You wil find the wiring diagram for 3 way switches on the net in lots of places. http://www.electrical-online.com/wiringdiagrams.htm is one. There will be three cables involved. Two cables going some place that just have black and white. And 1 cable that has three, white, black, and red, which connect the two switches. The trick when doing maintenance on an existing 3-way is to figure out which of the black and white only cables is power and which goes to the fixture. There is also a variation where the power cable goes to the fixture and just a single black and white cable goes to one of the switch boxes.
This can get complicated when one or mor eof the boxes has other switches in it and possible the 3 way shares power with other light circuits. You do not want to figure it out by trying to connect wires to other wires to see what happens.
The bare or green wire should never be connected to anything other than metal like the box, frame of the switch, other green or bare wires.
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On Oct 25, 11:32 am, gstanton_at_triad_dot_rr_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (little herbie) wrote:

In your OP you said:
"When I introduced the bare wire into the equation, I got power at the switch but not the fixture. "
In your latest post you said:
"...there was no power to the switch until I attached the bare copper ground wire that was previously disconnected."
Neither of those statements tell us what you did with the bare wire.
How did you "introduce the bare wire into the equation?" What did you "attach" it to?
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responding to http://www.homeownershub.com/maintenance/wiring-a-light-switch-599012-.htm little herbie wrote: I connected the bare wire to the same terminal as the white wire. It was as if the switch wasn't grounded. DerbyDad03 wrote:

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On Oct 25, 8:26 pm, gstanton_at_triad_dot_rr_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (little herbie) wrote:

As others have pointed out, you should get a licensed electrician to fix this. I don't know what the laws are where you are, but here in NJ, a homeowner can do electrical work on their own residence, but not on a rental unit, even if they own it. Your potential for liability, not to mention risk to your own safety isn't worth it.
To fix this requires some basic skills, which clearly you do not have. In a case like this, you use a VOM meter or test light to determine which wires are hot, where they go, etc. You don't start randomly hooking wires up where they don't belong. A bare wire can only serve as a ground, not a current carrying conductor. It should NEVER be connected to any place on the switch other than the grounding terminal. And if that's where it's connected, it can't suddenly make the light go on.
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On Oct 25, 8:26 pm, gstanton_at_triad_dot_rr_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (little herbie) wrote:

Put down your tools and step away from the switch. Kill the power to the circuit at the fuse/breaker box.
Then call an electrician.
We're here to help people learn things about home repair, but every now and then we *have* to respond with "Call a professional."
That response is usually based on the way the original question was asked and the actions already taken by the OP. This is one of those cases. You are in very dangerous territory by randomly hooking up wires to places where they don't belong.
For your sake and the sake of your tenants, kill the power and call a licensed electrician.
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On 10/25/2010 10:32 AM, little herbie wrote:

They had used the bare wire as a traveler in the house we're in now. Do don't discount that possibility. They had done a three way on the stairs with 12/2
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