I can't find the circuit breakers for any of the upstair bedrooms in
this old, 1908 built house. Would it be reasonably safe to replace a
light switch wearing rubber gloves and rubber-soled shoes if it comes
down to having nno other options?
A single pole non-grounded switch has two wires attached to it. One the
hot feed and the other runs to the light.
Your chance of a shock are remote as long as you do not touch the bare part
of the wire or the bare wire to a metal part.
Assuming you do not a heart problem a DRY shock from a 110v circuit isn't
going to hurt you much anyway.
Replacing the switch "hot" is a very risky proposition, as others have
pointed out. The first order of business should be to find the
disconnect means and overcurrent protection. Start your search at the
meter and work your way outward from there. Every homeowner and tenant
should know where the protective devices are.
Chances are if you attempt to replace it hot, you will need to find that
breaker anyway to turn the circuit back on when you short something.
Look for a sub panel in a closet or behind an appliance, or in an attic,
behind a picture etc.
I wouldn't use rubber gloves as sharp wire ends or other metal parts can
easily puncture through and the extra perspiration inside the gloves
would seen to me to be worse than no gloves at all.
I would use leather gloves.
As some posters have said, you really need to know where the circuit
breakers (or fuses) are.
I change switches & receptacles all the time without shutting off the
Less than 10% of the time, I get a "nip" (slight shock).
Seldom do I short to something & blow the circuit breaker.
But I have years experience changing switches & receptacles "hot" and
I figure the risk (for me) is acceptably low.
YEARS ago I was shown the process & practice by more than one
I think it's safe (for me) but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to a
rookie without demonstrating safer practice.
In my experience, the danger & possibility of injury from a short
during this process is much greater than a simple shock.
Over the years I have "welded" a few screw drivers (actually only
three) and imo the danger of flying molten metal is WAY more serious
than getting a minor shock. Plus the "arc" caused by a short will
leave you seeing spots for a while.
Dry & clean leather gloves are a better bet than rubber gloves and
safety glasses would be a good idea as well.
I watched an electrician work on a service entrance "hot"; he used
new, dry, clean leather gloves, a wooden ladder and safety glasses.
It would be much easier in a new house that has better quality wiring and
plastic boxes. Quite possibly the insulation on your wiring is going to be
old and brittle and will break off when you remove the switch. Also the
splices will most likely be soldered and taped. If the wire breaks while
you are removing it, you may have to take apart a splice. This is risky to
work on even for a professional.
It is possible that the source of power for this is in some old fuse box or
circuit breaker panel somewhere else in the house. Check the attic.
Another possibility that I see occasionally in older homes is one circuit
fed by two separate circuit breakers. Try shutting off all of the circuit
breakers at once instead of one at a time. As others suggested, if you have
a main breaker, shut that off and have someone hold a flashlight while you
work. I use a headlamp for situations like this.
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.