Electrical shock from switch

seaglass7January 20, 2009

We've had a bunch of electrical work done on our remodel and we have a switch that is periodically shocking us. It's definitely an electric shock--not a static shock. We haven't been able to figure out what combination of events causes it to occur---it's in a location where there are two switches next to each other.

The electrician can't find it and because it's sporatic, we can't reproduce it on demand.

Any ideas? The kids are afraid to go near it, rightfully so....

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Rightfully so.

Did you do the electrical work on the remodel yourself?

If not, then why, exactly, are you doing the troubleshooting? It it the responsibility of whoever did the work to ensure that it's a safe, code-compliant installation. If it's not your own work, get whoever did it back in there pronto, under threat of potential wrongful death suit. If it's the electrician to whom you refer, shrugging his shoulders and saying he can't find the problem just don't cut it. IMHO.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 1:14AM
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No, we didn't do the electric. I could write tomes about what's gone wrong on this project and believe it or not, this is a relatively minor one compared to everything else.

Thanks for the info. We haven't fully paid for the electric yet, and looks like we won't until they find the source of the problem.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 7:39AM
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How was it determined that it is not a static shock? What is the floor surface where the switch is located?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 7:46AM
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Everything on the switch is plastic except the cover screws. The only way you get a shock from a cover screw is if the ground was not properly connected to the switch or the metal box.
Otherwise it is a static shock.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 8:15AM
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The floors are all hardwood---not a rug in sight these days. Also, doesn't happen anywhere else in the house. The shock seems to eminate from the screws in the plate. We did tell the contractor that a few days ago. Sounds like a grounding issue.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 11:00AM
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Take the ground wire off of the switch and you won't get anymore shocks. If you get a poke it's static, if it blows the end of your finger off its a faulty switch.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 11:42AM
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Static is a snap. AC shock is a buzzing tingle that continues as long as you are brave enough to keep touching it. We have been given no description to differentiate what the OP is feeling.

If it is a continuous buzzing tingle, then the electrician screwed up and needs to fix it pronto.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 12:52PM
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Without going into too much detail, I seriously doubt that dry hardwood floors situated above grade will conduct enough current at 120 volts to shock a person. A current path for shock would be from the hand on the switch through the body to the other hand or the feet. Any shoe materials add to the high-resistance current path. Unless some specific knowledgeable test shows a ground fault at that switch, it must be assumed to be static. The electrician will not continue forever to come about this "problem" without charge. I know of power company linemen in the 1950's and earlier who worked voltages up to 2000 bare-handed while up on dry utility poles, no shock.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 2:26PM
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billhart--it was the buzzing tingle, not the typical "snap" of static. I remember the feeling well when I was dared as a child to hold two metal prongs on an old clock radio when the plastic knobs had been removed. Yes, it was an older sibling who did the daring, yes, I complied, and yes, they were punished.

On a more serious note, electrician was here today (for a whole bunch of things, not just this one). His theory was that because it's intermittent, it might occur only when a combination of things are running. He took the switch apart and re-grounded it. Now we wait to see if it has fixed the problem.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 2:43PM
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The grounding issue could be at another device on the same circuit. Perhaps the ground feeding to the switch box is not connected at the other end or anywhere between the switch and the panel. If that is the case then any device that has a fault to ground would energize the ground wire.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 3:42PM
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This may seem like an odd question, but are both switches firmly screwed in place or is there any issue pertaining to the depth of the box in relation to the thickness of the drywall?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 12:24PM
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Still too many missing details. Does this happen with one hand in pocket and just one hand touching the switch, the only other body parts touching ANYTHING being the feet on the floor? One could temporarily run a single conductor from the service ground and use that along with an analog voltmeter to check for any voltage difference between the switch plate mounting screws and the service ground. Test with the switch "on" and with it "off". If voltage reads zero, the shock is static charge. If the voltage reads 120, a competent electrician can find and cure the problem.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 1:36PM
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Working in the field, mostly in homes, we do run into a variety of problems that require diagnosis. Some boxes really get stuffed with wires. Sometimes when you flip a switch or plug something into a receptacle, there may be enough action to touch some side screws to another wire. You would think this action would trip a breaker but not always. When I get into these crowed box situations, I wrap the fixture with electrical tape. I always do this in metal boxes.

I guess we have found some difficult situations not of our own making. We never leave a job until we have solved the problem. Often it is something as simple as a loose wire nut. If we are doing a remodel or new work, we go through the job switch by switch and receptacle by receptacle to make sure each works properly.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 10:20AM
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Eliminate the Potential NOW! no Matter Where or what the source.. You can get Switch Plate Screws Made out of Nylon from McFeelys.com Very Cheap. Now you have insulated /isolated your self and People you like. ( you could put metal screws Back if someone you don't like is going to use that switch (grin)) ..I replaced all the Switch plate screws in my Moms House In the DRY Southwest ( New Mexico ) Now she does not have to worry about that NASTY Static Shock.
Good Luck.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2009 at 10:38PM
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"Eliminate the Potential NOW! no Matter Where or what the source.You can get Switch Plate Screws Made out of Nylon from McFeelys.com Very Cheap."

While nylon screws may eliminate the contact with the energized item, they do nothing to fix the underlying problem of how the screws and box became energized.

This indicates a more significant problem that should be investigated and repaired instead of just using a band aid.

You could accomplish the same thing by putting electrical tape over the screw heads, it just would not look as nice.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2009 at 10:22AM
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