Help me identify the weirdest light switch I've ever seen
January 7, 2017 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Please help me identify these incredibly weird and annoying light switches that are installed throughout my house.

We recently purchased a house and these light switches are installed in multiple rooms.

One of them controls two lights in the kitchen. After the main overhead light blew, we can now only have one light in without both going out. I purchased an identical bulb and still no luck.

I have no idea if the switch is at fault, but before I spend a lot of money on an electrician coming out I was going to replace them or see if the two sets of arrows are causing issues. I understand the numbers refer to the amps on the breaker, but I do not know what the letters represent.

posted by lattiboy to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
UPDATE: I was able to take the thing out and identified the switch as a Radio Shack "remote wall light switch" 61-2683.

It don't know if the wiring is any more complicated than a normal light switch, but it looks like a real mess inside the wall.

Apparently this was part of a fancy remote light system 30-odd years ago. I cannot find the main controller if it still exists.
posted by lattiboy at 1:34 PM on January 7, 2017

Where are the "two sets of arrows" you referred to?

Similar switches that are still on Radio Shack's website are apparently intended to control lights using RF, so that the switch doesn't have to be wired directly to the bulb. There's also a receiver module that screws in between the bulb and socket, which receives the signal from the switch. Does the light that's not turning on have one of those intermediary sockets? Is there any chance that that socket is also controlled by another switch elsewhere in the house?

Worth mentioning that these are intended for incandescent bulbs only.
posted by jon1270 at 2:03 PM on January 7, 2017

these look like old remote controlled dimmers. I definitely replace them. If you're at all handy, replacing switches is dead simple.
1. Shut off breaker controlling these lights
2. Remove wires from wire nuts
3. Attach wires to new switch.
4. Replace switch in wall box.
5. Turn breaker back on and test
posted by cosmicbandito at 2:05 PM on January 7, 2017

My dad's house has a bunch of these. His house was all wired with an X10 system (about 15 years ago) so the switches would actually send a signal to some sort of controller which would then make the light go on and off. Total pain in the ass. If it's like my dad's place, there may be a receiver that the lights are wired to which received a signal from that switch. Which means replacing the switch likely won't do anything. But it might! Check basement along where the wiring goes to see if you see anything. Might want to ask in some x10 forums to see if people can give you more advice. We eventually hired some electricians to show up with a sniffer type thing which ferreted out the transponder thing which was basically buried in a wall somewhere. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 2:26 PM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

This documentation says the switch can operate in override mode so eliminating the switch should be possible. It also says you need to "Move the slide switch to the left (OFF) when changing a light bulb." Maybe cycling that switch would fix your problem.

While it is simple enough to replace the switch with a conventional dimmer or switch there is something funky going on in the pictured box. The top right NMD (cable) has its bond wire bent back to the clamp instead of being connected to the other bond and secured to the box. Cant see where the left hand bond wire goes. You might want to have an electrician out anyways to inspect your installation and make sure you have no other dangerous connections.

lattiboy: " I understand the numbers refer to the amps on the breaker, but I do not know what the letters represent.

The two dials are channel selectors rather than anything to do with amps.
posted by Mitheral at 2:31 PM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh the Addendum for this switch has this note:
The 610-2683 Wall Switch Module has a "minimum" rating of 60W. If you try to control a fixture with a light bulb rated at less than 60 watts, the light bulb may glow dimly when the Wall Switch Module is turned off.
So if you installed LED or CFL bulbs to replace incandescents that may also be your problem.
posted by Mitheral at 2:38 PM on January 7, 2017

X10! Our previous owners -- enthusiastic tinkerers -- had a lot of these. We have not kept them around.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:39 PM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I knew this would be X10 before I even looked at the picture. My parents had these in their house when they moved in in the mid 80's. They quickly removed them. The best part was when the HAM neighbor transmitted and it caused them all to turn on and off.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:36 PM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

X10 is super simple and cheap, but also slow slow and not necessarily reliable. The two dials identify the house and unit number: essentially network addresses. There are a bunch of wired controllers (the coolest being what looks like a cheesy bedside clock but it can secretly CONTROL ALL THE LIGHTS), and bridges from wireless to wired.

If you think you might want home automation, the fact that they're in and may work already might make you want to keep 'em. Otherwise replace 'em all.

The presence of X10 may indicate that your home belonged to a tinkerer. This suggests caution when investigating any system in the house. X10 users often suggest really stupid things to one another (like putting a big capacitor across the electrical phases of your domestic supply so X10 circuits can communicate better: this is completely contrary to code and is house-burn-down level of ill-advised) so there may be some weird surprises baked into the infrastructure.
posted by scruss at 5:54 PM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

As a resolution, I just replaced the switch with a boring manual switch. Works great now!

I have 4 more to do this week.

thanks all!
posted by lattiboy at 5:24 PM on January 9, 2017

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