Hot Wires

Dear NH,
Is it necessary to shut the power off from the circuit breaker before extracting the metal base of a broken light bulb? Or can I simply turn the wall switch to its "OFF" position?
BS from Las Vegas, NV

It depends on how lucky you feel! Theoretically, if the lamp is wired correctly, handling it with the switch off should present no significant danger. Many electricians have told me that they often work with hot wires, either from necessity or for efficiency. The difference between you and them is in their training and in their respect for the danger involved in electrical work, which is something many novices have yet to learn.

However, if the "electrician" installed the switch on the "neutral" wire instead of the "hot" wire, the switch would still turn off the light but electricity would still be flowing into the fixture! As a rule, all light switches should interrupt the flow of electricity before it reaches the light fixture, not after!

If this is the case, you may get a severe shock should you touch a charged part of the fixture with either your hand or an uninsulated set of pliers. As you may know, many shock-related injuries and fatalities are not by electrocution. They are from the falls that ensue when the body spasms from electric shock!

This is a mistake few electricians would make. However, it is more likely if a do-it-yourselfer had modified the wiring. Because you probably don't know the answer to this wiring question with any certainty, it is always wise to turn the power off first!

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