A pull cord switch is typically mounted to the ceiling, with the pull cord hanging down, most often used in a bathroom or toilet and generally available in two types and ratings: a 6 amp version to control lights and a 45 amp version used as an isolator for an electric shower.
After some use and time this type of switch can get a little tired where the switch appears not to function properly as an internal spring can get stuck.
The 6 amp switch is usually part of the lighting circuit and is fused in the main distribution unit. It is very important to isolate the electrical supply before attempting any repair to the switch.
Undo the two screws securing the switch to the back plate and using some maintenance spray such as WD40, apply the lubricant to the inside of the switch, where the wires are connected. Supporting the switch with one hand, try to operate the pull cord with the other hand to see if the maintenance spray has freed up the spring and therefore the switch works properly again. If this does not work, then the switch must be replaced (see Replacing the switch section below).
With the heavier duty 45 amp switch, the spring is usually much stronger and an audible click will be apparent when operating this type of switch. Occasionally these switches can break down and again, isolating the electrical supply, look for a fuse or circuit breaker on the main distribution board marked shower and either remove the fuse or trip the breaker (MCB). Most of these types of switch include a neon indicator, which will glow red or orange. If you have switched off the supply correctly the indicator will not be lit.
Undo the two retaining screws, carefully pull down the switch a little. There should be sufficient wiring to allow you to do this and as with the lighter duty switch, spray with the Maintenance spray and attempt to make the switch work properly. If this has not worked, the whole unit must be replaced.
With effect from 1st January 2005, Part P (Electrical safety) of the Building Regulations came into force, meaning that only very limited work can be carried out by non-certified people without notification to the local Building Control authority, please see our Part P Building Regulations project
Work which can be carried out by a non-certified individual without notification consists of replacement of fittings such as sockets, switches and light fittings. Replacement of the cable for a single circuit where it has been damaged. Work that is not in the bathroom or kitchen and consists of adding additional lighting, light fittings and switches, to an existing circuit. Adding additional sockets and fused spurs to an existing ring or radial main and installing additional earth bonding.
All this is conditional upon the use of suitable cable and fittings for the application, that the circuit protective measures are unaffected and suitable for protecting the new circuit and that all work complies with all other appropriate regulations.
All other work must either be carried out by certified individuals/companies or notified to the local Building Control before work begins, this includes all new or modifications to the electrical wiring within bathrooms or shower rooms. If in doubt, check with the local Building Control.
These rules do apply to DIY activities, so anyone carrying out notifiable work will have to submit a building notice to the local authority before starting the job and pay a fee to have the work inspected and tested.
There may be problems when trying to sell a property which has had notifiable electrical work carried out, but for which the appropriate certificate from a qualified electrician cannot be produced.
Replacing the switch
Ensuring the electricity is isolated from the switch, make a note of the wiring and how the wires are connected to the switch. With the 6 amp switch for lighting, there are usually just two wires to disconnect. It is possible that these will be the same colour, either red or in newer wiring circuits, you may find brown or black or even blue.
Usually a small flat blade screwdriver is necessary to undo the tightening screws and pull the wires free. To avoid fatigue and whilst on a stepladder, it is normally best to slightly undo the tightening screws of the new unit before attempting to connect the wiring to the new switch.
Connect each wire in turn, tightening the screws and then gently try to pull the wire from each side of the switch, to ensure you have connected it properly. Then making sure you do not kink or trap the wiring, fit the switch to the backing plate and operate the pull cord to check it is functioning properly.
Replacing the 45 amp isolator switch follows the same principle as the 6 amp version, however the switches can differ as single pole, i.e. two wires or twin pole, designed to isolate both live and neutral. Note the wiring positions, cut off the electrical supply, a more substantial screwdriver is normally required and note that the wiring thickness will be usually 4mm2, 6mm2 or even 10mm2 and therefore these wires are a lot stiffer than wiring used for lighting.
The different wiring thicknesses used will reflect the shower power rating. It is unlikely, but if the switch includes and earth connection, this must be utilised. Check the neon light when reconnecting the switch to the power supply. This should be constant, not flickering. Ensure the switch fixing screws are securely tightened, as this type of switch has to take a lot of strain.
Replacing the cord
The cord itself is usually in two sections, with a plastic connector, so if the longer lower part breaks, a replacement can be added. The new cord may need to be adjusted for length. Slide the cord from the finial, cut to length allowing for the knot. Form a knot and then lower the finial to cover it. Other types of finial are available, such as timber or porcelain/ceramic, from hardware or DIY stores.