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#1
Old 09-19-2004, 11:21 PM
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Why are bathroom light switches often outside of the bathroom?

This has never been the case in any house that I have lived in but I often find that the light switch to the bathroom in other people's houses is somewhere outside of the bathroom. Sometimes, it is a single switch that is right on the wall as you walk in and that is only a little annoying. However, I have seen some setups where the bathroom switch is on a wall across the hall combined with several other switches etc. I can see one person making what I see as a mistake but many people?

Why do they set it up this way?
#2
Old 09-19-2004, 11:31 PM
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In small bathrooms the light switch is often installed outside to minimize the possibility of its operation by someone who's standing in a puddle of water, which might expose them to the danger of a shock. Most building codes require that electrical fixtures be located a certain distance away from a shower or bath.
#3
Old 09-19-2004, 11:34 PM
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Plus, it lets you put your siblings in a blackout when they're taking a dump.
#4
Old 09-19-2004, 11:46 PM
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It's so you can check for toilet monsters before entering in the dead of night.
#5
Old 09-20-2004, 12:13 AM
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I've only ever seen this when I've gone out of the country. In every home I've ever lived in, or visited in my neck of the woods, the light was in the bathroom. When I went to South Africa, I was mildly surprised the first time I saw one outside the bathroom; I was a little amazed when I realized that was the norm.

Then I found out that it was the same when I went to London. So while it's strange to me, apparently it's the norm everywhere else. Which is a shame, because I was robbed my entire childhood of the hilarity that could have ensued, as Smeghead suggested. Course now I can just flip the breaker switch on my brother, but that lacks finesse
#6
Old 09-20-2004, 01:04 AM
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Possibly because bathrooms tend to be more interior rooms in a house and therefore darker and harder to find the switch?
#7
Old 09-20-2004, 03:26 AM
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I thought it was to reduce the likelihood of someone trying to operate the switch with dripping wet hands and being accidentally electrocuted - I'm not aure how real a possibility that is, but that's what I've always been told. Most UK bathroom lights are operated either by a conventional switch outside the door or a ceiling-mounted pull-cord (although I think this might not be the case for newer properties).
#8
Old 09-20-2004, 04:43 AM
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Every house and flat I've lived in in the UK has had a pull-cord switch in the bathroom. Hotels tend to have outside-the-room switches, and in some places I've stayed there was a cluster of switches you had to noodle around with to get the bathroom light on as there was no rationale behind their placement.

Like Mangetout says it's to make it difficult to prod a wet switch with wet hands and wet feet on a wet floor which is a good recipe for electocution.
#9
Old 09-20-2004, 06:39 AM
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There's also the danger of a light switch within a bathroom getting accidentaly sprayed with water from the shower or something. Person then goes to switch light off and zap. There are regulations (in the UK certainly, I'd imagine other countries have similar) that specify where you can place electrical items in a bathroom in relation to the sink, bath, etc. If the room is quite small there may be no option other than to place the switch outside.
#10
Old 09-20-2004, 06:57 AM
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I'm pretty sure I have seen ordinary-looking rocker switches in bathrooms in newer houses though and I have a feeling that the panels are now designed to be reliably splashproof (I'm not talking about those switches with a rubber membrane across the front).
#11
Old 09-20-2004, 07:00 AM
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What do British and South African light switches look like? The only European switches I know are German, and they're pretty much universally what we in the States call "decorator style" switches (like Leviton Decora brand), which aside from not looking like they're 50 years old, are a lot easier to press either on or off. I guess what I'm saying is, wouldn't this design kind of mitigate chances of shock?

I'm not a NEC (US National Electrical Code) expert at all -- but I do know that modern bathrooms must be wired for GFCI. But I also think that lights/fans must be on a separate circuit, which usually aren't GFCI. Anyone know for certain whether modern bathrooms in the US (or anywhere for that matter) require or permit the lighting to be connected to the GFCI circuit?
#12
Old 09-20-2004, 07:09 AM
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Standard British light switches tend to be a square white fascia about 3 inches on a side, with one or two vertically-oriented flat rectangular rocker switches; fascias with more than two switches are often rectangular, rather than square. The 'On' position is 'down' - on flat rocker switches, the bottom is pressed in (and the protruding edge of the top is often coloured red), on the less common toggle switches (which are still the same internally), 'down' is still 'on'.

The switch fascia is held in place with a pair of machine screws, one on either side of the switch.
#13
Old 09-20-2004, 07:11 AM
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Here is a picture (this switch is in the 'off' position, BTW).
#14
Old 09-20-2004, 07:20 AM
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From BBC Homes
Quote:
European safety regulations are rightly rigorous . . . Light switches must be either outside the bathroom or fitted with a pull cord.
#15
Old 09-20-2004, 07:55 AM
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Serious electrical incidents, such as fire or severe shock, tend to happen as a result of a whole string of failed warnings, unheeded advice and plain bad luck.

You get a chain of events, someone maybe installed something without an earth, it doesn't kill anyone because there is no nearby fault, maybe the bath gets moved from its previous location to a corner unit to make room for the cats litter box, whatever.

Now the light switch in the bathroom is directly above the bath, then someone decides to install an electric shower, perhaps with booster pumps and it uses the bath as the drain tray.

User goes for shower but the light bulb blows, first reaction is to try the light switch BOOM!

That's one scenario, the problem for any electrical installer is that they cannot predict exactly what will happen to th einstallation when they have completed the job.

In the UK we nearly always use pull cord light switches, we have a set of wiring regulations which have one chapter dedicated to 'Special Locations'.
These are places and areas where circumstances dictate that the risk of elcetric shock are greater than normal, and that the severity of that shock is likely to be greater than normal.
Places like saunas, bathrooms, swimming pools are included.
#16
Old 09-20-2004, 08:45 AM
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In the UK there is a complete ban ( with one exception ) of having any socket outlets in a bathroom. All electrical items ( such as extractor fans of heaters ) must be " hard wired " via a fused spur. The only exception is a shaver socket . This takes different pins to an ordinary plug, is connected via an isolating transformer and is protected by a very low rated fuse, ( a couple of hundred milliamperes ).
#17
Old 09-20-2004, 09:19 AM
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When I stay in hotels in Pennsylvania and California, this is always the case. When I stay in the same brand of hotel (Marriott's Residence Inn properties) in Colorado, the switch is inside the bathroom. I have a feeling that there is an aspect of state commercial electrical codes at work here.
#18
Old 09-20-2004, 09:32 AM
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In a very old house, especially a rural one, the bathroom may have been added on years after the house was built. Before that, there would have been an outhouse. Thus the switch that now lights up the bathroom once turned on the back porch light.
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#19
Old 09-20-2004, 02:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
Here is a picture (this switch is in the 'off' position, BTW).

That's basically the way they look in South Africa, too, except sometimes they were horizontally oriented. And some of them had little red markings that were revealed when a light was switched on.
#20
Old 09-20-2004, 03:09 PM
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So let me ask you this -- why is down = on, and up = off. I guess that would be like asking me to explain why it's just the opposite here, but I could back it up with this:
  • Doors are "on" when the lock is in the up position (i.e., you can open the door). On the other hand, I guess the lock itself is then off (i.e., you can open the door).
  • Water is "on" when the valve is in the upmost position, whether it be a kitchen faucet or a screw valve and some types of plunger valves.
  • When the light is on, the switch "points" toward the sky or the light, so you know it's on or off.
  • Aha! Industrial equipment! Aside from a black-red color code, up always means energized, and down always means de-energized. Unless it's a twist-type disconnect.

Granted, in three- and more-way switch circuits, this logic is thrown out. Oh, and my X10 switches don't toggle at all, you just tap 'em and they toggle electronically.

I'd always had a soft spot for the Brits, but now I have to question my beliefs. To imagine that your whole country has its switches upside-down is just preposturous. Oh, South Africa's okay, though, since being upside down on the globe kind of flips their switches the right way.
#21
Old 09-20-2004, 03:40 PM
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I have lived, for 17 years, in a mobile home, in Gardena, which was built around 1960. The bathroom light switch is just outside of the door, on a two-switch panel; the other switch powers an outlet up near the ceiling on the wall opposite the door.
If the designers did it that way to prevent shock, I can't follow their reasoning: there's an ordinary outlet on the wall opposite the bathtub; it's easy to get water into the prong holes.
#22
Old 09-20-2004, 03:55 PM
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Oddly in my in-laws place in the Czech Republic they have the switch on the outside of the bathroom but on the inside, about 1m from the bath is an electrical socket with no cover or on/off switch.
I've seen it in several Czech homes, so it's not a one off.
#23
Old 09-20-2004, 06:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Balthisar
I'd always had a soft spot for the Brits, but now I have to question my beliefs. To imagine that your whole country has its switches upside-down is just preposturous. Oh, South Africa's okay, though, since being upside down on the globe kind of flips their switches the right way.
I have no idea why our switches are the way they are (although I would like to say that it seems the most natural and logical thing in the world to us, as is often true of familiar things) - I suspect a lot of it has to do with established convention rather than any conscious logic.

And it isn't just a case of the switch plates being mounted upside-down by a long line of rebellious electricians; most UK power outlets are switched and the switch orientation is invariably down=on.

However:
Quote:
Doors are "on" when the lock is in the up position (i.e., you can open the door). On the other hand, I guess the lock itself is then off (i.e., you can open the door).
Surely a door is 'active' when it is open, rather than closed with the lock engaged (or at least I think that argument is no less valid than your point).

Quote:
Water is "on" when the valve is in the upmost position, whether it be a kitchen faucet or a screw valve and some types of plunger valves.
That's because of the geometry of the valves themselves - the pipes feed up from underneath, the screw valve tightens down like a cap (in fact you could have just as easily use a screw-top bottle as an example) - not all that relevant, I think.

Quote:
When the light is on, the switch "points" toward the sky or the light, so you know it's on or off.
When the switch points down, the ground is illuminated by rays travelling in a downward direction from the ceiling-mounted light fixture.

Quote:
Aha! Industrial equipment! Aside from a black-red color code, up always means energized, and down always means de-energized.
Just another convention - without knowing the reasoning (if any behind it), it seems arbitrary.

Sorry if any of the above came across as snarky; it certainly isn't meant to be - it's just that your explanations seemed rather arbitrary. I'm quite surprised that you didn't come up with one of the better arguments for the down=off orientation - the switch is less likely to be accidentally thrown by a falling object brushing against it.
#24
Old 09-20-2004, 08:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangetout
...
I thought the indicated I was being cheeky! Now I'll get screamed at for using "cheeky" wrong.
#25
Old 09-20-2004, 08:40 PM
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Fair 'nuff; I have a bit of a blind spot for smilies.

This is a fantastic example of how familiarity makes us consider something the 'right' way to do it though, isn't it?
#26
Old 09-20-2004, 09:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Balthisar
So let me ask you this -- why is down = on, and up = off.
Because it's always been that way.

I'd say it another of those UK/US differences. Every Commonwealth country I've been in has done it that way (and I've been in a lot of them).

I prefer it that way - I find it's a lot easier in the dark to sweep my hand down the wall, flipping the switch as I pass it, than to sweep upwards. On a down sweep my hand trails naturally. On an upsweep, either my hand rolls over so I'm sweeping with the back of my fingers, where the skins softer, or the leading edge is trying to dig in when you hit the fascia, or my hand has to be held awkwardly. The first seems much more natural. When you're turning the switch off, you can see what you're doing, so it's easier.
#27
Old 09-20-2004, 10:31 PM
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Is there really that much danger in touching a light switch even if you're barefoot in a puddle? I would think you'd break the path almost instantly; it's not like you're holding onto the switch, you're just brushing it with your finger.
#28
Old 09-21-2004, 02:24 AM
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Several questions posed-I'll give them a shot one at a time.

Switch location-AskNottcould be on to something, as there is no requirement in the NEC to locate switching outside of a bathroom.

Danger of shock-Although you don't wish to test the theory, standing on a wet floor, unless it is a cement floor, e.g. on grade, you're not at a good potential to ground. Lighting circuits are not required to have GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protection unless located within shower stalls. A general ceiling or wall mounted fixture is fine. The exposed portion of a switch-the toggle is nonmetallic, so unless you've run the hand shower into the wall, you're reasonably safe. Receptacles are another issue. They must have GFCI protection, the reason being that you plug appliances into them, and can use those appliances when close to a sink. The metallic faucet and drain assemblies are a good path to ground, such that if you make a connection between a defective appliance and a sink fitting, you'd be toast except for the GFCI.

Direction of toggle=Off-A single pole switch mounted vertically must be installed such that up=On, and down=Off. Single pole means that it is the only switch controlling the fixture. When you have two switches for a fixture, such as at the top and bottom of a stair, up/down and on/off are relative.

Again-I'm only speaking about US and Canada-how the rest of you folk do things is another matter.
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#29
Old 09-22-2004, 10:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smeghead
Plus, it lets you put your siblings in a blackout when they're taking a dump.
Or my personal favorite, turn out the light on a parent, then blame it on sibling.
#30
Old 09-22-2004, 10:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dancing Fool
I'd say it another of those UK/US differences. Every Commonwealth country I've been in has done it that way (and I've been in a lot of them).
But perhaps not to Canada? There (where I grew up) switches almost universally were rigged for "Upwards to turn on, Downwards to turn off". I imagine this follows the pattern of the US. I'm in Belgium now, and it's the same way here. But it seemed to usually be as you described when I visited Britain.

Oh, to be clear, I've always lived in the the province of Ontario. If it's a regional thing, some other parts of the country may differ without my knowledge.
#31
Old 09-22-2004, 10:37 AM
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Oh, and for what it's worth, in the house I grew up in, the switch was outside the bathroom. There was an electrical outlet right above the sink, though. I saw this repeated in other houses as well. When my granparents built their cottage, they did it that way, too.
#32
Old 09-22-2004, 01:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by danceswithcats
Direction of toggle=Off-A single pole switch mounted vertically must be installed such that up=On, and down=Off. Single pole means that it is the only switch controlling the fixture. When you have two switches for a fixture, such as at the top and bottom of a stair, up/down and on/off are relative.
I assume this is for consistency, right? All the light switches I have seen in stores have the labels oriented this way.

All the places I've lived have had the switches on the inside, and near the door. Newer bathrooms often have multiple switch panels, with switches for fans and heaters. (Mine has a nightlight also.) That makes sense so that you can reach in and turn on the light in the dark easily. I couldn't imagine putting a shower right by the door.

I have stayed in hotels with the switches on the outside, but these often have a sink in the room, and a lav in a small, separate room.

Could the British codes be left over from a time when the hot wires were not as will isolated from the switch? I too have a hard time imagining how someone could get electrocuted, and my bathroom has some switches that are big, where I don't think much water would get in even if you sprayed it. Anyone have a cite for someone getting zapped this way?
#33
Old 09-22-2004, 01:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Voyager
I too have a hard time imagining how someone could get electrocuted, and my bathroom has some switches that are big, where I don't think much water would get in even if you sprayed it. Anyone have a cite for someone getting zapped this way?
No cites about it actually occurring, but it is possible, at least. You'd have to have not one, but two major faults, at minimum, for it to happen though. You'd need for the ground on the electrical box the switch was mounted in to open, AND for the hot line to contact the box. At that point, the two screws holding the switchplate to the box are energized, and if you touch them, you'll get a nasty surprise. Other than that, I can't see it happening, realistically.
#34
Old 09-22-2004, 01:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wolfstu
...switches almost universally were rigged for "Upwards to turn on, Downwards to turn off" [...]

If it's a regional thing, some other parts of the country may differ without my knowledge.
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#35
Old 09-22-2004, 02:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Voyager

Could the British codes be left over from a time when the hot wires were not as will isolated from the switch? I too have a hard time imagining how someone could get electrocuted, and my bathroom has some switches that are big, where I don't think much water would get in even if you sprayed it. Anyone have a cite for someone getting zapped this way?
That could be part of the answer. Fifty years ago or more many light switches had brass covers which could become live, especially dangerous with our 230 volts.

Regarding the codes, the current ones ( known as the 16th regulations ) were only published about 10 years ago but nothing was changed in them from the previous ones regarding bathrooms and electrics.
#36
Old 09-22-2004, 06:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rayne Man
That could be part of the answer. Fifty years ago or more many light switches had brass covers which could become live, especially dangerous with our 230 volts.

Regarding the codes, the current ones ( known as the 16th regulations ) were only published about 10 years ago but nothing was changed in them from the previous ones regarding bathrooms and electrics.
I can see a problem if the switch were miswired or became miswired. So another question: clearly touching a live plate is worse when you're standing in water, but I wouldn't think it would be too advisable even if it were dry. (When I replace switches and outlets I'm really paranoid about doing it right.) Is the difference enough for the code?

I know your 230. The first time I visited, and plugged in a teapot, I was damn impressed! I think you guys have 230 to make tea faster myself.
#37
Old 09-22-2004, 08:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dancing Fool
I prefer it that way - I find it's a lot easier in the dark to sweep my hand down the wall, flipping the switch as I pass it, than to sweep upwards. On a down sweep my hand trails naturally. On an upsweep, either my hand rolls over so I'm sweeping with the back of my fingers, where the skins softer, or the leading edge is trying to dig in when you hit the fascia, or my hand has to be held awkwardly. The first seems much more natural. When you're turning the switch off, you can see what you're doing, so it's easier.
As a Brit, I agree: it definitely feels more natural to sweep the hand down the wall in the dark.
Still, I argued for some years that UK v. US conventions on light switches were the perfect example of where two different cultures had arbitrarily normalised opposite rules. One gets used to the direction one grew up with and convinces oneself that this is somehow the "natural" way of doing things. However, someone then suggested a functional explanation for the US convention to me. With heavy industrial switches it's easier to pull them down than to pull them up. Since an emergency is more likely to require the power being switched off, it makes sense for the down position to be the "off" one. This rule is then extended to all switches.
I'm not entirely convinced. Not least because it then raises the question of why this reasoning was only applied in the US. Whatever the conclusion to be reached, I suspect there's an interesting academic study to be got out of tracing how the national differences came about historically.
#38
Old 09-23-2004, 05:54 PM
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Can anyone speak for any other non-English countries?

In Mexico, most switches are as here in the US.
In Germany, all of the switches are as here in the US.

Is there something else driving this? Hell, what did Thomas Edison do?
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