basement lighting re-wire

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Old 02-23-04, 07:54 AM
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basement lighting re-wire

Hi all,

I have a light switch at the top of my basement stairs that controls all 5 light fixtures down in the basement. What I want to do is re-wire the switch to control only one light directly at the bottom of the steps, also making it a 3-way with an additional switch down there. I want to put the rest of the lights on a new switch. How should I approach this so I don't have to completely rewire the entire circuit?

Thanks in advance for all the help.
 
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Old 02-23-04, 08:14 AM
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Your first step is to determine how the existing setup is wired.

Does the power come into the switch and then go to the lights?

Does the power come to the lights and then a switch loop goes to the switch?

Is the light at the bottom of the stairs the first light that is wired?

Do you have access to the existing switch? You will most likely need to replace the cable from the switch to the light.
 
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Old 02-23-04, 09:54 AM
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racraft,

what's a good way of determining all this? The wires are hidden by the fibreglass insulation and I wouldn't want to pull it all out just to trace them to the breaker box.

Thanks
 
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Old 02-23-04, 10:12 AM
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I would start with the switch and the light at the bottom of the stairs.

At the switch remove the cover plate and unscrew the switch. You can then pull the switch out of the box and look behind it to see what wires enter/leave the box, and what wires are connected to the switch itself. You should see at least one cable containing two wires, plus possibly a ground. You may see a second cable, and perhaps even more.

At the light do the same thing.

Do not disconnect any wires from the switch, the light, or any other wires at this point.

Do the above with the power off, for safety.

Once the switches and lamp are pulled away from the box, you can turn the power back on and test with a simple two wire circuit tester to determine where the power comes from. However, this probably won't be necessary, as the arrangement of the wires will probably tell us.

Report back exactly what you find in the way of wires and how they are connected. Provide details on all wires at each location and be specific as to color and cable location.
 
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Old 03-10-04, 07:00 AM
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racraft,

Sorry it took so long. I'm not slow, just busy OK, so here's what I was looking at:

At the switch (a single pole one) :

Three 14-2 cables. 1 hot wire connected directly to switch, 2 hot wires connected and pigtailed to the second switch terminal. All three neutrals connected together, all three grounds connected together and pigtailed to the green switch screw.

At the light:

Two 14-2 cables. Hot wires put together and pigtailed to the light socket; neutral wires put together and also pigtailed to the light. Grounds joined but not connected.

Now... what the hell does all this mean?

Really appreciate your help!
 
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Old 03-10-04, 07:13 AM
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At the existing switch you have three cables.

One of these cables supplies incoming power. Another wire takes this incoming power to some other place in the house. These two cables have their hot wires connected together and pigtailed to one side of the switch.

The third cable carries switched power out of the switch box. It's hot wire is connected to the other side of the switch.

At the light you have two cables. One of these is the switched power cable from the switch. The other cables carries the switched power to the next light in the basement.

You can do what you want, but it will require running new cables. You will have to run at least one new cable to the switch, and of course new cables to where the switch(es) will go.

Before I tell you how to run wires, please tell me the location of the switches.

You will have one three-way at the top of the stairs and the second three way at the bottom of the stairs. Where will the single pole switch for the other lights be placed? Will it be in the box at the bottom of the stairs with the second three way, or will it be nearby in it's own box?
 
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Old 03-10-04, 07:35 AM
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racraft,

The switch for the rest of the lights (actually, a dimmer switch) will be located nearby in its own box.

So, correct me if I'm wrong, from what I understand the switchat the top of the stairs is wired first and then carries juice to the lights? If thats the case, how shall a three-way be wired now?

Please answer me an important question. I plan on doing some more modifications with the rest of the lighting (adding lights, putting them on two separate dimmers, adding a couple of single pole switches to control some lights) Should I even bother with trying to work with the existing circuit or just rip everything out and start over?

Again, thanks a lot for your help.
 
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Old 03-10-04, 07:55 AM
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Yes, the switch at the top of the stairs is wired first, and caries switched power to the first light.

The answer to your question is a tough one. It depends on what else is on this circuit and what you intend to add to the circuit.

Adding wattage to an existing lighting circuit is usually not a problem, if what you are adding is small. But if you want to add several new lights at 100 watts apiece and/or if the circuit is close to maxed out then you will cause problems.

What size are the existing lights (wattage)? How do you intend to change this? What I am looking for is, what is the wattage of these five lights now, and what do you think you will bring it up to when you are done. Also provide a list of what else is on the circuit (bedrooms, lights, hallways, etc). Don;t forget to check for garage or outside outlets on this circuit as well.

Certainly your are safest to put the other four basement lights and the new lights on their own new circuit.

One other issue that does come into play. Attempting to use the existing circuit to power one light on a three way and the other lights on their own switch will require bringing the existing switch box to it's maximum fill and using 14-4 wire. You just might be better off (for now) with puting the one light on three way switches and then moving the other four lights to a different circuit, or at least getting power for them from a different location on the same circuit.

Basically, you will need to either replace the wire from the switch to the first light with either a 14-4 cable or a 14-3 cable, and then run new cables to the new switch(es).
 
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Old 03-10-04, 09:04 AM
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Thanks.

Right now there are 5 60-watt lights on this circuit for a total of 300 watts, the breaker is marked "basement lites", but like you mentioned - the switch is definitely midway, so there's probably a couple of other outlets on this circuit.

What I want to do is add 5-6 more lights at 60 watts a piece for a total max of about 700 watts, and break up the controls into one three-way, two dimmers, and two single pole switches. Powerwise, I think I'm safe, but I can see how the wiring could get complicated since this will be spread over three rooms. I may just get a pro to do all that for me.

Anyway, thanks to you I know now that the switch is wired first and the light I want on a three-way is next. If I decide to do it myself, I can take it from there.
 
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Old 03-10-04, 11:04 AM
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Note that there is no guarantee that the light at the bottom of the steps is first.

This is most likely the case, since most wiring is done straightforward and shortest distance (when it's original anyway).

You could verify that the light you want on the three ways is first , if you want, and you will want to do so before you wire the three way.
 
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