Wall Switch Does Nothing?


Old 09-19-04, 05:15 PM
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Wall Switch Does Nothing?


I hope someone can help. I have 3 wall switches in my house that do not operate anything. I had assumed the would turn power on and off on an outlet, but can not find it. How would i know what they are supposed to do? in the box there is a red wire and black wire attached to the switch, I have tried taking ther switch out and replacing with another working one in case the problem was a blown switch.

Anyway, if soemone can tell me how to find out where, if anywhere, the power is going from the switch?

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Old 09-19-04, 05:31 PM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
Posts: 18,497
There are many subtle clues you can use.

(1) Does the room have an overhead light? If not, then the switch is almost certainly there to control a receptacle. However, it is often the case that somebody previously replaced a receptacle without breaking out the tab, and thus rendered the switch useless. Examine all the receptacles in the room to see if there is both a black and red wire connected to it.

(2) Does the room have a ceiling fan without a light kit? If so, then the extra switch could be for a future light kit.

I'm betting on (1). I might have some more guesses if I knew what rooms these switches were in, where in the room they are, and whether they are by themselves or with other switches in the same box.
Old 09-19-04, 06:43 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
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It is required by code to have a light or a switched receptacle in most rooms of your house. This is so that someone can turn on the light when entering the room, and avoid tripping their way to the light on the table.

Most builders take the inexpensive way out and simply switch a receptacle rather than install a ceiling light, at least when doing certain rooms, such as bedrooms.

Sometimes the receptacles are wires such that one and only one receptcle is and can be switched (without rewiring), other times half of each receptacle may be switched, other times the wiring will support any receptacle to be switched or even all the receptacles to be switched.

Sometimes people don't like the choice of switched receptacle. Rather than do any rewiring or change their habits to leave the switch on, they rewire the receptacle to always be hot. Other times, as John has said, people will swap out receptacles and forget (or not realize they have) to break the tab and thus end up with both halves of the receptacle being switched.

Another possibility is that you have no fully investigated the situation and found the switched receptacle. With the switches in the off position you must investigate every receptacle in the house, including outside ones, and you must investigate both halves of every duplex receptacle. You may find a receptacle (or half a receptacle) that is controlled by one of the switches.

If you don;t, then follow John's advice and tell us where these switches are located, if there are other switches and/or controlled lights or fans in the same room. We might be able to help.
Old 09-19-04, 07:34 PM
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Be methodical and check every outlet as stated. I had the same issue and gave up after a while. Years later I found an outlet in the back of a closet that was switched, go figure...It's a one hundred year old house, you wouldn't believe the things I found.

Comedian Steven Wright had a joke. "I have a switch in my house that does nothing, for the heck of it, every time I walk in the room, I flick it on and off a few times. Last week I got a call from a woman in Germany, she said, knock it off"
Old 09-21-04, 06:25 PM
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: welland ontario
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Any receptacles on the outside of the house. Could be switched for christmas lights. Look up in the soffits.
Old 05-22-05, 06:15 AM
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hope you guys are still reading this

thanks for the advice, i have to say i have had other issues come up and am just getting back to this.

so i have checked every outlet in the rooms, and nothing is controlled. the switches are in the following rooms,
1) master bed room, with no over head light, figured this would be easy, just a wall switch, but all are hot all the time.
2) living room wall, we have an open living room to dining room, about 7 wall outlewrts, all are hot, there is an over head light, but it is controlled by another switch.
3) half of a 2 switch on the wall by the patio door, other switch does the outside light, thought this one would do the outside plug, but hot all the time as well.

so if onyone is still following here, any ideas? it is driving me nuts

Old 05-22-05, 07:24 AM
Join Date: Dec 2000
Posts: 510
It is likely that at least (1) and (2) at one time controlled a switched outlet that a previous owner had converted to a full-time hot outlet, either deliberately or accidentally. You need to pull each outlet in the room you are examining. You are looking for (a) either a red wire connected to one of the outlets or (b) a red wire connected to nothing (hopefully wire-nutted).

Other thought: do any of the rooms have a round cover plate in the ceiling? The switch may be for a ceilig fan or overhead light rough-in which was never used.
Old 05-22-05, 08:07 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
As has been stated several times, you must open the receptacle boxes and look at the wires connected to them. You cannot determine which receptacle might have been switched by testing the receptacles themselves.
Old 06-07-05, 08:20 PM
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thanks for advice, if there is a red wire, shoudl it be attached? or not? i think it should be attached right?

thanks again
Old 06-07-05, 09:30 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: CA
Posts: 2,041
The red wire would usually be the wire coming from the switch. As as been pointed out, you need to closely examine the receptacle. They come with a bridge on the side with the brass colored screws, which connects the two individual outlets together. For a switched situation, the installer snaps off this bridge, then a black wire goes to one screw and the red to the other screw. If the outlet was replaced and the tab NOT snapped off, then the black wire is making both the upper and lower half of the receptacle 'hot' all the time regardless of the switch position.
Old 06-10-05, 07:29 PM
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I have one that I traced to a defunct attic ventillator. Maybe you have or had one of those. How about an attic light?
Old 06-10-05, 10:35 PM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 52
Two things here -

1 - How old is the house (appx)? The older the house the more likely the modified things like the changed outlets.

2 - Can you get to the attic? I would go up there if you can above the rooms in question and see if there is a wire going up to the attick from the wall, and where that wire goes, or at lease what direction. It is possible that the wires from the switch don't go to the attick, but it is worth a check if you can. It may at least narrow down the area in the room to look.

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