wiring a wall fixture and switch in an old house?


Old 05-14-07, 10:35 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 2
wiring a wall fixture and switch in an old house?


My husband and I just bought a house built in the 1940ís. Strangely, the living room has no light switch (there are two wall mounted sconces next to fireplace that have switches on the fixtures, but you have to find your way across a dark living room to turn them on). However, I found an old box that was covered with a plate that Iím hoping we can use to mount a wall fixture and add a switch.

I see this in the box: 4 black fabric sheathed wires, all capped together, 4 white fabric sheathed wires, all capped together, and one red fabric sheathed wire, capped. Can anyone explain to me if I can use this to mount a light fixture and add a switch? Iím wondering about that red wire, because I didnít see one when I looked at the wiring for the sconces next to the fireplace. in fact, all I saw was one black and one white wire.

Thanks for any help!
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Old 05-14-07, 11:15 AM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
Posts: 18,497
Frankly, it's impossible to tell based on the information you have provided. However, almost anything can be done with enough new wire. But in your case, you have no grounding wires, so you cannot legally extend this circuit (unless by some chance your entire home is wired with metal conduit).

I usually recommend that people with wiring this old not modify it at all. New circuits can usually be added for new needs, but it's best to leave what's there as is.
Old 05-14-07, 12:44 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 2
hmm, interesting...when I replaced two of the ceiling fans with light fixtures, I did see that the old wires were encased in armored cable. when I purchased the fixtures, I asked the shop owner what I should connect the ground wire in the fixture to in the ceiling box. he said the house wiring was probably not grounded and to coil up the ground wire that came with the fixture and tuck it away, unused. (I did tell him about the armored cable) now I'm wondering if I should have connected those ground wires to the box. I'm just learning about electrical wiring, so sorry if I don't get the terminology quite right or provide enough info.

maybe hiring a pro to add a new circuit is the best plan for the living room light issue.

thanks for your response!
Old 05-14-07, 06:49 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
Whenever you connect a fixture with a ground wire to existing wiring where there is no ground wire, you should always connect the ground wire to the junction box if it is metal. If the junction box is not grounded then it won;t make a difference, but if it is grounded then the light will be grounded.

I doubt very much that your wall sconces are able to be switched without adding new wiring. Instead I suspect that one or more of the receptacles in the room have a red wire that is disconnected. It is likely that originally one or more of the receptacles were switched and that some owner along the way didn;t want that, so they removed the switch.
Old 05-16-07, 06:03 AM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Ontario Canada
Posts: 1,767
There is a probable chance some of the wires in that box could lead to the existing sconces. Check nearby recepticle boxes to see if that red wire ends up there.

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