Outlet controlled by a light switch

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  #1  
Old 07-12-07, 05:14 AM
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Outlet controlled by a light switch

Hello--

I've been recently updating all of my outlets throughout my house--old ones had been painted over by previous owners multiple times. Anyway, in a few of the rooms, one (or sometimes two) of the outlets' upper plugs was controlled by a light switch in the room. I changed all of the outlets (carefully making sure the wiring was replaced exactly as it was in the old outlets); however, now none of the light switches controls the outlets (both outlet plugs are hot, and work fine). I tested the outlets with my plug in monitor and it showed they were wired correctly. In addition, I read that the "tabs" on the outlets might still be connected, so I "broke" the tabs on the outlets in question, but the light switches still don't control the outlets (again, the outlets work fine on their own--just not controlled by the switch).

Do I need to purchase a specific outlet for this purpose? Do all the outlets need to have the tabs broken--or just the outlet in question? This has been a very frustrating experience to say the least and since some of these rooms have no overhead light; this is the only way to have light when you first walk into the room.

Thanks for any help!
 
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  #2  
Old 07-12-07, 05:19 AM
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You either didn't break the tabs on the receptacles or you didn't get the wires in place properly. Generally speaking, any one receptacles in the room that you missed will negate the switching for all of the switched receptacles.

With switched receptacles it makes a big difference whether the wires are connected to the top half of the receptacle or the bottom half. Check your wiring and try again.

Use your (analog) meter and two wire tester (you do have these, right?) to test for power.

In your case, you should have replaced one device at a time, and tested EVERYTHING after each item was replaced.
 
  #3  
Old 07-12-07, 05:31 AM
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Another thought. You said you broke off the "tabs". Did you break off just the one on the hot side, or did you break off the neutral as well. The neutral should be intact if using a common neutral.
 
  #4  
Old 07-12-07, 05:44 AM
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Thanks for the quick responses.

racraft--I'm pretty certain regarding the wiring, I've been especially careful regarding this (although, anything is possible). Regarding the tabs--I only broke the tabs on the outlets that were originally controlled by the switch--do all of the outlets in the room need to be broken? Or just the one that was originally controlled by the switch. Generally speaking in these rooms there are ~3-5 outlets, with only one being controlled.

I agree that I should have done everything one at a time with testing in between; unfortunately that did not happen and now I'm trying to go back and fix the issue.

chandler--I only broke off the hot (brass) side.
 
  #5  
Old 07-12-07, 05:49 AM
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If the tabs on the old receptacle were broken, then the tabs on the new one need to be broken.

You can look at the wiring and determine what needs to be done. Does the switched wiring pass through the other receptacles?
 
  #6  
Old 07-12-07, 06:32 AM
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I don't know if the switched wiring passes through the other receptacles. I'll have to take another look at each to determine. What should I be looking for to determine this?
 
  #7  
Old 07-12-07, 06:47 AM
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You really should have a basic understanding of electricity BEFORE you undertake any electrical project. Please buy and read a good book on home wiring BEFORE you attempt to find and fix your mistake. Start with the small inexpensive book "Wiring Simplified." It is available at the big box stores and elsewhere. The issue is that there are numerous questions you haven't asked yet and numerous things you don;t understand that you should understand BEFORE attempting this type of work. Electricity can and does kill people.

In order to switch a receptacle (or anything for that matter), you need to involve a switch. The hot power wire passes through the switch. When the switch is ON current flow, when the switch is OFF it does not flow.

One of two things is the case. Full power (meaning both the hot and the neutral) pass through the switch box. In this case (receptacles half switched) there will be a three wire cable (plus ground) from the switch to one of the receptacles. One of these wires will be red. The typical wiring would be for the power black to be connected to the receptacle black and to one terminal of the switch, with the receptacle red wire connected to the other switch terminal. The neutral wires (white) are connected together with a wire nut.

The other case is that a switch loop is used. In this case a two wire cable (plus ground) is run to the switch. Both the white and black wires attach to the switch. There are no other wires at the switch box.

To provide switched power and full power from one receptacle to the next three wire (plus ground) is used, with the red typically carrying the switch power.

As I stated earlier, it is extremely imperative that the tab be broken on the hot side of switched receptacles (or you render the switch useless) and that you connect the wires properly to the top and bottom halves of the receptacle.
 
  #8  
Old 07-12-07, 07:12 AM
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Thanks for your reply--condescding as it was. I do have a basic understanding of the wiring, I was unsure of what you were asking. My switch is a three wire switch with a white, red and black (plus ground). The outlet in question has four wires, 2 white, a black and red (plus ground)--and I removed the wires from the old outlet--clearly marking each wire--and then rewired with the new outlet just as before. I went back and broke the tab on the brass (hot) side of that outlet. What I was unsure about was how to determine whether the switched wiring passes through the other outlets. I will have to go back and look at the other outlets to determine the wiring. If there was any mistake, it would have been getting the red and black backwards--although I'm sure that didn't happen. However, if it did, wouldn't that simply reverse which outlet was controlled; or reverse the whether up was on or down was on? I have not broken the tabs on any other outlet.

I aplogize if I am not up to your qualifications; however, I have done basic wiring in my house (replacing outlets and switches) and have never had a problem, except in this case of getting these switched outlets to work properly. All I'm asking for is a bit of advice before calling in an electrician. If you don't want to offer that advice, I'd rather you just say to call in a licensed professional rather than these passive aggressive, internet based remarks.
 
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Old 07-12-07, 07:25 AM
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Please do not misinterpret my replies. If I didn't want to help I wouldn't be answering questions.

I have no idea what your qualifications are. I know none of the people who run this site and none of the people who post here.

What I do know is that the task of replacing receptacles and switches is the most basic of tasks. Further, I know that figuring out where a mistake was made in this task is also easy. Going further, such as adding new receptacles, lights, three way switches, etc. is more difficult.

The information you have provided about your receptacle (the proper term is receptacle) and switch is not complete. There are more wires than you are mentioning. Until and unless you provide an accurate description of ALL the cables and all the wires and how they are connected, I have no idea how your room is wired. It's extremely difficult to provide advice when you don;t have the entire picture.

I do know that your problem is easy to solve, all that is needed is the information, ALL the information.
 
  #10  
Old 07-12-07, 07:48 AM
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Thanks for the replies. I'll have to take this question off-line to a different forum in order to more accurately describe the situation. This forum probably isn't the place to describe exactly what is going on in each RECEPTACLE (or OUTLET for us laymen), since I don't the wiring situations committed to memory.

I'll go back and take another look and see if there is something obvious that I missed.
 
  #11  
Old 07-12-07, 07:50 AM
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To tell you why outlet is not accurate, both the switch and the receptacle are an outlet.

I don't expect you to have all the wiring memorized. However, you can't expect me, or anyone else, to tell you what is wrong until and unless we have the whole picture.

It probably is something easy and obvious, and I am sure you can and will find it.

Good luck with your problem.
 
  #12  
Old 07-12-07, 07:55 AM
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Thanks for the clarification; however, you knew what I was talking about so why the need to make the comment?
 
  #13  
Old 07-12-07, 07:55 AM
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A switch is not an outlet.
 
  #14  
Old 07-12-07, 08:26 AM
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You say the switch is three wire. Does the switch have two brass screws and a dark colored screw plus a green ground?

Is there a second switch that controls the receptacles also? Have you tried each switch in each possible configuration. Both up, one up one down, etc.

What is the wiring at each switch stating screw color and color of wire attached.

Did you replace either switch? Was one half of all the receptacles switch controlled or only one before replacement?
 
  #15  
Old 07-12-07, 10:25 AM
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ray2047--

I'm working on memory; however, I do believe the switches had two brass and one dark screw--along with the ground. When replacing these switches I simply connected the wire that was on the side with only one screw to the appropriate screw in the new switch--and then the wires on the other side appropriately. In other rooms (see below) I have replaced the switches independently previously, without issue. In these rooms, clearly the switch wiring isn't the issue. However, when I replaced the outlets in these rooms--that is when the outlet/switch disconnect started.

In one room, there is a second switch that controls the outlet and I have tried each combination.

I'd have to check on the screw color/wire color.

In two rooms I replaced both switch and outlet. In other three rooms, I replaced the switch previously--everything worked properly. I then went and replaced the outlets; and it is now that I'm having the issues. Which obviously leads me to believe it is the outlets in all cases. When replacing the wires, I followed exactly as it was in the previous case.

The only thing that I can think of is another outlet was controlled by the switch (one that I was unaware of) and that tab has yet to be broken causing the primary outlet to not work properly. If two outlets are controlled and only one had the tabs broken--would that cause both to not work properly?

What do the tabs do? If one were to break all the tabs on their outlets (not proposing to do so); how would that affect the overall service to the room?
 
  #16  
Old 07-12-07, 10:55 AM
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Quite simply, the tab merely connects the top half of the receptacle to the bottom half. There are two tabs, one on each side, so, depending on the need, you can connect the hot, the neutral, or both.

Here are some examples:
1. If you want both halves of the receptacle to be on the same circuit, and to be hot all the time (or to both be switched by the same switch), you want to be connected on both sides. This is the most common case.
2. If you want each half of the receptacle to be on separate unrelated circuits, you want both sides unconnected. This is pretty uncommon in the U.S., except in some kitchens.
3. If you want the two halves of the receptacle to be on the two sides of a multiwire (i.e., shared neutral) circuit, then you want the hot sides unconnected and the neutral sides connected. Each hot screw is connected to its own hot wire (the two legs of the multiwire circuit). This is common in Canadian kitchens, but not very common in the U.S.
4. If you want one half of the receptacle to be controlled by a switch, and the other half hot all the time, and both sides are on the same circuit, then you need the hot side to be unconnected, and the neutral side to be connected. This is very common in living rooms and some bedrooms in the U.S., especially in rooms with no ceiling light fixture.

Note that many receptacles are used to feed through power downstream. Power comes in on one half, and leaves on the other half. This situation is very common in case #1, but can also occur to pass the neutral (but not the hot) through in cases #3 and #4 (if multiple receptacles in the same room are all half-switched by the same switch).

In general, think of a duplex receptacle as two independent simplex receptacles. Think of how you would wire the two indepencent simplex receptacles. The same places you would run wires for the two simplex receptacles, you want the tab on the duplex receptacle. Think of the tab as merely a very short wire.
 
  #17  
Old 07-12-07, 11:03 AM
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"I do believe the switches had two brass and one dark screw--along with the ground. When replacing these switches I simply connected the wire that was on the side with only one screw to the appropriate screw in the new switch--and then the wires on the other side appropriately."

This may very well be your problem. This is a three way switch. This means there is (or at least was) another switch in the picture.

When replacing a three way switch you cannot replace based on the position of the wire on the original switch. Not all manufacturers put the terminals in the same location. Instead you MUST replace based on the two travelers (the same color screws) and the common (the odd color screw).

I suggest that you compare the old switch with the new switch and see if this was your mistake. It very well might be.
 
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