Help Reconfigure Switch/Outlet Box plz


Old 10-19-07, 03:49 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 22
Help Reconfigure Switch/Outlet Box plz

Hi all,

Here is the situation:

One single pole switch in 2nd floor bedroom used to operate overhead ceiling light. Person rewired switch to operate thermostatted attic exhaust fan (kicks on at 90 degrees F) and now there is no way to toggle overhead light.

Said person did not label the wires.

Before I knock out a larger hole in the wall (plaster) I wondered if I could get some advice.

(A) I have wired things in houses off and on (as needed) for many years, but not regularly. I have knowledge, but not the kind of experience I would have if I did this all the time.

(B) The way the switch is currently wired is this:
--there are three wires coming into the box.
--The black line from the feed wire is directed into the upper terminal of the single pole switch.
--On the bottom terminal, there is a short jumper wire (black) into a wire nut that also connects the two black lines from what I have to assume is the ceiling light and the fan.
--All three whites are wire nutted together.
-- bare copper grounds are tightly wrapped around each other but no grounding.

(C)The outlet box is sized correctly for a single pole switch, but appears to be mounted only on a piece of wood, no grounding.

What I specifically am curious about:
To use the feed from the branch circuit for BOTH the devices (fan and light) is it not possible to install a second/different/new switch that would enable the overhead light to be toggled on and off?

The light fixture is seldom lit, and when it is, it contains three 25 watt max bulbs. The fan is not a big power draw, and now that summer has past, it doesn't run at all.

Would I enlarge the hole in the plaster wall, install a box sized for a double pole switch, or for two separate single pole switches...? (Only experience can answer this.)

If/when this step is completed, what way would the wires then connect, given a specific configuration? The switches would have to be in parallel, naturally, whether internal to a switch or external to two switches, because I want to be able to operate either device independently.

The former owner, when I questioned him about why he didn't put in a separate run for the attic fan, said it was a HUGE task (breaker box in garage in basement on opposite side of house) and there was already the feed wire for the hall light and bedroom light in place in the attic. He was going to "fix this problem" at some point, but that point never came.

Any ideas? I mean, besides installing a Clap On/Clap Off unit for a lamp in the bedroom!

Any help is much appreciated, or if you think you need to straighten me out about something-- like one of my assumptions-- go right ahead!

Thanks in advance.
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Old 10-19-07, 05:37 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 6,458

When you refer to 3 wires coming into the box, do you mean 3 cables? Tell us the colors of all the wires in each cable.
Old 10-19-07, 06:12 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
Is the light also switched with the attic fan, or is the light always on?

The wiring is trivial.

The power feed black wire connects to one terminal on each switch. The black wire for the attic fan connects to the other terminal on one switch and the black wire for the light connects to the other terminal on the second switch.

The white wires and grounds remain as they are now.

The previous owner created a code violation if the light in the room is no longer switched (unless there is another switched light or switched receptacle).

You can, at your discretion, install a duplex switch or install a double gang box and install two switches.
Old 10-19-07, 01:56 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 22
The bedroom light is OFF. There is no way to switch it on.

Yes, three cables coming in, all of them have one ground wire, one white wire, one black wire.

So the most efficient answer to correct the problem here, i.e.-- to switch the light and to rectify the code violation-- is to get a duplex switch. This eliminates the need to open a wider hole in the plaster wall, and the wiring, as you say, is trivial.

This sounds good to me.

I suspected that there might be a code violation; at least the fellow explained what he did and why. I know folks are "supposed" to let you know when you buy property, but that doesn't mean they will. So I give him credit for at least explaining it.

Thanks for the help. A simple matter of heading to my local hardware store, then.
Old 10-20-07, 09:55 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 22
I oughta be a monkey's uncle!

Got my duplex switch today, went below and shut off power. Came up to the 2nd floor, tested to make sure power was off. It was,

So far so good, eh? I wired the switch and went back down to restore power. Came back up (this is all the easily explainable part, ha ha) and tried the switches, keeping in mind that I couldn't make the attic exhaust fan come on unless I could also create 90 degrees F up there. But I at least expected the overhead lights to come on.

Top switch ON/nothing. Probably the fan.
Bottom switch ON/nothing. No lights.

I checked the wiring and the switches, there was NO WAY it was wired wrong. I mean, DUH, there is only one way... always on/hot feed in on first switch, always on/hot feed in on second switch; two black wires (one from fan, one from light fixture) out from the other side of the switch to each load. CHECK.

Ran BACK down to basement, hit breaker, came back up to 2nd Fl. Took switch out of circuit, ran back down, restored power, came back up, tested bare black wires. Yes, (using a circuit tester-- a small device that lights up at certain voltages, here I was looking for 110VAC...) there is the feed line... 110 VAC when one side touched to N. And here are the two unused black wires going out to the loads. No light on the tester. Check.

So what the heck....? Let's try this thing again. Sheesh.

Okay, so why not check other things on the 2nd floor (all supposedly on same branch circuit from breaker box, except for computer outlet in bedroom down hallway.)

Hall light and outlet-- GOOD.
Bedroom One, lamps and outlets-- GOOD.
Bedroom Two, down hall, lamp and outlets-- GOOD.
Bedroom Two, down hall, overhead light--NO.

What the.... never mind, not a part of what I'm working on.

Ran back down, hit breaker, came back up to 2nd floor, put duplex switch back in circuit, ran back down to garage, restored power, RAN back up, checked switches again with circuit tester.

Top switch/ON-- GOOD, tester 110 V light on, but no action. Must be fan...
Bottom switch/ON-- GOOD, tester 110 V light on, but no action from overhead lights... what the..? ON/OFF, ON/OFF... so now, next step...

Go down hallway and, assuming the bulbs in the overhead fixture in the first bedroom may be burned out, switch them with known good bulbs in second bedroom-- but wait! Now the overhead light in the other bedroom is not lighting up when I switch it on! I saw this earlier and it had puzzled me ever so briefly, but I was "busy"... but surely this didn't have anything to do with me changing a switch in another room, did it? At first I didn't think so, but now the proof is right in front of me....

Here is the big AH HA!

Went back down the hall to Bedroom One, switched the bottom switch to ON, went back to Bedroom Two, switched overhead light ON, and it lit up.

Can you believe it? If not, ya better get yer Believers fixed!

This guy must have pulled the cable from the overhead lights from Bedroom One (the one I'm working in) out of the outlet box, and tucked them into a wall or rafter. I had assumed he tapped off the main feed line, but that can't be so... because the switch installed in Bedroom One operates the overhead light switch in Bedroom Two!

I'm posting this additional "episode" of my story so that anyone who comes along and reads in the forums at a later date will see why it is really a good idea to get a "map" of the circuits in your house- if it can be done. Not just which breaker a certain load or device is on, but what is in front of it and what is behind it if/when these loads are wired in series.

It also demonstrates the amount of running back and forth you have to do to stay safe. DO IT.

My next step will have to be stuffing my body up into the tiny attic spaces to locate the exact area he tapped into, and to locate the cable run from the overhead lights.

Sunday is not an option, for though it is October 21, the predicted high temp is an irrational and unseasonal 77 degrees, which will take the attic up and out of my personal range of comfortable poking and prodding. I'll get another shot at it Tuesday, when temps moderate.

Sheesh, what folks do in the name of making things work... I like to say that if you are going to go nine miles, why not make it ten? I mean, if you are already up in the attic, why not do it right instead of doing it sloppy?

Oh, wait... I know... you'll never have to see it again. But the poor slob that comes by afterwards will!!!

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