Bathroom receptacle/switch combo help

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  #1  
Old 05-03-13, 08:59 AM
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Bathroom receptacle/switch combo help

Hey Everyone,
This is my first time posting, and I am in need of some serious help. I live in an older house (1950s or so) and need to replace a failing light switch/receptacle outlet in my bathroom. I took the faceplate off of the outlet and unscrewed all of the wires, completely forgetting to take a picture or mark down how things were wired up (a horrible mistake). I purchased a new switch and tried to install it following the instructions that were included, but it just isn't working. Here is what I have going on:

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Coming into the box are two sets of wires - one set of black, white, and ground wires and another set of black and white wires. I believe these both go to the light, but I'm not sure.

If I simply plug in the set of black and white wires to the line screws on the outlet, the actual outlet becomes powered. If I try to do anything else, nothing works and the circuit breaker trips when I flip it.

I sort of remember the set of white and black wires were not attached to anything on the receptacle when I opened it up, but I could be wrong. I also remember the ground not being attached (!!!). If anyone has any recommendations or ideas I would greatly appreciate it! Thank you so much!
 
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  #2  
Old 05-03-13, 09:17 AM
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If you have a multimeter (not a non contact tester) determine which cable is hot by measuring between the black and white wire of each cable. The cable not hot goes to the light.

Wire as follows:
  • Leave the tab between the two brass screws unbroken.
  • Connect the black of the hot cable to one of the brass screws connected by the tab.
  • Connect the two white wires to a pigtail and the pigtail to the silver screw on the receptacle end of the device.
  • Connect the black of the switch cable to the brass screw on the side opposite the tab side.

If you don't have a multimeter connect one cable to the brass and silver screws on the receptacle end of the device. Plugin a lamp. If it lights that is your hot cable. If it doesn't try the other cable.
 
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Old 05-03-13, 11:58 AM
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f you have a multimeter (not a non contact tester) determine which cable is hot by measuring between the black and white wire of each cable.
Related question: Ray, I've always thought that testing between the black and white was accomplished by (carefully) holding one probe from the multimeter to the black, and the other to the white (on the copper of course), and look at the reading. I had a neighbor tell me that that is wrong, "you need to use alligator clips?????
Have I been doing it correctly?
Thanks, and(Sorry for the mini-hijack.)
 
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Old 05-03-13, 12:53 PM
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Ray, thanks for the quick response. My new and old receptacles dont have a brass tab. This is what the back of the unit looks like.

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I checked the wires with a multimeter and found that the set of three wires coming into the box must go to the light. The white and black wire that are separate are the hot wires.
 

Last edited by ambarr; 05-03-13 at 01:48 PM.
  #5  
Old 05-03-13, 01:38 PM
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From Mikedel:
I had a neighbor tell me that that is wrong, "you need to use alligator clips?????
Have I been doing it correctly?
No, either will work. The alligator clips are just safer because you can turn the breaker off, clip the leads on, then turn the breaker back on.
 
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Old 05-03-13, 01:51 PM
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Ambarr, I need my eyes adjusted. I didn't see you were using a GFCI combo switch/receptacle.
  • One black wire of the switch and hot black pigtailed to the (brass) line side of the GFCI.
  • Other black wire of switch to black wire of cable to light.
  • All whites pigtailed to the (silver) line side of the GFCI.
The above does not provide GFCI protection for the light. Unless you have an exception it is best not to put the light on the GFCI so you aren't left in the dark if the GFCI trips.
 
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Old 05-03-13, 02:12 PM
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Ray,
I wired it just as you said, and when I flip the circuit breaker the breaker trips and won't stay on. Am I doing something wrong?
 
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Old 05-03-13, 02:36 PM
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I had to guess a bit how it was originally wired. I went for most likely. Please pull the light and tell us the wiring there. If you have two cables there and one is hot then that would explain the trip. Alternately with the breaker off wire nut the black and white of the cable that is not hot together and briefly turn the breaker on. Does the bathroom light come on?
 
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Old 05-03-13, 03:22 PM
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I put the wire nut on the black and white wires and the light came on. Does that help?
 
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Old 05-03-13, 05:25 PM
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I put the wire nut on the black and white wires and the light came on. Does that help?
Yes, if those two wires are in the same cable. That would mean that you have a switch loop to control a light that has the power fed to it from the panel.

If so, connect those two wires to the switch. Connect the two wires from the other cable to the receptacle. Connect the single ground wire and try everything.

Let us know whether that works.
 
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Old 05-03-13, 05:55 PM
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To expand the hot cable goes to the line side of the GFCI. In my defense that is unusual. Normally what happens in a bathroom is you have no receptacle and someone adds one beside the switch. Usually that would either be done using an existing hot that came in to the switch or running a 3-conductor cable from the light if power came in at the light.. Yours is not wrong just unexpected. Do you have other receptacles in the bathroom, just curious.
 
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Old 05-03-13, 06:51 PM
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In my defense that is unusual... Yours is not wrong just unexpected.
To add to Ray's defense, I don't remember having seen it before. Until you told us about getting the light to work by connecting a white wire to a black wire, Ambarr, I doubt if any of us would have figured it out.

Before you close everything up, you should tag the white wire that is part of the switch loop with a bit of black or red electrical tape or permanent marker to show that it is carrying ungrounded current and not functioning as a neutral.

It's possible that someone did this to bring the required 20 amp circuit in for the GFCI while leaving the light on an older 15 amp circuit. Ambarr, can you kill both cables in this switch box by turning off one breaker, or do you have to turn two off to do that?
 
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Old 05-03-13, 06:58 PM
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I don't have another receptacle in the bathroom, but it sure would be nice. The only other electrical item in the bathroom is a bathroom fan which is controlled by a switch on a different wall.

I pulled off the light cover and found an old cloth insulated line coming from the circuit breaker, which I'm guessing gives the light power.

Nashkat1- I have tried to connect the two wires leading to the light to the switch wires coming out of the top of the receptacle and the other two to the lead screws. I don't remember exactly what happened, but I know it did not work.

I sort of remember pulling out the original outlet to find one set of wires not connected to the outlet. Those two were the ones that read live when I tested them with a multimeter. I also remember there being one pigtail wire in the mix. This has been so frustrating. Thanks for the help!
 
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Old 05-03-13, 07:03 PM
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I only have to turn off one breaker to kill the cables.
 
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Old 05-03-13, 07:38 PM
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I have tried to connect the two wires leading to the light to the switch wires coming out of the top of the receptacle and... I don't remember exactly what happened, but I know it did not work.
Okay, this is puzzling now.

I pulled off the light cover and found an old cloth insulated line coming from the circuit breaker, which I'm guessing gives the light power.
That would make sense. What other cables and wires do you see there, and how is each wire connected?
 
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Old 05-03-13, 10:29 PM
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Ambarr, in my first post to you I asked you to:
If you have a multimeter (not a non contact tester) determine which cable is hot by measuring between the black and white wire of each cable.
Both cables should have shown ~120 volts if one was a switch loop and the bulb in the light was good. Did only one cable show hot? Sorry to pester you but I'm trying to figure out where I went wrong in my advice so I don't give bad advice to the next person with a similar situation.
 
  #17  
Old 05-08-13, 04:38 PM
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Ray, sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I'm working two jobs and have no free time. Tonight is the night to get this project done!

Anyway, I did some testing and came up with the following:
When the breaker is on, only one set of wires are getting power. Those would be the top two (without the ground wire). The other set does not have power.

When I connect the top two wires (the ones which get power) and flip the breaker, the lights come on. If I connect the bottom wires and turn the breaker on, nothing happens. Does this shed any light?
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I also took apart the light and found three sets of wires. This is what that jumbled mess looks like:
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I hope this is helpful! One other note- when I had the two wires that were hot (black and white without a ground) attached to the line screws on the outlet, only the receptacle would work. My wife plugged in a hair dryer and flicked the switch...no power to the dryer, but the lights came on!
 
  #18  
Old 05-08-13, 05:23 PM
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Wrong box for the light. Other then that I'm having trouble seeing what you have.

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  #19  
Old 05-08-13, 06:22 PM
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This is a more detailed diagram of the wires coming into the box. Name:  light box diagram.jpg
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  #20  
Old 05-08-13, 07:22 PM
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This is a more detailed diagram of the wires coming into the box.
Since you didn't identify the function of any of the wires in your diagram, let's try guessing.

The pair of wires coming in at the top left may be the feeders from the panel, and the pair in the center may go to the switch. When you say "runs to outlet" do you mean that that is the other set of wires in the wall box?

OK, that was fun. If I'm right so far, let's try an experiment. Turn the power off. Add the black wire that isn't connected to anything to the 2-wire black/white splice off to the left. Take the black wire going out the top right out of the 3-black-wire splice (leave just the black for the light connected to the black from the center).

At the wall, connect a switch to the two wires that you had connected to the receptacle before. Put 2 wire nuts on the black and white wires in the other cable there.

Turn the power on and see if the switch controls the light. Whether it does or not, remove the wire nuts from the wires in the other cable in the wall and test for 120V. Look around, and test, to find out what isn't coming on now that did before.

Let us know what you find out.
 
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