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Old 02-23-2011, 11:17 AM   #1
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Mystery lights


Our new house has a few outdoor flood lamps. A pair on each of two corners of the back yard. I can't find a switch.

I went into the attic, and I see romex running out to each corner where a light is located. These wires go to a junction box. There are two more romex wires going to the box. I'm guessing that I'm looking at a wire that supplies power and a switch loop.

The wire goes down in the general vicinity of the alarm system. Is it possible the alarm switches the lights on? There doesn't appear to be any 120v going into the the alarm box, so if it does switch them, it has to be a relay, right? I'm not seeing anything that looks like a relay anywhere.

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Old 02-23-2011, 11:45 AM   #2
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Mystery lights


Hey Pyper,
There is a possibility that they were never fully installed. They may have been wired but never connected. Use a none contact or normal volt tester to see if there is any power in the romex. You can also check your main panel to see if there is a relay where the romex from the lights go. They could be wired directly to a timer on an exterior/interior junction box.

If they do have power you can test the breakers to see which breaker they are on and that might help narrow it down as well.-Gregg

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Old 02-23-2011, 12:00 PM   #3
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Thanks Gregg.

It's two different colors Romex, so I'm thinking they were added after the house was built. I've been there at night, so they're not on a working timer.

I've got a non-contact sensor, so I'll give that a try. I suppose I should also open the box and see which wires go where!
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Old 02-23-2011, 12:13 PM   #4
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The wire goes down in the general vicinity of the alarm system. Is it possible the alarm switches the lights on? There doesn't appear to be any 120v going into the the alarm box, so if it does switch them, it has to be a relay, right? I'm not seeing anything that looks like a relay anywhere.
Yes, and right.

I would start at the junction box in the attic, to see if you have power on any of the 4 lines going into it. If no power, then, as mentioned, maybe they were never connected. If power on only one line, most likely something loose or disconnected in that box. If power on the lines going to the lights, bad fixtures or bulbs.

Some people put some switches in the darnedest places, so once you have confirmed that the bulbs are good, you may want to have someone watch the lights while you go trhough the house, room by room, switching switches.

Another real possibility is that they are on a 3-way circuit with other lights, and someone replaced a switch and couldn't figurte out how to hook it back up properly.
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Old 02-23-2011, 12:40 PM   #5
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Mystery lights


Electrical CSI is frustrating, ain't it? I have ONE MYSTERY SWITCH on an energized circuit. As far as I can tell, it doesn't control anything. Maybe they turn on your flood lamps.

While you are hunting around your house start taking notes and map your system. Switches, outlets, breaker, etc. This is MUCH faster with a partner and a couple cell phones (or you can take more time and get your exercise running back and forth to your breaker-box - up to four flights of stairs for me ).

Chances are your breakers are poorly/insufficiently/illegibly/incorrectly labeled. You'll do yourself a HUGE favor by making a new, easy to read, labels.

I also found it useful to put labels or stickers on switches and outlets as I went along - it made it easy to see what I had missed and confirm confusing setups (like when two adjacent outlets are inexplicably on separate circuits). All said and done, I found half a dozen jBoxes, switches, and wire runs connected to NOTHING. I also found lots of potential problems, so I made a list of all things that needed attention, too.
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Old 02-23-2011, 12:47 PM   #6
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Electrical CSI is frustrating, ain't it? I have ONE MYSTERY SWITCH on an energized circuit. As far as I can tell, it doesn't control anything. Maybe they turn on your flood lamps.

Leah, that mystery switch may control the bathroom fan in the upstairs ensuite. I've seen quite a few houses with that feature.
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Old 02-23-2011, 12:51 PM   #7
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Leah, that mystery switch may control the bathroom fan in the upstairs ensuite. I've seen quite a few houses with that feature.
Cool, so you can remotely turn on the fan. Or turn it off without having to go upstairs. I'm pretty sure it doesn't apply to me: no bathroom fans in my 200 year old house.


And yes, yes, they are in the plans. As I am rewiring (to get rid of all the old K&T) I have wired for fans. It's all just a matter of time and money, right?
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Old 02-23-2011, 01:00 PM   #8
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Our new house has a few outdoor flood lamps. A pair on each of two corners of the back yard. I can't find a switch.
Are they motion sensor lights? There may not be a switch.
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Old 02-23-2011, 01:40 PM   #9
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Are they motion sensor lights? There may not be a switch.
If they are I haven't found the sensor -- but maybe it's broken -- or maybe all the bulbs are bad. Or both. I'll get that voltage detector on them first thing.


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While you are hunting around your house start taking notes and map your system. Switches, outlets, breaker, etc. This is MUCH faster with a partner and a couple cell phones (or you can take more time and get your exercise running back and forth to your breaker-box - up to four flights of stairs for me ).
I have a system for that. I go and make a map of the house, with all the boxes, switches, and lights. I turn on all the lights, then trip the breakers one by one and see what goes out.

For outlets, I plug a radio in, then I trip the breakers until it goes off. Usually once you find it you find out it does most of the others nearby.

But you're right -- much easier with a helper!

I envy the electrician's gadget that you just plug in and then point the probe at the breakers. Sweet.

Yeah, the home inspector pointed out that the breakers are not labeled, but we're going to replace the box.
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Old 02-24-2011, 08:47 AM   #10
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I found the switch .

It's about as far from the lights as you can get. I'll need to get back out with the probe and some new bulbs and get it working. And maybe move the switch...
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Old 02-24-2011, 10:08 AM   #11
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i found the switch .

It's about as far from the lights as you can get. I'll need to get back out with the probe and some new bulbs and get it working. And maybe move the switch...
yay!!!

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