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Old 08-26-2009, 08:48 PM   #1
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Mystery Switch


I recently purchased a house built in 1940. We have a combined dining room / living room. The dining room area leads into the kitchen. On the wall in the dining room is a light switch that goes to nothing. Our home inspector couldn't figure out what it went to - none of the outlets in the room are controlled by it.

I have a couple hunches:

1) It used to control a ceiling fixture in the "dining room" that was removed
2) It used to control the fixture in the kitchen, but was removed/disconnected/faulty
3) It used to control an outlet in the dining room, but was removed/disconnected/faulty

Aside from ripping the wall out and tracing the wires, anyone have any ideas about how to find out the fate of this mystery switch?


Last edited by paxprobellum; 08-26-2009 at 08:49 PM. Reason: clarification
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Old 08-26-2009, 09:01 PM   #2
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Mystery Switch


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I recently purchased a house built in 1940. We have a combined dining room / living room. The dining room area leads into the kitchen. On the wall in the dining room is a light switch that goes to nothing. Our home inspector couldn't figure out what it went to - none of the outlets in the room are controlled by it.

I have a couple hunches:

1) It used to control a ceiling fixture in the "dining room" that was removed
2) It used to control the fixture in the kitchen, but was removed/disconnected/faulty
3) It used to control an outlet in the dining room, but was removed/disconnected/faulty

Aside from ripping the wall out and tracing the wires, anyone have any ideas about how to find out the fate of this mystery switch?
Telephone guys trace wires in walls all the time. They have a tone generator and a signal tracing wand to do this!
I have these in my tool box, a left over from my working days!
Recently, I have seen these foe sale at Home Depot!
Do you have any friends who are telephone guys?

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Old 08-26-2009, 09:11 PM   #3
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Mystery Switch


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Originally Posted by paxprobellum View Post
I recently purchased a house built in 1940. We have a combined dining room / living room. The dining room area leads into the kitchen. On the wall in the dining room is a light switch that goes to nothing. Our home inspector couldn't figure out what it went to - none of the outlets in the room are controlled by it.

I have a couple hunches:

1) It used to control a ceiling fixture in the "dining room" that was removed
2) It used to control the fixture in the kitchen, but was removed/disconnected/faulty
3) It used to control an outlet in the dining room, but was removed/disconnected/faulty

Aside from ripping the wall out and tracing the wires, anyone have any ideas about how to find out the fate of this mystery switch?
Just asking. What practical use would derive from finding out (at this late stage) the mysterious end point of this switch. Klein Tools is marketing a tester (I think??? the Cat. (Catalogue) # is NCVT-1) that if held in proximity to an energized wire, it will flash and emit a rapid beeping sound. The question is if it is sensitive enough to ID an energized line through plaster. (No matter what)Don't Drink and Drive!
Eliminate Confusion through Education!!!
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Old 08-26-2009, 09:44 PM   #4
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Mystery Switch


How about a flood light on a corner of the roof eave somewhere?

It may have switched receptacles in the past, that were incorrectly installed and thus no longer switch. I have seen this dozens of times. You can tell if the switch is connected to anything that draws power by using your ohm meter. Take the switch plate off and use a known good ground to verify voltage on both switch terminals with the switch on and off.

On the un-energized terminal, test for continuity to neutral. If the circuit is closed through, say, a light bulb, you will read continuity, and you know that with the switch on something is being powered. If you read no continuity, then the circuit is open.
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Old 08-26-2009, 10:10 PM   #5
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Mystery Switch


The reason I am trying to find out what the switch does is because I would like to hijack a junction box above the dining room (if one exists) or use the switch to turn the kitchen light on/off (currently the switch is all the way across the kitchen, next to the door to the basement).

Theoretically speaking, if the light switch control the now-defunct junction box in the dining room, all I would have to do is put a light fixture there to start enjoying the benefits of switched lighting in the dining room.

We'll see how it goes. Thanks for the ideas!
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Old 08-26-2009, 10:22 PM   #6
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Mystery Switch


I'd also test for power there or check if there is a direct feed there. If there's a direct feed and there's power to it, you might be lucky to find it at the breaker panel and if it's labeled it might give you an idea.

Also check the receptacles to see if there's a spare hot wire. Maybe they were changed out at some piint and the screw "bridges" were not clipped. Maybe it's actually connected or just left behind. If this is the case then it may be a switch that controls only 1 outlet out of the 2.
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Old 08-26-2009, 10:34 PM   #7
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Mystery Switch


Is there a junction box in the dining room ceiling with a cover?

If it's there & they didn't cut the wires it may be very easy to reconnect
Hopefully they didn't disconnect due to a problem
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Old 08-27-2009, 04:25 PM   #8
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Mystery Switch


Don't overlook having a relatively skilled, yet lazy previous owner with DIY tendencies. I have to ask if the ceiling seems lowered anywhere. There could be a box, or even an entire light fixture hidden by a dropped or false ceiling.

I am only pointing this out because of my experience with our 60's home. There was a light switch in the kitchen that did nothing. It turned out that a previous owner had built a false ceiling from 2X6's and drywall so that a bank of fluorescent fixtures could be flush mounted back in the mid to late 70's, and he had put that ceiling up right over the original recessed can light mounted over the sink. Once I had cut a small hole in the ceiling, I could flip the switch, and watch the light bulb turn on and off. (Yes, it still worked!)

Nice, right? The wife and I still laugh hard over that.
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Old 08-27-2009, 04:33 PM   #9
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Mystery Switch


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Originally Posted by paxprobellum View Post
On the wall in the dining room is a light switch that goes to nothing.
Quote:
In my house there's this light switch that doesn't do anything. Every so often
I would flick it on and off just to check. Yesterday, I got a call from a
woman in Madagascar. She said, "Cut it out. -- Steven Wright
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Old 08-27-2009, 05:11 PM   #10
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Mystery Switch


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Originally Posted by KAdams4458 View Post
Don't overlook having a relatively skilled, yet lazy previous owner with DIY tendencies. I have to ask if the ceiling seems lowered anywhere. There could be a box, or even an entire light fixture hidden by a dropped or false ceiling.

I am only pointing this out because of my experience with our 60's home. There was a light switch in the kitchen that did nothing. It turned out that a previous owner had built a false ceiling from 2X6's and drywall so that a bank of fluorescent fixtures could be flush mounted back in the mid to late 70's, and he had put that ceiling up right over the original recessed can light mounted over the sink. Once I had cut a small hole in the ceiling, I could flip the switch, and watch the light bulb turn on and off. (Yes, it still worked!)

Nice, right? The wife and I still laugh hard over that.

Now THAT is funny. Drill a bunch of holes in the ceiling, and you'll have yourself a "night sky" effect.

Once those bulbs go, well, you're out of luck. I really wonder what goes through some people's minds when they do a DIY job.

Which reminds me, there's this red button in our server room on the wall, it has no label. I always wonder what it does...
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Old 08-27-2009, 05:23 PM   #11
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Now THAT is funny. Drill a bunch of holes in the ceiling, and you'll have yourself a "night sky" effect.

Once those bulbs go, well, you're out of luck. I really wonder what goes through some people's minds when they do a DIY job.

Which reminds me, there's this red button in our server room on the wall, it has no label. I always wonder what it does...
Ha! Yeah. I took the entire false ceiling down. There was an insane number of 2X6's up there that came out in excellent condition, so I got quite the pile of free lumber from it, too. It really opened up the kitchen, and made it possible for me to find all of the poorly made wire splices that were not even in boxes. I simply removed everything that had been added, and went back to the original 1965 wiring. Yay! No more flickering lights!

About that red button... Do it, and report back. (I'm a "push the red button" kind of guy, myself.)
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Old 08-27-2009, 06:32 PM   #12
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Aside from ripping the wall out and tracing the wires, anyone have any ideas about how to find out the fate of this mystery switch?
Logic, experience and a trained eye will go a long way.

The dining room more than likely had a fixture in the center of the ceiling. Look for signs of a patch.

Most mystery switches turn out to be switched or half switched receptacles.
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Old 08-27-2009, 08:17 PM   #13
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Mystery Switch


I work at a printing company that was founded in 1914. Printing used to require a lot of effort and equipment that isn't needed these days with computers and all. So there's plenty of "legacy" around the place.

In my office which used to be a proof making room, there was a switch behind my desk. It was partly covered by my bookshelf so I didn't notice it at first. Eventually I gathered up enough courage to flip it. The fluorescent tubes above my desk turn off and another set of UV-blocked tubes come on (very orange effect, no UV light, opposite of a blacklight).

That was pretty neat, so in the end I found some blacklight tubes to replace the UV-free tubes with (we had blacklight tubes laying around too!), so now in my office I can flip a switch and convert to blacklight.

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