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Fox 09-20-2010 08:16 PM

Outlet before light switch; Open Neutral?
I'll try to make this as simple as I can. Thanks for any help in advance!

The Scenario
1 Room, 1 switch that controls 4 recessed lights. I didn't put in the lights; they appear to be inaccessible. (I tried)

There is one outlet in the room. It, like the switch, is on a wall with an unfinished back I can access. The outlet was, until recently, not wired.

The only circuit I'm willing to link the outlet to is the same circuit that controls all the other lights on this floor. (the basement) This switch/lights appear to be at the end of the circuit, furthest from the main breaker.

The Problem
When I setup the following wiring scheme

(All grounds together) Outlet Ground -> Incoming Circuit Ground/Switch Ground Wire-Nutted
(All neutrals together) Outlet Neutral -> Incoming Circuit Neutral/Returning Circuit Neutral Wire-Nutted
(Hot to Switch Screw) Outlet Hot -> Incoming Circuit Hot/Switch Hot Screwed (No backstabbing)

The outlet works just fine...when the lights are off. When I flip them on, the outlet tester I am using states that the hot/ground are reversed. I cannot fathom how this could occur, so I'm operating under the assumption at this point that the lights were run in a manner where black was wired to white at the end of one of the circuits and I've an open neutral.

My solution to this was to yank out the lights and rewire them so they formed a circuit with which I'm more familiar, using 14-3 and bringing the hot back along the red wire, but I can't figure out a way to get the lights down. I'm worried they're "New Construction" and are nailed to the joists, which I believe means I'm out of luck, short of damaging the drywall. In that scenario I'd rather just run another circuit.

The Question
Is there some snazzy, nifty little ingenious wiring method I can employ to resolve this or do I have to run an whole new circuit?

Again, thanks for any and all help!

[Unnecessary backstory you may safely ignore]
The outlet was wired (I use this term loosely) by the previous owner by stripping another circuit passing through the room, and wrapping the correct wires around the bare wire. This other circuit was the GFCI going upstairs. The hot wire was bare.

When I first saw this months ago I immediately disconnected this outlet, cut the GFCI where it'd been stripped, made a small bridge for each wire, and put it all inside a box where it'd be safe.

I didn't find out until recently why they'd taken such a reckless route just to put in an outlet until I tried to wire it into the light switch.

oberkc 09-20-2010 08:35 PM

How many wires are coming into the switch box (before you added the outlet wire)? Only one: black, white, and copper?

Fox 09-21-2010 04:11 AM

Correct, one 14-2 in, one 14-2 out.

oberkc 09-21-2010 07:02 AM


manner where black was wired to white at the end of one of the circuits and I've an open neutral
If this were true, I assume you would be popping circuit breakers.

If you have unswitched supply at the switch box, then I would expect that you should be able to use this to supply the outlet. I don't believe that rewiring lights is necessary. I don't believe a new circuit to be necessary.

To re-state your setup, you originally (before you started this project) had a switch box with two 14/2 wires. One was supply. The other went to your fixture. You added a third 14/2 wire from the switch box to the outlet. In your switch box, you tied all copper together and all white together. You tied black supply to your outlet black (also feeds switch hot). Black to your fixture remained tied to switch load terminal.

Is this all correct?

joed 09-21-2010 10:59 AM

The problem is you have tapped into a swith loop. There is no neutral int he switch box. You can NOT tap your receptacle from this switch box. You have put the receptacle in series with the lights.

Fox 09-21-2010 03:34 PM

Oberkc: You are correct, sir.

Joed: I think I know what you're saying. I was driving home wondering if that would work. I believe myself a fairly intelligent individual, but my mind simply doesn't render abstract concepts such as wiring. I'm researching serial and parallel circuits.

So...I need to run my outlet's black to the white coming back from the lights, then the white from the outlet back to the white of the line in...? Ok, I think I see that, but that sounds horribly unprofessional. Is there a better/safer/stronger way of doing it? I'm thinking a parallel run from the switchbox, ignoring the switch, going to the outlets, then going back to the switch. It'd be more work, but (if that does actually work) it would mean that if the switch loop were to fail, the outlets would still work.

Is anything I just said correct?

Fox 09-21-2010 04:30 PM

*sigh* Guess not.

I tried wiring to the outlet, then going off that to the light: screws up the outlet when the light is flicked on and the light never comes on. Basically the reverse of switch to outlet I'd had wired.

Tried line black to outlet black, outlet white to black to switch. White from light to white to line. Basically a serial circuit, I think. Really I tried a bunch of stuff and none of it worked. Rather frustrated at the moment and getting irked at the scenario. I'll give it a rest. If anyone can tell me what I can do to get around this (apart from running a new circuit)

Thank you all very much.

oberkc 09-21-2010 04:48 PM

Since you started with two, 14/2 wires in your switch box, I am tending to discount the switchleg theory. Still, I think it possible it would manifest itself with symptons you describe. I would not completely eliminate this from consideration.

At this point, as I understand it, it sounds as if you have done things correct. The only thing that remains unclear to me is whether you confirmed black is hot, white is neutral, copper is ground, and wires go where we think they do.

You have yet to say whether you have actually measured any voltages or resistances. It is easy to confuse supply with load, and it is possible that a previous electrician got the colored wires reversed. It is also possible that our assumptions about each wire are erroneous. If you have not done so, get out your volt meter and start confirming these things. This is really a pretty simple circuit from an electrical standpoint. The only thing that I can conclude is that certain wires are not what they appear.

For tonight, though, have a nice dinner and relax. Deal with it tomorrow. Things will look better in the morning.

Fox 09-21-2010 05:14 PM

Ah, forgot to mention that. I have a line tester that just tells if it's hot. I don't trust that thing anymore. It says everything is hot.

The multimeter gave really strange readings and I'm sure I was doing something wrong. I only got 120 once, and the other times 80 and 70. I don't recall where, I just chalked it up to me doing something wrong.

I wired straight from the switchbox to the outlet itself. Outlet tests OK...but I don't have it in front of me so I can't recall if it can tell me if neutral/hot are reversed. (I think it does)

oberkc 09-21-2010 06:27 PM

Well, then. This sounds like a good place to start tomorrow. Test the lines. Make sure you are getting voltages you should. Black to white should be 120VAC. Black to ground should be 120VAC. White to ground should be 0. If you get something different, then something is wrong.

Let's start here. It is hard to get your outlet correct if you supply is all messed up.

joed 09-21-2010 06:29 PM

The 14/2 from the light to the switch is a switch leg. Power comes down the white wire and goes back to the light on the black under control of the switch. At the fixture the power in black wire will be connected to the white wire going to the switch.
This often confuses the heck out of people because they like to see the colours all matched up.

oberkc 09-21-2010 07:18 PM


The 14/2 from the light to the switch is a switch leg. Power comes down the white wire and goes back to the light on the black under control of the switch.
Fox started off with two 14/2 wires in the switch box. If the wire from the fixture is a switch leg, what is the purpose of the second wire?

joed 09-21-2010 08:01 PM

I figured the second cable goes to the receptacle and was added by him. When he started there was only one cable.

Why is the word POWER convert into a link in the quote?

oberkc 09-21-2010 08:24 PM


I figured the second cable goes to the receptacle and was added by him. When he started there was only one cable.
I thought, too, that this was a possibility, but thought we confirmed that he STARTED with two cables, and added a third to go to the receptacle. This is why I have remaining doubt about this being a switch leg.


Why is the word POWER convert into a link in the quote?
I assume that the web page does this automatically, as a source of revenue. Did you click on it?

joed 09-21-2010 10:19 PM

It links to the home page here

OK I reread all the post. The bottom half of this image is what you need to end up with.

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