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Old 08-08-2010, 05:59 PM   #1
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


I live in a house that is about 80 yrs old, so by standard the switch boxes do not have a neutral wire running through them. I am installing a couple of Insteon wall switches that need a neutral wire to operate. My question is pretty simple. When these switches/light fixtures are installed, how are the wires run? I'm assuming that they run the wires up the wall behind the switch, then from the switch up to the ceiling. Or do they literally run the power all the way up to the light, then run 2 more wires to the switch (which seems like more work). I just want to be sure before I spend the money on these switches.

So basically my question is, if I were to remove the gang box from the wall, would I see the neutral wire running up behind it (that way I could tap into it and run a neutral into the box)?

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Old 08-08-2010, 06:02 PM   #2
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


Typically in your situation they would run the feed up to the light and then just a switchloop down to the switchbox. No, you will not find a neutral in the wall behind the switch and even if you did, there wouldn't be enough slack on the cable to splice into it.

What a lot of people do in your situation is connect the neutral of the advanced device to the ground of the switchbox. This practice is why the 2011 code will require a neutral in every box no matter what is installed.

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Old 08-08-2010, 06:06 PM   #3
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


I did read about connecting it to the ground, but is it acceptable to electrical code to do that? If not there is an electrical outlet near the switch so I suppose I could just run a new line with a neutral into the box.
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:13 PM   #4
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


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I did read about connecting it to the ground, but is it acceptable to electrical code to do that?
No, it's not legal. It could put objectionable current on your grounding system.
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If not there is an electrical outlet near the switch so I suppose I could just run a new line with a neutral into the box.
Yes, but the right way to do it is to use that new line to power the light. Disconnect the feed from the light inside of the light box in the ceiling.
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:15 PM   #5
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


I think I see what your saying, not only run a new line to the switch, but let that new line continue all the way up to the light itself, discarding the entire old line?
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:19 PM   #6
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


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I think I see what your saying, not only run a new line to the switch, but let that new line continue all the way up to the light itself, discarding the entire old line?
You would reuse the line going from the switch box to the light box. But up in the light box you would disconnect the line that is currently feeding it.

The reason I suggest to do this is because you don't want current flowing on just one conductor, it could cause metal boxes to heat up. If you brought a new line up to the switch box and only used the neutral and didn't use the hot, it would be against code as far as I know. There are smarter electrician here who could correct me if I am wrong here, but I believe that to be true in this situation.
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:22 PM   #7
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


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Originally Posted by guitarmonster View Post
I think I see what your saying, not only run a new line to the switch, but let that new line continue all the way up to the light itself, discarding the entire old line?
Thats the size of it.
The only way to get a neutral to the switchbox is another wire.
The only way to add another wire legally is with another cable, so you can run a 3 wire cable to the light, and abandon the exsisting cable.
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:26 PM   #8
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


Oh definitely. This wiring is pretty old and in my opinion frightening. So if i'm going to do this i'm just going to run a complete new line and use only the new line to power the light, so I will no longer need the old wiring. So you say I can reuse the wire going from the switch to the light. So let me get this straight. The 2 wires that are going from the switch up to the light itself is the switch loop. I can run a new line to the switch box, which would include the hot, neutral, and ground. I disconnect the old line from the light fixture and cap it off. Then I convert the "switch loop" into the wires that will power the light itself. So now instead of those wires being a switch loop, they are now a neutral and a hot coming from the wall switch?
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:26 PM   #9
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


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Originally Posted by jbfan View Post
Thats the size of it.
The only way to get a neutral to the switchbox is another wire.
The only way to add another wire legally is with another cable, so you can run a 3 wire cable to the light, and abandon the exsisting cable.
Yes, a 3-wire from the light to the switch box would work too. Originally I was thinking about just running a new feed to the switch box from the basement. hmmmm

guitarmonster, is there a basement under this room or attic above?
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:29 PM   #10
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


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Originally Posted by guitarmonster View Post
Oh definitely. This wiring is pretty old and in my opinion frightening. So if i'm going to do this i'm just going to run a complete new line and use only the new line to power the light, so I will no longer need the old wiring. So you say I can reuse the wire going from the switch to the light. So let me get this straight. The 2 wires that are going from the switch up to the light itself is the switch loop. I can run a new line to the switch box, which would include the hot, neutral, and ground. I disconnect the old line from the light fixture and cap it off. Then I convert the "switch loop" into the wires that will power the light itself. So now instead of those wires being a switch loop, they are now a neutral and a hot coming from the wall switch?
Yes, that will work. Or, if you have access from above, you can replace that old 2-wire going from the switch to the light with a 3-wire like jbfan recommended. In that situation you would use the black and red as a switchloop and the white as the neutral that you need for your device.
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:29 PM   #11
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


Yes there is a basement, very accessible. Now another question, based on what you have said, the line currently runs into the box in the ceiling, where the switchloop is connected and ran down to the switch? The reason I ask is when i'm looking in the box in the ceiling, there are only 2 wires in that box total, I don't see a line coming in, then a switchloop going back out.
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:33 PM   #12
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


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Originally Posted by guitarmonster View Post
Yes there is a basement, very accessible. Now another question, based on what you have said, the line currently runs into the box in the ceiling, where the switchloop is connected and ran down to the switch? The reason I ask is when i'm looking in the box in the ceiling, there are only 2 wires in that box total, I don't see a line coming in, then a switchloop going back out.
So you have a white and black wire coming into the light box and a white and black wire coming into the switch box, is that correct?

What is above the room?
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:35 PM   #13
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


Well not exactly. The house is wired with that really old wire, they are both black. The house is over 80 yrs old. When I look in the switch box, I see 2 wires that are going into the box from the top that connect to the switch. In the light box there are just 2 wires connected to the light, that's it and their all black.
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:38 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by guitarmonster View Post
Well not exactly. The house is wired with that really old wire, they are both black. The house is over 80 yrs old. When I look in the switch box, I see 2 wires that are going into the box from the top that connect to the switch. In the light box there are just 2 wires connected to the light, that's it and their all black.
Ok, so I assume there is a junction box somewhere. Is there an attic above this room?
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Old 08-08-2010, 06:42 PM   #15
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Question about neutral wire through wall switch


No there isnt, there is a basement below. However the room does have a suspended ceiling so if I really need to I can cut out drywall since you wont see it anyway.

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