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spam33 07-14-2006 12:03 PM

Tracing a Light Switch to an Outlet

My new apartment has a light switch in the den that (supposably) controls one of the wall outlets. The switch does have wiring, though I haven't checked with a voltmeter to see if they're live. Assuming those are live wires, it there a way to trace the switch to an outlet or a hidden cable? And if I can't trace it, any suggestions on a rewiring method so I can hook up a couple lamps?


KUIPORNG 07-14-2006 12:17 PM

thoughts from a non-licensed person
when you say the switch has no wiring, I suppose you mean the switch has not connect to any wire, but you see some wires/pigtails etc. inside the switch electical box, if you are not sure about that, you can carefully remove the switch cosmetic plate to take a look first, if you do not see any wires inside the electrical box, that means the electrical box/switch is a dummy and you cannot do anything easy / simple, instead, you need to install new wires, with wire fishing here or there...

Assume you do have the wires in the electrical box and there are two or more hot wires(black one) being pigtail together... then you have a chance that the switch is suppose to be used to control a outlet or light... There may be also pigtails of white wires (neutral) or ground wires..etc. but you do not need to touch those...

If above assumption is correct, I would say here is what you can do to test:

- turn off the main switch...
- unpigtail the hot wires
- individually separate all hot wires so that they do not touch each other...
- turn on the main switch...
- use a meter to measure which hot wires do have voltage, and identify it.
- turn off the main switch..
- connect the real hot wire identify above to the switch input and connect the other hot wires to the other end of the switch...
- now you are all set, turn on the main switch and check what the switch is really controlling...

let us know how it goes...

redline 07-14-2006 04:41 PM

"My new apartment has a light switch in the den that (supposably) controls one of the wall outlets. The switch does have wiring, though I haven't checked with a voltmeter to see if they're live. Assuming those are live wires, it there a way to trace the switch to an outlet or a hidden cable?

Turn the light switch to the "off" position.
Take a light and plug it into each outlet (both sides) and the one that does not turn the light on is the "switched" outlet.

spam33 07-14-2006 06:07 PM

Kui****g, there are wires in the electrical box. Just not sure if they're hot. I'll test them either tonight or tomorrow and post my results.

Redline, I've tried every visible outlet, but none of them seem to be wired into the switch. I'm looking for a method to trace this switch to any possible power source. My thoughts are that it could go to a light fixture that was removed and patched up or maybe a floor outlet that was covered when they installed the new carpet.

Sparky Joe 07-14-2006 06:44 PM

A couple things; if the apartment is older and someone upgraded all the receptacles, they probably didn't break the tab on the receptacle to make one half switched.

The other thing is what you just said, there's probably a light box in the ceiling that has been filled in with plaster, why someone would do that, I have no idea.

spam33 07-17-2006 11:25 AM

I checked it out this weekend, and the switch is indeed hot. Now if there was some way I could trace that wiring. Any suggestions?

And Sparky Joe, you may be right about the upgraded receptacles. Could you give me a little more direction (or weblink) of how to locate and break that tab? Thanks.

KUIPORNG 07-17-2006 01:13 PM

wouldn't that be as simple as, shut-off the main power, cut the hot wire if they are not being pigtail, then install a switch, then turn on the main power, then see what is now being turn on/off with the switch???

unless with some other high tech devices..etc. I don't know what else you can do ...

if it end up the switch is controlling something you do not like it to control, you can always remove the switch and pigtailling the wires back...

redline 07-17-2006 04:32 PM

If you need to locate the circuit then a circuit tracer/toner can be used. You will need to call an electrician that has this device. The device is priced from $100-$500.

Another option is to install a remote light switch.

see link below.

joed 07-17-2006 05:17 PM

It's an apartment. In almost all juristictions it not legal for you to work on the electrical. The landlord should call an electrician.

Sparky Joe 07-17-2006 06:27 PM

As far finding the receptacle that needs the tabs broken off, just requires a little work. Start with the receptacle where you think it would most likely be. Open it up and inspect the wiring, there should be 2 hot wires(1 in 1 out) and 2 neutrals, unless this is the last receptacle in the run. If you find a receptacle that has 3 hot wires then thats the one you need to fix.

spam33 07-17-2006 10:43 PM

Ok, I think we're almost there. I checked the outlet closest to the switch and there are 5 cables total.....2 black & 2 white running into the back of the outlet, and one black hooked up to the top screw on the right side of the outlet. So it seems this would be the one that needs to be fixed. Now what do I do?

spam33 07-19-2006 12:36 AM

I pulled the tab to see what would happen, and the switch sort of worked. The bottom plug became an "always hot" outlet, and the top plug turned on and off with the switch. The problem is, now the next three plugs in the run also turn on and off at the switch. I assume this can easily be fixed by adjusting one or two of the wires. Any ideas as to which ones?

Thanks again!!!

KUIPORNG 07-19-2006 09:02 AM

I think there are two hot wires goes to each of your outlet, one of the hot wire is controlled by the switch, one is not, and I believe your upper plugs are currently connected to the hot wire which is controled by the switch, whereas your lower plug is connected to the hot wire which is not controlled by the switch. so I think for those upper plugs you don't want them to be controlled by the switch, you simply need to disconnect the current hot wire connection, cut it and pig tail it and branch out from the lower plug connection... you can do this by cutting small length wires, I suppose...

joed 07-19-2006 10:19 PM

One of the two wires on the top needs to go to the bottom to make the other receptacles not switched. You have a 50/50 chance on the first try to get right.

KUIPORNG 07-20-2006 08:42 AM

Joed approach assume you find the first outlet which controls other downstream outlets... I think... if would be ok if you want to use the switch to control the first outlet only,... I don't think it is that simple if you want the switch to control an outlet which is in the middle of a stream... I wouldn't want to do that myself due to its complexity... and no guarantee...

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