Changing Switched Outlet to Constant Power

Discussion in 'Electrical and Wiring' started by MattinCA, Dec 2, 2019.

Help Support House Repair Talk by donating:

  1. Dec 2, 2019 #1

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    Member

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2019
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Los Angeles County
    I have an original switched outlet in my 1950s house. No ground, just wired with black and white wires in a sort of paper sheath. In the switch box the neutral into the box providing the power and the neutral from the box going to the outlet are connected with a wire nut and the hot wires are connected to the switch.

    I want the outlet to have power all the time by eliminating the switch. Can I just take the hot wires off the switch and connect them together with a wire nut like the neutrals are and leave them in the box with the disconnected switch?
     
  2. Dec 2, 2019 #2

    pjones

    pjones

    pjones

    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2018
    Messages:
    205
    Likes Received:
    72
    Location:
    Vancouver Canada BC
    That would work. You may want to go one step further and put a blank cover over the switch box so you don’t have an inactive switch on the wall.

    While you have the power off at the circuit breaker you should consider installing a GFCI outlet to provide protection since you don’t have a ground wire. If you have multiple outlets off that circuit then you will need to find the first outlet in the circuit, the one that first sees the incoming power. If there are too many outlets on that circuit to fall within spec then installing a GFCI circuit breaker would also work. Since that is requiring work inside the panel on a live part of the circuit then it’s best to have an electrician preform that task. If they come out to do one you may as well have them do all ungrounded circuits.
     
  3. Dec 2, 2019 #3

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    Member

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2019
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Los Angeles County
    Thanks. I have a larger overall plan but am taking my questions one at a time for clarity (mine). I intend to install a GFCI on the most upstream outlet on this and the other ungrounded circuits in the house.

    Step 2. Now I have an unused, disconnected switch in the wall. I want to install a new ceiling fixture and use the switch to control it. I have attic access and power in the attic from an attic light fixture (15a circuit with 2 LED lights on it drawing less than an amp).

    I think I just need to sort of mimic the former outlet wiring, with one cable bringing power from the attic light j-box down to the unused switch, and one cable running back up from the switch into the attic and to the new ceiling fixture, with the hots attached to the switch and the neutrals connected to each other with a wire nut. Is that about right?
     
  4. Dec 2, 2019 #4

    Jeff Handy

    Jeff Handy

    Jeff Handy

    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2019
    Messages:
    103
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Illinois
    Yes. That sounds correct.
     
  5. Dec 2, 2019 #5

    Jeff Handy

    Jeff Handy

    Jeff Handy

    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2019
    Messages:
    103
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Illinois
    Be careful with handling or disconnecting neutral wires.

    Sometimes a neutral wire can serve more than one circuit.

    So you might have the breaker or fuse off to the circuit you are working on, but the neutral can still be active through another circuit that is still live.

    In that case, if you take the neutral wires apart, you can fry the appliance or fixture that was still using that neutral.

    Or you can get a shock.

    If you have any shared neutrals, it is best to turn main power off during any wiring changes.

    Or at least try to identify the other circuit that shares that neutral, and power it off also.
     
  6. Dec 2, 2019 #6

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    Member

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2019
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Los Angeles County
    [QUOTE="Jeff Handy, post: 248055, member: 56050"
    If you have any shared neutrals, it is best to turn main power off during any wiring changes. Or at least try to identify the other circuit that shares that neutral, and power it off also.[/QUOTE]

    I have no idea if there are shared neutrals. I did spend a scintillating 2 hours mapping out what was on each circuit the hard way, but how would I know if any of my neutrals are shared?
     
  7. Dec 3, 2019 #7

    bud16415

    bud16415

    bud16415

    Fixer Upper Staff Member Admin Moderator

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2013
    Messages:
    5,256
    Likes Received:
    1,853
    Location:
    Erie, PA
    I have no idea if there are shared neutrals. I did spend a scintillating 2 hours mapping out what was on each circuit the hard way, but how would I know if any of my neutrals are shared?[/QUOTE]
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Your house power arrives as 240v. Two 120v wires and a neutral. Voltage between the two 120v supplies will measure 240v. Roughly half your homes 120v circuits are supplied by one side of the power and the other half the other side.


    You don’t know that the attic light is on the same side as the wall plug you have switched now. So you could have the potential for 240v being present in the switch box plus you could also have two hots in that box on different fuses/breakers. This will lead to confusion down the road when someone else works on this.


    Seeing as how you have to run a wire down the wall anyway it would be much better to forget about the attic light and pick up power you already have in the switch box using a short black pigtail wire joined in the same wire nut as the one that is bypassing the switched outlet. Run that pigtail to the switch and the other side of the switch to the new ceiling light. The white wires will all be joined together.
     
  8. Dec 3, 2019 #8

    mabloodhound

    mabloodhound

    mabloodhound

    Restoration & Renovations

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2008
    Messages:
    275
    Likes Received:
    76
    Yup, do it like Bud suggested
     
  9. Dec 3, 2019 #9

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    Member

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2019
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Los Angeles County
    1) Let me get one question out of the way first: Am I correct that any dangers or potential shocks or appliance frying from possible shared neutrals will be eliminated if I turn off power to all circuits before separating any neutrals?

    [QUOTE="bud16415, post: 248065, member: 30479"
    Seeing as how you have to run a wire down the wall anyway it would be much better to forget about the attic light and pick up power you already have in the switch box using a short black pigtail wire joined in the same wire nut as the one that is bypassing the switched outlet. Run that pigtail to the switch and the other side of the switch to the new ceiling light. The white wires will all be joined together.[/QUOTE]

    2) The main reason I wanted to use the attic light circuit is because the outlet's 15a circuit is already the most heavily loaded in the house (about 11-12 amps of stuff on it depending on what is plugged in) and the attic light 15a circuit just has a bathroom fan and the attic lights (less than 2 amps total). If the only worry about using the attic light circuit is the possibility of a shared neutral problem, and I can eliminate that by powering all circuits down before doing any work, does it make sense to use the less-loaded attic light circuit (or is there any reason not to)?
     
  10. Dec 3, 2019 #10

    bud16415

    bud16415

    bud16415

    Fixer Upper Staff Member Admin Moderator

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2013
    Messages:
    5,256
    Likes Received:
    1,853
    Location:
    Erie, PA
    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    I don’t know if code allows two different sources in the same Jbox or not. I’m pretty sure it’s not a good idea to share a neutral between two different sources (fuse/breaker). I’m pretty sure that is not allowed by code. We will have some pros come along and straighten us out on that. @hornetd


    Having 11-12 amps potentially on a 15 amp circuit isn’t a problem as in most cases everything won’t be used at once. Each outlet has two plug places so if you were to add all them up you would overload any breaker. In new construction this is less of a problem as modern panels have many different circuits. Your house built in the 1950s likely had a 60amp fuse setup with 4 (15amp) fuses across the bottom of the box. Back in 1950 people felt that was a lot of power, but today’s standards it’s nothing. It might be time to do a major project and bring it more up to date starting with the panel.
     
  11. Dec 3, 2019 #11

    Jeff Handy

    Jeff Handy

    Jeff Handy

    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2019
    Messages:
    103
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Illinois
    If you turn off all the power in the breaker box or fuse box, you will have no danger or problems taking apart the neutrals.

    It’s a good idea to turn off and unplug sensitive devices like computers or tv’s and other electronics, before turning main power off and on.
    Also appliances with a key pad, like a kitchen microwave or oven.
    Unplug what you can, or turn off their breaker or pull their fuse after powering them off.
     
  12. Dec 3, 2019 #12

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    Member

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2019
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Los Angeles County
    I hadn't thought about the issue of 2 different sources in the switch box. I know ideally, I would find where the outlet is getting its power and just run new cable directly from that source to the outlet so it would bypass the switch box. Or I could put the cable from the outlet into a second empty box with a plain face next to the switch.

    Or maybe just take the path of least resistance (no pun intended) and use the power already in the box and not worry about the total amperage. Starting to think that makes the most sense.

    The panel says 100a; it has four 15a breakers and four 20a breakers.
     
    bud16415 likes this.
  13. Dec 3, 2019 #13

    Jeff Handy

    Jeff Handy

    Jeff Handy

    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2019
    Messages:
    103
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Illinois
    Having more than one circuit present in a junction box is common.
    One might be powering a switch or receptacle on that box, and others are just running through it on their way to somewhere else.

    Sometimes, a duplex outlet can even have different breakers powering each side.

    Or, more commonly, two duplex outlets are on a box together, but each is powered by its own breaker.
     
  14. Dec 3, 2019 #14

    bud16415

    bud16415

    bud16415

    Fixer Upper Staff Member Admin Moderator

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2013
    Messages:
    5,256
    Likes Received:
    1,853
    Location:
    Erie, PA

    What you are describing is a (multi wire branch circuit) I believe and there are special rules for that.


     
  15. Dec 3, 2019 #15

    Jeff Handy

    Jeff Handy

    Jeff Handy

    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2019
    Messages:
    103
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Illinois
    Don’t know if he has shared neutrals, I just wanted to make him aware they could be there.

    In fact, with cable type of wiring, what looks like a neutral or hot could be the opposite.

    But in that case, there should be colored electrical tape wrapped around the wire end, to alert you that it is being used for another purpose other than what the actual wire color would indicate.
     
  16. Dec 5, 2019 #16

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    Member

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2019
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Los Angeles County
    Thanks to everybody for the great info. Follow-up questions:

    1) Since all new light fixtures come with ground wires and my 1950s house is not grounded (all the wiring I've seen is just a black and a white), when I install the new light(s) do I just connect hot to hot and neutral to neutral and ignore the fixture's ground wire? Or something else?

    2) Since the house is not grounded I would like to put a GFCI at the most upstream outlet on each circuit but some circuits have no outlets on them at all, and on others, there might be only one outlet (along with a bunch of ceiling lights) and most of the lights are upstream from that outlet.

    I might have a fundamental misunderstanding of the GFCI-most-upstream issue. I figured (in an ungrounded system) it was best to have a GFCI as the first (most upstream) thing on ANY circuit, to give some protection to that circuit, even if that circuit doesn't already have an outlet on it. Is that right, or is it only necessary to have the most upstream OUTLET be a GFCI regardless of how many other things are upstream from it? And if I should have a GFCI as the most upstream thing on EVERY ungrounded circuit--even those without any outlets on them--how is that done? Do you just add gratuitous, unnecessary outlets upstream of the lights?
     
  17. Dec 5, 2019 #17

    bud16415

    bud16415

    bud16415

    Fixer Upper Staff Member Admin Moderator

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2013
    Messages:
    5,256
    Likes Received:
    1,853
    Location:
    Erie, PA

    I would just leave the green ground wire unconnected in the light fixture.


    As to getting GFCI protection on an entire circuit you can depending on what brand breakers your panel takes, buy GFCI breakers. Here are some examples.


    https://www.amazon.com/Siemens-QF120A-Ground-Circuit-Interrupter/dp/B01H04XXQQ/ref=sr_1_1?gclid=CjwKCAiA8qLvBRAbEiwAE_ZzPUv3jKK1RJbvpKhihsllAH_j7G4Kd933QUHoRy8gvyOSpLo80DNlwBoCRTcQAvD_BwE&hvadid=241917339759&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9006390&hvnetw=g&hvpos=1t1&hvqmt=e&hvrand=13050843515806634994&hvtargid=aud-840076997981%3Akwd-76777800&hydadcr=24663_10400926&keywords=gfci+breaker&qid=1575559699&sr=8-1


    Doing this will protect the whole circuit.


    In my unfinished basement whoever wired it mounted a GFCI outlet right below the main panel and then ran the basement lighting off the load side of that. That would be another method I guess to put the outlet at the head of the stream.
     
  18. Dec 5, 2019 #18

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    MattinCA

    Member

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2019
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Los Angeles County
    Well that makes sense. That's probably why I didn't think of it! I must say, sometimes I wonder if I am being paranoid, the house has been here for 63 years and I have been here for the last 26 and we have not really had any problems. I will put switching my breakers to GFCI on the list but not as an urgent need. Thanks. You guys have been great.
     
    bud16415 likes this.
  19. Dec 5, 2019 #19

    Fireguy5674

    Fireguy5674

    Fireguy5674

    Junior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2012
    Messages:
    256
    Likes Received:
    56
    Location:
    Central Illinois
    I am kind of late coming along here, but why not set a junction box in the attic above the switch, run power from the attic source to the junction box, drop a switch leg to the switch box downstairs and then run a wire to your new light location from the junction box? Leave the existing wires in the back of the switch box downstairs. No mixing of circuits etc.
    Just my two cents worth.
     
  20. Dec 5, 2019 #20

    Fireguy5674

    Fireguy5674

    Fireguy5674

    Junior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2012
    Messages:
    256
    Likes Received:
    56
    Location:
    Central Illinois
    I am kind of late coming along here, but why not set a junction box in the attic above the switch, run power from the attic source to the junction box, drop a switch leg to the switch box downstairs and then run a wire to your new light location from the junction box? Leave the existing wires in the back of the switch box downstairs. No mixing of circuits etc.
    Just my two cents worth.
     

Share This Page