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Outlets and light switches

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Bob Reynolds

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That last picture tells a story.

This appears to have been an unfinished basement that was finished. The outlet in the ceiling was most likely the "pre-wire" installed at the time of construction for use in the future when the basement was finished off. The size of the box is the clue to this. Also to pass inspection in 1978, it probably needed to be an outlet rather than a closed plated off pigtail circuit. Inspectors often will not allow stray circuits and would require the electrician to completely remove the wire if it were not an outlet.

When the basement was finished, the light switch was installed (most likely improperly) that switches all of the outlets off. At the time the basement was finished, the outlets in the ceiling should have been removed and the wires for the additional outlets (in the room) should have been run from that box. The box then should have been plated off.

You can easily fix this and use the outlet box to run wires for additional outlets in this room. There should be at least on on each wall. An electrician can do this for you. If you want to run the wires (for the outlets and light) and have the electrician actually hook them up, that would save you some money and insure they are hooked up properly. You can use 12 (20 amp breaker) or 14 gauge (15 amp breaker) wire and have up to 12 outlets on one circuit.
 

Flyover

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That is fascinating, and great information. Thanks @Bob Reynolds !

Regarding your reconstruction of the life of the house, that's really interesting. This room is on the lower level of a split, about halfway below grade. Standing in it, the ground outside comes about to chest height. The rest of the rooms on this level are finished with "real" ceilings. But in the basement, one more half-floor down, there are exposed joists and a few have those similar outlets screwed to them.

When you say there should be at least one outlet on each wall, do you mean to conform to code or something? It's a really small room, maybe 6' x 8', and I can get by with just the one outlet. One more on the other side of the room would be nice; one on each wall feels like it'd be overkill.

I've only removed two ceiling tiles so far, both near the center of the room. When I remove the rest I will be able to determine which wall will be the easiest to drop a cable down. Electrical is what I'm least experienced in so let me recap the steps I'd follow to take your advice, so you can tell me if I understood it wrong:

1. Cut a hole in the wall (next to a stud) where I want my outlet.
2. Drop 12 or 14 gauge wire (depending on the amperage of the circuit in that room, which I will determine by looking at my breaker box) down the appropriate stud bay until the end is visible through the hole I cut. Make sure the wire is long enough to reach the box in the ceiling, with at least a few extra feet just in case.
3. Hook an outlet up to the wire and install it in the wall.
4. Call an electrician to hook up the other end of the wire to the box in the ceiling.

And that will make all the outlets stay on regardless of the light switch position?
 
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Bob Reynolds

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That is fascinating, and great information. Thanks @Bob Reynolds !

Regarding your reconstruction of the life of the house, that's really interesting. This room is on the lower level of a split, about halfway below grade. Standing in it, the ground outside comes about to chest height. The rest of the rooms on this level are finished with "real" ceilings. But in the basement, one more half-floor down, there are exposed joists and a few have those similar outlets screwed to them.

When you say there should be at least one outlet on each wall, do you mean to conform to code or something? It's a really small room, maybe 6' x 8', and I can get by with just the one outlet. One more on the other side of the room would be nice; one on each wall feels like it'd be overkill.

I've only removed two ceiling tiles so far, both near the center of the room. When I remove the rest I will be able to determine which wall will be the easiest to drop a cable down. Electrical is what I'm least experienced in so let me recap the steps I'd follow to take your advice, so you can tell me if I understood it wrong:

1. Cut a hole in the wall (next to a stud) where I want my outlet.
2. Drop 12 or 14 gauge wire (depending on the amperage of the circuit in that room, which I will determine by looking at my breaker box) down the appropriate stud bay until the end is visible through the hole I cut. Make sure the wire is long enough to reach the box in the ceiling, with at least a few extra feet just in case.
3. Hook an outlet up to the wire and install it in the wall.
4. Call an electrician to hook up the other end of the wire to the box in the ceiling.

And that will make all the outlets stay on regardless of the light switch position?
That is almost it. The electrician will need to modify the wiring connected to the switch in order for the outlets to stay on all the time. It's not a big deal--it just has to be done.

As far as the outlets on each wall, that is pretty much code. If I go into a modern house and do not see an outlet on each wall, I pretty much figure someone has not done a professional job on the remodel.
 

Flyover

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I might add two more outlets, but that still feels like overkill in a room the size of a walk-in closet. (Lo and behold, I am indeed not a professional!)

But thanks for that advice. So, I would do the right thing by following those steps? Yeah, I would let the electrician know that I want the outlets always "on", and presumably he'd know what to do regarding the wiring at the switch.
 

JoeD

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The box you show does not have a cable from the panel. You say the switch only has one cable, so that is not the power source. You need to identify where the power source is.
 

Flyover

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@JoeD I see three cables attached to the box, each one on its own side of the box. One of the cables definitely goes to the overhead light -- I can see its whole length. One of the cables goes in the direction of the outlet, and the third goes in the direction of the switch. What am I missing?
 

Flyover

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@JoeD Sorry I just realized what you said. I have not pulled the light switch out of the wall yet to see if there is one or two cables there. I will take a crack at that today.
 

bud16415

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Just as a side note. It my differ from area to area but around here if you call out a professional electrician and you have done some of the work in advance and are just asking them to finish the connections they may not be willing to do that.

I would suggest talking to one first and tell them the plan and see if they will work that way. Chances are the cost will be about the same both ways if they do agree.
 

ctviggen

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So, you turn on the switch, and the 4 outlets (in the box you show) and other outlets and light turns on?

Or are the 4 outlets (in the box you show) on regardless of the position of the switch?

If the 4 outlets are on all the time, you can use their power to power the other outlets. (Here, I'm using the term "outlet" to mean one of the locations you plug something into. So, a duplex receptacle would have two outlets.)
 

Flyover

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So, you turn on the switch, and the 4 outlets (in the box you show) and other outlets and light turns on?
That one. If I turn off the switch, the 4 outlets in the box, and the other outlets (duplex) in the wall, and the light, all turn off.
 
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ctviggen

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Well, that sucks. Who thought that was a good idea?

Basically, there should be a black (hot) wire and a white wire (neutral) along with a ground that run from the switch to that box with the 4 outlets. Another set of wires go to the box with the switch. The hots go to the switch and the neutrals are connected in the box with the switch. When you switch the switch on, it connects the two hots together, sending power to the box with the 4 outlets, and from there to the other outlet and light.

You have a number of options, but if you're not familiar with wiring, it might be easier to pay someone.

As one option, you could use 12/3 (or 14/3) wire and replace the wire coming from the switch to the box. The black wire would be switched, but you'd connect the red wire to the hot inside the box with the switch (before the switch), and use this to power the three sets of outlets. They would then have power all the time. There are many other options (including removing that box -- why have that in the ceiling?), but these will take more wiring or time.
 

Flyover

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I actually really like having the box in the ceiling. It's a cool industrial feel and the ceilings are just low enough that if I go up on my tip toes I could plug things in.
 
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Flyover

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Took out 4 more drop ceiling tiles. Who in their right mind would want to cover up all this cool conduit and ducting and joists?? Some people's aesthetic preferences I will never understand.

1221201447-00.jpg

BTW see those three joists all close together near the bottom of the photo? The one closest to the camera is the 16 OC. Then there's a 1.5" gap and then two more joists sistered together. The furthest one isn't square up and down, either. I wonder what's up with that...?

But anyway, that's off topic. Back to the light switch!
 

Flyover

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UPDATE: had an electrician over today fixing some more urgent things we knew about from our inspection, and he offered to fix this issue while he was here for just the cost of labor (<$50). I consider it a great deal. Everything now works fine. He even moved the light switch for me.
 
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