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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Anchorage, Alaska
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    8

    Default Switch-activated outlet

    I recently bought a home that was built in 1982. Every outlet in the entire house, except the GFI outlets, is completely worn out. I am resurfacing the walls and replacing the worn out outlets as I go. This has gone just fine until I reached the living room. In the living room, there are 3 outlets that appear to be on the same circuit. I believe 2 are wired as regular outlets but the center one I believe is wired to a light switch.

    Is there a way I can test the outlets and not damage the wall? I have a tester like my home inspector used and it indicates the outlets are correctly wired.

    Also, is there a special kind of outlet required for wiring in this case?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Denver, CO
    Posts
    666

    Default Re: Switch-activated outlet

    Sure just plug the tester in the top of one, go flip the switch and see if the test lights go on or off. Do this with both the top and bottom of each duplex.

    Nope, no special receptacle required for a switched receptacle. just be sure to have some needle nose pliers available when you get to that part and we can walk you through it.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Posts
    8

    Default Re: Switch-activated outlet

    I did as you recommended. I plugged the tester into each individual outlet and turned the switch on and off. When I plugged the tester in, the 2 yellow lights came on, indicating the receptacle was correctly wired. The lights did not change when I switched the light on and off.

    I have begun tearing down the wall separating the living room from the kitchen and took a second look at the wiring in that wall. All of the wiring comes in from the ceiling except for 1 receptacle, which comes in from the bottom I now believe this receptacle is the 4th in the living room series. I also realized, while testing, that I have only replaced 2 of the 4 outlets in the living room. This should narrow the possibilities to only 2 suspect outlets.

    I have needle-nose pliers at the ready! What next?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Denver, CO
    Posts
    666

    Default Re: Switch-activated outlet

    HHmmmm..............

    Question first:

    Are you saying you did or did not find one of, or at least half of one of the receptacles to be controled by the wall switch? meaning the test lights would go off or unlit when you flipped the switch to off?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Posts
    8

    Default Re: Switch-activated outlet

    I checked all 8 individual outlets and none of them appeared to be operated by the light switch. I plugged the tester in and the 2 yellow lights came on and stayed on, no matter which position the light switch was in.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Posts
    980

    Default Re: Switch-activated outlet

    here is a silly question. do you have an exterior door out of that room? If you do it would probally be to the outlet closest to that door>

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Posts
    61

    Default Re: Switch-activated outlet

    switch might be for an outside light or part of a 3-way switch loop for a light fixture on the ceiling or a wall sconce that might have been removed?

    will your tester indicate an open neutral? switch might be mis-wired to open the neutral.

    where is this switch? is there power to the switch? is there a fire place in the room?

    any "extra" wires in any of the other outlet boxes?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Posts
    8

    Default Re: Switch-activated outlet

    OK, lets see if I can answer everyone at once and hopefully narrow this down.
    Yes, there is an exterior door in the room. There is also a switch to operate the exterior lights. The only 3-way switch in the house is in the dining room.

    There are only 2 exterior outlets: one by the back door and one at the other end of the house primarily used for the car's block heater. Neither of these are controlled by any switch.

    I doubt anything has been removed. I am the 3rd owner of the house. The original owners idea of patching a hole in the wall was to stuff it full of newspaper and pack in joint compound. When the doorbell went bad, they cut the wire and shoved the outside doorbell into the hole and cover it over with a new -- not connected -- switch. There are no patches in any walls save the one I mentioned where the front door handle went through the wall, which is not on the same wall as the light switch.

    Yes, my tester will detect an open neutral, open ground, open hot, reversed hot/ground and reversed hot/neutral. It did not detect any of these errors.

    No, there is no fireplace, air conditioner or other device like that in the entire house.

    There are 2 switches by the front door; one for the outside lights and the mystery switch.

    Yes, the outlet closest to the door, as I recall, has several wires and I remember hooking at least one wire to each connection point. This is why I suspect this is the one. I also thought I remembered being frustrated that I had my computer plugged into that one and accidentally turned it off when I flipped that switch. When I replaced this outlet, I carefully disconnected the wires and bent them so I would remember where they went -- up and to the right, down and to the left, and so on -- and I immediately wired in the new outlet so there was no chance to mix any wires up.

    I have not tested the switch itself in any way.

    Whew! I think I got them all in there!

    Now, here's a twist: I ran into my neighbor this morning and asked her what that switch activates in her house, which is the mirror image of mine (they are what we call Zero lot lines and share a common wall). She said she spent months trying to figure out what that switch went to and never could figure it out. I honestly do not believe this switch is a "dummy" switch, but I'm now beginning to wonder!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Denver, CO
    Posts
    666

    Default Re: Switch-activated outlet

    Bingo!

    At least I think so.......... And you get to use those needle nose pliers!

    If you have a spare receptacle or even the one in the wall that you describe as maybe being the switched one........

    You have a silver screw side and a brass colored screw side. Between the screws, into which they are threaded into the little plates you will see a little tab of metal on the face side that is bent out at about 30 or 45 degrees. If you grab it with your needle nose and bend it back and forth a few times it will snap off.

    You ONLY want to do this on the brass colored side NOT the silver side.

    Since it is not removed now it is leaving both sides hot no matter how you switch the switch.

    Betcha this fixes it........... If not you will need to replace it or install a jumper..................

    Tell ya what. If I'm wrong You can have a new receptacle on me.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Posts
    8

    Default Re: Switch-activated outlet

    I removed the outlet and broke out the tab, making sure the tab was COMPLETELY removed. Still no change. I suspect I may have done something else wrong, so here's how the outlet is wired:

    Left (silver) side top: White(1 wire)
    Left side bottom: White (1 wire)
    Right (brass) side top: Red (2 wires)
    Right side bottom: Black (2 wires)

    Tab between right top and bottom broken.

    More suggestions?

    I know simply bending the wires out of the way is not the best solution when rewiring, especially if there is a chance you could be interrupted. However, I live alone and the circuit breaker controls the ENTIRE living room, so there was no way I was going to be interrupted while doing the installation. Unfortunately, this error may have ultimately been my downfall. Lesson learned with more than just a LITTLE embarrassment.

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