Questions About Switches

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There are several topics on this page. Be sure to scroll down to find the question you're looking for.

When I removed the switch plate in my bathroom (one switch for the light, another switch for the fan) I noticed a white wire in the box that wasn’t attached to either switch, but instead was capped off and wrapped with black tape. This seemed unusual to me, but everything has worked properly for years. Is there a scenario where the white wire isn't needed and thus would be capped off?

When installed properly, there shouldn't be an unused wire. However, if the fan and light are part of the same unit, then that might be why it was done. Ideally, in that scenario the fixture would be wired with a 3-conductor cable (black, white and red) where the neutral wire (white) is shared. The original electrician may not have had 3-conductor cable, so he used two 2-conductor cables instead. I would say that if it's been working all along, you can probably leave it alone.

I have a pull chain ceiling light in my bedroom. I would like to have a wall switch instead of a pull chain to turn the light on and off. How can I do this?

This type of project requires adding something called a switch loop to the ceiling light. This entails running a piece of 12/2 or 14/2 Romex™ wire from the ceiling light to the location where you want to install a switch. You must make sure that you match the wire gauge to the size of the wire in the ceiling light junction box. Installing the switch in a finished wall will require a little experience with snaking wire. This will minimize damage to the finished wall surfaces that may need to be patched later. If there is an unfinished attic above the ceiling, then this usually makes the job much easier! Otherwise, you might need the assistance of a licensed electrician to complete this project.


What you will be creating with the 2-conductor wire run to the proposed switch location is something called a switch loop. Simply put, this is nothing more than a way to remotely break the ‘hot’ wire connection at the ceiling light location. While I could spend two paragraphs explaining how it works, I find that a picture usually works much better. Here’s a really good illustration of how a switch loop is wired:

diagram of a switch loop

Note that black tape is added to the ends of the white wire in the switch loop. That is done to re-identify the wire so it is not mistaken as a neutral conductor in this application. 
To complete this project, you’ll need:
- the appropriate amount of wire (12 or 14 gauge, depending on what is installed at the light);
- a single-pole switch and a switch cover;
- a one-gang old work box for the wall switch;
- about 3 or 4 wire connectors.
These items should be readily available at any hardware store or home improvement center.

Lastly, keep in mind the following tips:
1. TURN OFF ALL POWER to the circuit you’ll be working on before starting. You want to light up the ceiling light – not yourself!
2. Follow all applicable electrical wiring codes, including the version of the Code that is in force where you live.
3.  Beware… many municipalities require that you obtain a building permit before adding any circuit extensions in your home. Check with your building dept. before starting.
4.  Many municipalities will allow homeowners to tackle small electrical jobs such as this, but only in their own home. If you are working in a commercial building or a multi-family house (even if you own the house), then you’ll most likely need to hire a licensed electrician to complete this task for you.

I’m trying to wire a 3 way switch. The power comes in at the light and then goes to the switch and then another switch. Do you have a diagram?

Wiring a three way switch can be confusing as there are several different ways to do them. I've attached an illustration that I hope will help.


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Licensed electricians serving Orange county, Sullivan county, and Ulster county in New York
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