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AssuredElectrical
AssuredElectrical, Master Electrician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 4241
Experience:  Contractor-42+ Years in the ElectricalTrade
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We have a 1970's split level that we just purchased in July.

Customer Question

Hello!
We have a 1970's split level that we just purchased in July. We wanted to update the outlets/switches in our living room and a few weeks ago we replaced them all without problem. In our living room we have 1 switch that controls a light/fan (this works fine), and a second switch that controls the top half of the living room outlets. This switch has all the sudden stopped controlling the outlets and for no apparent reason. All the outlets in the living room still work (top and bottom), but the switch no longer controls them. Help please!
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Welcome. My name is ***** ***** would be glad to assist..

Thanks for the details on the situation.

How many total receptacles used to have half of them switched?

If you could please go to the closest receptacle to the switch that used to have the top half switched, pull it away from the wall box, leave it wired, and then see which color wires are connected on the top and bottom of the receptacle

Leave the receptacle out of the box as we will be working with it again after posting of needed information

Let me know the results and we can continue,

Thanks

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Hi Tommy!There are a total of 6 outlets that had half of them switch controlled
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Ok, thanks for the picture.

The one thing I cannot tell with the picture, is whether the switched wire is on the correct position, because they are all black in color.

Many times, the electrician will use a 3 wire that has a red and the red will allow distinction..

If you put the wires exactly back on the top and bottom side, they should be ok.

But if they are crossed, then the remedy will work still, but we may have to determine which 2 blacks actually go together on the bottom or top.

See the picture below, you need to remove the brass tab that joins the top and bottom BRASS screws only. Do not touch the silver screw side

It will snap right off with a couple twists with pliers.

That is how you switch the top or bottom and keep the other half powered, the wires alone then control power, where the tab in place will connect power to both top and bottom all the time.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Correction: there are six outlets total in the room. But as you go clock wise from the switch around the room outlets number 1, 3, and 6 our switch controlled! And number 1 (the one you told me to access) I just removed the brass tab hoping that would remedy the problem. It did not though.
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

OK, as I posted before, if the wires are crossed up, the remedy will still work except we have to determine which wires go together

They apparently were not installed as they were prior to the change

Remove the 2 wires on the side screws, leave the one wire plugged into the rear, then turn on power and see if the top half is hot or if it is switched hot

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
to clarify....the switch was controlling the outlets without problem after I updated them and just recently the switch stopped working. Would it have controlled them at all if the wires were crossed?
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

It is not possible for the switch to control any of them with the brass tab in place. One or the other would not have worked.

Electrically not possible with the tab in place.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
What is the difference between "hot" and "switched hot"?
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Hot is a constant power to one side so it always has power. Switched hot is the one controlled by the switches wire back to the receptacle and only powers when the switch is on

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Got it!
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Looks like the top wire is hot and the bottom one wasn't hot at all! Didn't change at all when I switched the switch off and on
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Ok,

Is that with the one wire connected or all of them, need details with the information

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
That's just for the one outlet you have me working on.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
there's still one black going into the back (didn't check that one), the top exposed black wire is hot, bottom one is not at all.
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Ok,

I asked for the wires on the side screws to be removed, leaving the wire plugged into the rear, then to see if the top half of the receptacle was powered all the time or if it was switched?

either one or none?

We must go in a direct order to get this straightened out.

So, I am assuming the answer is None?

You now have one wire that is hot all the time from the side screws?

The other one from the side screw is hot or working with the switch?

Full details are needed with any question to move to the next step

Thanks

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Ok. The regarding the wire going into the back....when testing the top outlet with neither of the black side wires attached, a light plugged in does not turn on at all.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Top side screw black wire is hot all the time.Bottom side screw black wire is NOT hot at all.
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Ok,

So I am assuming again, the other wire disconnected doesnt even work with the switch?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Bottom side screw one that's black? Correct.
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Ok, thanks.

1. Is this the closest receptacle to the switch?

2. Remove the cover plate for the switch and see what color wires are connected to the switch?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
if I'm understanding this....then we have no switch controlled power coming in to this outlet (number 1).I plan to replace the outlet now with a new outlet that doesn't have the tab broken off (back to how the outlet was before our chat).And then go to outlet number 3 (the first outlet in the circuit that was/had been switch controlled) and double check the connections and trouble shoot if we have a wire that is switch hot.Do you have a photo/diagram of what an outlet wiring should look like that it switch controlled on top?
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

I would not change the receptacle if that receptacle was switched prior to changing receptacles. it will again put power on all wires and we have to start over once again.

How about the switch wires? Colors? It means a lot in this situation.

Here is one way on how switched receptacles are wired. There are others as well depending on where the power originates for the switch

See the below:

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
The number 1 outlet was not previously switched.I had thought it was, but then recalled in our conversation that it wasn't actually. So I mistakenly was not working in the closest switch controlled outlet from the switch. My apologies for the confusion and wasting both of our time!I checked the colors of the switch wiring and it is wired with red wiring. Good to know.I actually need to stop now and tend to some kiddos. Is there a way to resume our conversation and trouble shooting at a later time? Or do unjust ask a new question and get whoever happens to be available.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Unjust = I just
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

You can back here at anytime to continue, it stays in the database for accessing pretty much forever, they do not delete anything.

Bookmark the page or when you sign in, there should be a link for "My Questions" where this will be listed.

I will post a switched receptacle setup with the 3 wire cables, it may help for sure now.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Great! Thank you
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

No problem. Will await the findings. Thanks

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Alright....so now I'm working in the closest switch controlled outlet.Here's what I'm looking at.1) Is this the correct wiring?Again, the outlets were working great (with switch controlling half and bottom half hot all the time), and then recently, with no apparent cause, the outlets are hot (both top and bottom) all the time. We flip the switch and nothing turns off/on.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Alright, I pulled off the red wire that was connected to the top right screw....turned power on, and then tested voltage with switch on and off. There was no difference. It was continuously hot. Does this mean our problem prob lies with the switch itself?
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Ok, thanks.

The receptacle looks good, red on top and blacks on the bottom and the brass tab is broken off.

Since the red is hot all the time, it looks like the switch contacts are stuck inside.

Will have to change switches.

Just pull the red wire off the switch and that should kill the power to the top and then you know for certain the switch is bad.

That just makes sure another receptacle doesnt have a wire loose and touching the black wire somewhere.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Here is what I'm looking at with the switch.What's my next step for troubleshooting this all?
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Just pull the red wire off the switch and that should kill the power to the top and then you know for certain the switch is bad.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Can you break down my next steps a little more?Step 1) Kill power and pull off red off the switch screw.And then what exactly?
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Turn off power

Put the red wire back on the receptacle

Turn on power and test to see the top half is still always hot

If it is, then turn off power again

Go to the switch and remove the red wire

turn on power

test the top side of the receptacle

If it is dead, change the switch out for a new one

If it is still hot with the red off the switch, will have to start removing the opther receptacles to see which one is crossing the power over to the red, one may have gotten loose and touching the screw below it.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I guess a bad switch would be to easy! 😆I pulled red wire off switch and the top receptical is still working beauitfully....hot as ever.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
now I'm looking for any loose red wires in the other outlets? One that maybe is touching the lower screw?
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Ok,

Somehow there is a wire that came loose and is touching the bottom screw on the receptacle or the brass bridge wasnt completely removed and is making contact with the top screw

That is the only way for the red wires to get hot all time being disconnected from the switch.

Will have to begin removing them from the wall, one at a time and checking.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Got it. And when you say checking....I'm just doing a visual inspection of the wires and brass bridge?
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Yes, pull them out of the box and inspect them out of the box.

Do not put them back in the boxes until the problem is resolved

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Alright....I pulled out all six recepticals in the living room and they all looked fine. Nothing touching other wires or brass tabs touching any wires.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Would pictures of the outlets be helpful?
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Dont think pictures are necessary if you looked them over, not much else I could see if only red on one brass screw and blacks on the other with no brass tabs present on any of them

It makes no sense at all at this stage.

How are you testing for voltage with the wires off? Not a pen light tester I hope, they are of no value for troubleshooting, they misread all the time.

Only way for testing is 2 lead voltage tester or plug a lamp in the receptacle.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I've been using a lamp when possible and then a two lead voltage tester
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Ok,

Will need a multimeter to go further.

Will have to remove all the red wires off the receptacles and switch.

Then use continuity to see where they are touching a black wire somewhere, maybe the cable has shorted out, even though that is a 1 in 10000 chance.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Can you tell me more about how to use the multimeter to check the continuity? What mode on the multimeter? Which color lead to which parts, etc? How to interpret the readings I get?
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Lets check something first since you have a 2 lead voltage tester and that will help narrow down which direction the power is coming from maybe.

Remove the red wires on all receptacles and the switch.

Then use a piece of paper to make notes.

Call them in some order. Recept #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6

Then the switch.

Now, at each receptacle and the switch. use one lead to the ground wire and one lead to each red wire, one at a time, making notes of the voltage found on every red wire.

We should end up with only one red that is hot at one receptacle and the switch red hot maybe.

Lets see where that takes us first.

All receptacles have 2 red wires except one, correct?

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