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Mike G.
Mike G., Master Electrician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 7246
Experience:  Proven Professional 48 years Experience
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I have a 1970's split level and recently updated the

Customer Question

Hello! I have a 1970's split level and recently updated the switches and receptacles after we purchased this summer. In the living room there's a switch that controls the upper half of 4 out of the 6 outlets in the room. We came home recently and saw that
the circuit had been tripped and all lights/receptacles were out. We flipped the circuit breaker and afterwards all the outlets worked, but instead of the light switch controlling the top half, the switch now does nothing and the top and bottom of the outlets
are both just hot all the time. Any thoughts? I replaced the switch to rule out that as an issue and still no change. Would love any help you can offer.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Hello. Welcome to Just Answer. I think you'll like how simple the remedy for this problem is most likely to be.

Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

On the outlets that are half controlled by the switch, go to each one and break off the little tab between the screws on the gold screw side of the outlets.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
That would be nice if it were that simple. However, I already did that when I installed the updated ones and had them all working fine.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Any other suggestions?
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Thank you for the additional information. I know it's not convenient, but if you could remove the 4 switched outlets from their boxes, while keeping all wires connected to them, and then post photos of each here (showing all wires), that would help me tremendously in answering your question.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Here's a pano of the room. Switch is on left side
1) (as you move to the right (or clockwise) away from the switch) On left of armoire (not switched)2) on R of armoire (not switched)3) behind tan chair (switch controlled on top)4) behind tall bookshelf (switched controlled on top)5) behind long couch (switch controlled on top)6) visible in photo behind love seat (switch controlled on top)
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Thank you for posting the photos. How many wires are in the switch box? Specifically, how is the switch wired? Are there multiple wires at either terminal on the switch?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
See photo below
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Did you at any time have the red wire nut off of the wires, and the wires separated?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
No
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Do either of the unswitched outlets have a red wire on one gold terminal screw, and a black wire on the other gold terminal screw?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
No they don't
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Do the unswitched outlets only have black wires on the gold terminal screws?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I can tell you that the 6th outlet in the room (or the last one as you go clockwise away from switch) has a red wire on top. I pulled this wire off, turned on power and tested if it was constantly hot or switch hot, and it was constantly hot. Don't know if that's helpful
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Does that red wire splice to other red wires in the 6th outlet box? If so, you may somehow have constant hot on reds AND blacks at the switched outlets.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Though one has three wires coming in so two are on the side gold screws and one is coming into the whole on the back
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

I appreciate you posting the photos, especially the closeups. They are very helpful.

Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Have you noticed any black to red splices in any of the outlet boxes?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Here's the 6th outlet. Don't see any splicing as far as i know
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Is one of the reds disconnected in that photo... the one that is close to the white wires?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
No black to red splices at all that I can see
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
That red is going into the hole in the back
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

It sounds like when you replaced the outlets, you made sure the new ones got reconnected exactly as the old ones were, and you broke off the appropriate tabs between screws. Do you mind posting closeup photos of the rest of the outlet boxes? Maybe something obvious will jump out at me.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Like insa
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Which other outlet boxes are you referring to? There are only 6 outlets on the circuit and I sent you photos of them all.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
that's true. I changed the outlets several weeks ago. They all worked perfectly, and then a fuse fuse randomly blows (or trips the circuit) and all the sudden the switch no longer controls anything, but the outlets all work fine (hot all the time on top and bottom)
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

I only got closeups of 2 of them. Unfortunately, with the panoramic photo, I can't see the wires well enough.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Oh sorry! Said they were attached. I'll send again
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
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Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Thank you for your patience and persistence. I'll look them over now.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thanks!
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I do have access to a multimeter....though I'd need some instruction on how to interpret all the readings and such. Just so you know :)
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

That's good. We may need it. I'm opening all photos of outlets in separate tabs, and putting them in order from 1 to 6.

Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

On outlet 3, are both black wires referenced to the same terminal, with red being on the terminal above them?

Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Also, I'm sure you've checked multiple times, but are the tabs broken off between gold screws on ALL outlets that are supposed to respond to the switch?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Num 3
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I'll double check the tabs again
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Thank you, ***** *****

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
The tabs look good
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

On outlet 6, it looks like the black and red wires are very close together. So much so, that the red appears that it could be touching the flat metal plate between the black wire and the plastic body of the side of the outlet.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Num 6
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
That was the red wire that I tested but was continuously hot when it should been switched hot.
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

If you take the red wire off of the switch, do all red wires at the outlets lose power?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Just to clarify....id pull off red wire at switch, turn on power, and then can I just use the multimeter with the red wires still attached to the outlets? Or can I test by inserting into the top outlet?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I tested all the red wires at the screws (wasn't sure how to test the ones going in the holes in the back) and they all looked like they had about 120v coming through. The only thing that doesn't work with that red wire off the switch is another light nearby
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
That other light is controlled by two different switches
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

My apologies for the delay. I had to take a customer phone call. I'll be right back with you.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Ok
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

OK, sorry about that. I wasn't expecting that.

Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

I'm looking over your last few replies now.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
No problem
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

To answer one of the last questions you posted, you can test for power on red wires by touching one probe to the white or ground, and the other probe to the red.

Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

If you try to push the meter probes into the slots on an outlet that is dangling by wire, the outlet will try to move on you, and that gets kind of risky.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Yah, I nderstand that part, but the red wires going into the back don't have any exposed wire.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Makes sense
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Well either way, we know that all four switched outlets still have power, but not the near by light that's controlled by two separate light switches.
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

I'm not sure it will matter that you can't get the meter probe onto the red wires that are poked into the holes on the back, because hopefully, those red wires won't have any power on them anyway. If any that you can touch do turn out to have power when red is removed from the switch, please let me know.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Oh I already tested all red wires on the screws on the outlets.....they were all hot
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Hmm, how strange. At this point, you may have to disconnect all reds, so you can find the one that is live.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Side note: are the red wires that go in the back holes typically the non powered wires that carry power to the next outlet?)
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
power off, pull off all four red wires on the screws and in theory, only one should be live?
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Yes, that's correct. If I were wiring it, I would make black the constantly live half, and the red would control the switched half. I think most electricians would wire it that way.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
both #5 red wire and #6 are live!
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
How is that?
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

That is with them off of the outlets, and not connected to anything?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

And the wall switch is off, or the red wire is disconnected from the wall switch?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Yep!
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Do each of those two boxes (5 and 6) have 2 red wires?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Red is disconnected from wall switch
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

I still have photos of outlets 1 - 6 open in separate tabs. 5 and 6 appear to have two red wires each.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Correct. The second red on each are still connected to the hole on back.
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

What happens if you individually cap the constantly live red wires at outlets 5 and 6, and then put all other wiring back together?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
can you explain that more?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Do you mean for both 5 and 6 pull both reds off the outlet and attach to each other? Then connect the Reds again for the wall and outlet 1-4?
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

You found a constantly live red at outlet 5, and another at outlet 6. Please place a wire nut on the end of each of these wires, to cap them off from touching any other wires. Then, put all other wiring back together, and test operation of the wall switch at switched outlets.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Got it. And do I just leave the second red wires in the back of 5 and 6?
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Yes, exactly.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Will these work to cap the live reds?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Also, I have this, if that's helpful
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Use the yellow wire nuts if you have 2 of them.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
👍🏻
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
tell me again what I'm looking for now when I test the outlets again?
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

See if the top half responds properly to the wall switch.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
We might have progress!
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Outlets 3-5 didn't work on the top at all.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
But outlet 6 was switch controlled!!! Turned off and on with the wall switch
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
What now?
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

I would add the capped red back to the top half of outlet 6 for not. Don't add any other wires back in. Then test operation of other outlets, relative to switch position. I need to step away to take my daughter's friend home. I should be back in about 45 minutes or so. Can I look for your reply then?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
add the cap from 6. Doesn't that just leave the red live from 5 out? Because all others are connectected at this point.
And sure. We can resume again in 45
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Ok. Attached 6 back to screw, left live 5 off.#6- hot with switch off and on#3-5 weren't working with switch off or on.Before that I left the capped red of 6 off
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Are you still there?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
It's been almost two hours and I know there's not a guaranteed response time, but I was really hoping to wrap things up tonight. It's kinda hard having all the outlets exposed with an infant and toddler running around.
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

I apologize for the delay. Unfortunately, at this point I believe we've exhausted any possibilities I can come up with for a cause for the issue. That being the case, I'll opt out of the question, and open it up for other experts to step in.

Expert:  Kevin Hogue replied 1 year ago.

Do you have the line/ load mixed up looks like a GFCI i may be wrong (per your picture)

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
It's a standard outlet
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Jason,Can you give me a summary of what your understanding is so far? And what you're not sure about?
Expert:  Mike G. replied 1 year ago.

Hi, I'm Mike G and I looked at your pictures. The one thing that can lose a connection and usually does are the pushbavk connections. Multiple wires should be connected in a wirenut with a jumper to the screw terminal. By doing it that way you eliminate the cause of most failures and don't have the circuit dependant on device connections. The general appearance of the connection is at best poor. Wires are stripped to long, wires are terminated going the wrong way under the screws,they should be clockwise and the pushbacks have bare wire exposed. Correct the connections and let me know if things work again.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thanks for the suggestion!
Expert:  Mike G. replied 1 year ago.

Very good. Let me know how it goes

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