Hi, we have two wall switches in our house, the functions of which are
a mystery. Everything that seems to need a switch has it and works,
but these two don't seem to be connected to anything. One is a
one-gang in our living room. The other is part of a three-gang in our
I've accounted for exterior lights and floods.
I've tested nearby outlets to see if their split.
Is there an inexpensive way I can trace the wiring from the switch to
see where it goes?
It's all under drywall of course.
If this is fairly modern construction either might go to an outside
receptacle which might be split or totally switched (think XMAS lights). The
switched outlet does not have to be nearby. I was in a home a few years ago
where the lady of the house insisted on having one switch to control all the
front of the house below the windows outlets for XMAS candles. They were
split. Actually I think she had to settle for 2 switches because of the
As for testing, start by making sure that both switches have wire connected
to the terminals and then verify power using a test light from ground or
white to one of the terminals. If there is power in and out of the switch
then it goes somewhere (or did). I mention this because I have a switch in
a 3 gang box that has no wires attached. It is just a place holder. I guess
the sub was short a duplex box that day and used a triple.
First off, just a little personal opinion: If they ain't
broke, don't let them bug you.
OK, now a couple of educated guesses (I'm assuming this is a
newer home, because people just didn't wire for "future use"
up until the last couple of decades, if that long.)
Living room is for a ceiling fixture that doesn't exist?
Or for phantom wall fixtures next to a fireplace? The point
being that if it doesn't work anything you have now, it's
terminated in a hidden box where the builder guessed you might
want a light fixture(s) down the road.
The one in the foyer, following the same logic, would go to a
covered weathertight box outside somewhere high, where you
would possibly want a security light fixture. One other slight
possibility there, maybe you have some outdoor plugs down
closer to ground level that you don't even know are there? If
so, they could very well be switch controlled. Bottom line:
being in the foyer, I'm -definitely- sensing "outside" here.
Good luck, please let us know if you get a solution.
Yes, and if both are 3-way, they may be working in conjunction with each
other on a switched outlet in the living room. If they are both single
pole, then they may be just working separate outlets. If the living room
has two entrances, like one from the foyer, and another to a dining room or
kitchen, then the probability of there being a 3-way system for lighting is
On 11 Aug 2004 13:10:43 -0700, email@example.com (Zeb Kagloonpop)
I had phantom switches in two rooms. Being creatures of habit, we
found ourselves flipping those switches DOZENS of times when we first
We had originally assumed that each of the switches controlled an
outlet, for a lamp. We tried them all, with no luck. One day I looked
up at the ceiling in the MBR when the light was hitting it just right.
I saw what looked like a patched area maybe 5 inches in diameter.
The previous owners of our house apparently didn't like ceiling
About 30 seconds with a masonry hammer exposed an octagonal box. The
wiring was still functional, controlled by the phantom switch. I
installed a cheap "temporary" fixture that I had bought just in case
the experiment was successful. That was about four years ago.
("temporary" is a bit of a joke in my house).
There is a similar "patch" in the foyer. I'll get to that soon. Maybe
I'll put in something "temporary"...
"I have a light switch in my apartment that doesn't do anything. Every so
often I switch it up and down a bunch of times. After a few months I got a
letter from a lady in Germany telling me to quit it..."
- Stephen Wright
Settlement tomorrow - Did walkthrough yesterday. New construction. One goal
of mine was to identify each switch and what it did. There was one "future
use" switch installed for a lamp post in front. It energizes a junction box
in the basement set aside for the lamp post (Or what ever other thing I may
decide to use it for) The electrician even labeled this box for me. Thanks.
If it's a simple switch, is there power coming INTO it? (is one of the
wires "hot"). To test, I'll stick a 3prong orange extension cord in and
bring it along to the outlet. Now I have a know good ground next to me.
Meter goes into ground and then I touch other end to either side of the
switch. Is one of them hot? Good, you know which one to not grab ;).
Toss a bit of electrical tape around it just for kicks and marking.
Okay, at this point, were it me, I'd draw how it's wired to the switch,
pull the switch out and disconnect the wires.
That hot one? We know where it goes, that's fine.
The other two (you hope two), should go to the end of the line.
I'd use my toner and inductive amplifier (too much new, cheap on ebay -
around $40 for the pair).
It's used to trace wires in the ground and walls. I own one because I
run network cables all the time. This lets me know which one of 20 in
my hand is the one in office 15.
In THIS case, I'm going to SHUT OFF THE POWER TO THE HOUSE. I might not
need to. But it doesn't hurt.
First, I'll check the two wires. Is there continuity? (this might mean
the other ends are wired together).
Is it continuous with GROUND? (likely not, as the switch would cause a
short quickly if there's hot to it).
Then I'm going to attach the toner to two of the wires that I hope go to
the destiantion that the switch controls.
The "inductive amplifier" is basically a chunk of metal point that makes
like an antennae and a speaker.
The toner makes a, er, TONE. Actually too. Sounds like a british
police car. Doo DOO doo DOO doo DOO. I take the speaker part and start
to go along the wall from the switch.
In my case, tracing a mystery coax cable from my basement, I found that
the wire went along the floor of the kitchen, under the refrigerator and
into the wall where the intercom is.
For you, it might be part of an old 3-way circuit (I've seen where
people have converted it to "1 way" switch) or to a closed off light
or (worst case) a switch to something with broken wires/shorts.
You can remove the switch, cap and tape off the hot wires (or all wires)
and close over the switch if it's useless. I've got this on a switch
for an outlet which has my stereo/vcr on it (we kept switching it off as
we left the roof. Pure reaction to seeing switch by door.)
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