I'm hoping that someone wiser than I in matters electrical will offer some
I live in an old co-op apartment. There's a single light fixture over the
bathroom mirror/medicine chest. It has an electric outlet as part of the
fixture. The wall switch is really old, and only has 2 wires.
Here's the thing. I just got a new electric toothbrush. I'd like to
wallmount it and keep it plugged in. That socket is useless for this at the
moment though, since when the light is turned off, the socket is off as
What I'd really like to do is replace the switch with a combination switch
and electric outlet, preferably a GFI. Is this possible to do with only 2
wires in the wall? I don't have access to rewiring everything. It's my
impression that such an installation would result in just another wall
socket which will go off when the switch is turned off. Is there a switch
will can control the lamp and yet maintain current to the outlet with only 2
I was looking at this one:
but I don't fully understand the wiring alternatives here.
If what I'm hoping for is not possible, does anyone have other suggestions?
Perhaps a different light fixture/electric outlet combo, with its own switch
for the light?
In advance, thanks for your help. The toothbrush is important to me, as
it's part of a gum disease care program, and as it is now I have to keep it
plugged in elsewhere, then transport the whole thing (it's big, has a
waterpik like thing too) into the bathroom for use.
2 wires connected at the switch. Red and black. There's a second red wire
connected to a screw in the back of the switch's box; I'm assuming that's
I haven't opened the fixture, since it's been painted to the wall several
times it'll be quite a project. If it's important though, I will.
Jim Thompson wrote:
Hmmmm! Sounds like a 3-way switch. Is there another switch location
which controls the fixture?
To get the fixture loose run a penknife around the edge until you cut
thru the paint.
If you're in luck power will have been brought directly to the fixture
*then* to the switch. (Which, IIRC, is code?)
| James E.Thompson, P.E. | mens |
| Analog Innovations, Inc. | et |
Nope, there's no other switch. It's a tiny bathroom.
If I open the fixture, what exactly am I looking for in order to make the
determination of whether power goes to the fixture and then the switch? Or
is that even relevant if it's not a 3 way switch installation?
Jim Thompson wrote:
You engineers are weird. "If you're in luck power will have been brought
directly to the fixture*then* to the switch. (Which, IIRC, is code?)"
Actually, he's *si+ outta luck. IF he was truly lucky, power would have been
brought directly to the switch *first*, then continued on in a 2-wire (with
ground) cable to the light. That way, future conversion would have been simpler
- the feed, neutral, and switchleg would all be exactly where they're needed.
Why, if I may ask, would you think it advantageous, if not code (It isn't BTW,
codes are written for a safe and usuable electrical system, not future add-ons
or expansions) to have power at the fixture first? That almost always results
in the switch having only the feed and switchleg, and no neutral. Now
impossible to have a receptacle at the switch location. Sounds like this
building is very old.
AT any rate, back to the OP's issue...
First, it's very odd to have 2 reds and a black wire within 1 cable. 2 wire
cable (with ground, or the sheath if the cable is BX armored) is always black &
white, with a bare copper ground wire, (or the sheath if the cable is BX
armored) You should only find red in a 3-wire cable - black, white & red, and a
bare copper ground.(Or the sheath if the cable is BX armored)
Are you absolutely certian there's no white wire in the switch box?
I'm hoping that is the case, or at least somehow this cable's insulation has
faded or somehow become distinctly different over time. It has happened, as
much of the "blue" cloth-insulated 500KcMil in Rockerfeller center has turned
green. (Really scares the pants off the apprentices)
The issue I'd have with that solution is that those snap-in fixture outlets
were never meant to handle modern loads such as 1500w - 1800-w hair dryers.
They're almost always connected to #18 awg. fixture leads.
Another issue is it wouldn't be GFCI protected, and is not only in the
bathroom, but directly over the sink. I can just picture this old bathroom with
what is most likely a pedestal stink, and this on- 24/7 monstrosity of an
appliance falling into the sink or toilet.
At any rate, the multiple layers of paint issue aside - it's not too bad a fix
if the medicine chest is recessed, with the light either incorperated in it or
directly above it. Usually, removing the cabinet exposes the entire wall
cavity, and a new cable and proper GFCI outlet, on full time, can be installed
without the need for any patchwork afterwards.
It's not recessed, the medicine chest. It's stuck on the wall. Again, I do
NOT have access to the wiring other than at the points where they actually
exit the wall, at the switch and at the fixture. The light fixture is above
the medicine chest, but removing the chest will reveal nothing. It's just
attached to the wall.
No I'm not colorblind, no I'm not stupid. This wiring has not been touched
since this building was first put up in 1950. So no, it's not up to current
codes, standards, etc.
Sorry but I'm just trying to be clear. I really was just asking a question,
and so far I've seen curses tossed towards each other, suggestions that have
nothing to do with my original post, etc.
Thanks for the help.
HA HA Budys Here wrote:
The problem is, this is not enough to run the power outlet which is also
in the same box. All the switch does is connect and disconnect the two
wires connected to separate terminals on the body of the switch. When the
switch is closed, power goes through the switch to the light, which
already has a neutral wire permanently connected to it. So the wiring
live (red?) from elec panel to switch---wire (black?) from switch to
light---neutral wire back to panel
(or something like that). So when the switch is closed, the circuit is
completed and the light goes on.
But the electrical outlet will not function without a neutral wire AT THE
OUTLET to complete the circuit. There must be another wire, and I don't
If there is a neutral wire, you can easily rewire so the power to the
outlet bypasses the switch and is always on. Just detemrine whether the
red wire or the black wire is live irrespective of the switch, and
connect a wire from it straight to the outlet.
If there is no neutral, either some fundamental natural laws are being
violated, or maybe the ground is being used as neutral, which is a bad
thing to do.
Sounds like the power is at the fixture. Black sends power to the switch
and red is the switch leg which carries power back to the light when the
switch is on. The neutral remains at the the light fixture. Most likely
there isn't a neutral at the switch. If there is conduit connecting the
switch and the fixture a neutral could be ran to the switch to install the
GFCI receptical/ switch combo.
Thanks, but I can't open the wall to run another wire. All I see is a thick
cable running into the switch box.. out of that comes the 3 wires. Nothing
really I can do to run a new wire between the fixture and the switch.
Marlow & Jenny Yoder wrote:
Let's try this again. You asked what you thought was a simple question, but
what you described as the wire colors in the box is so non-standard (and was
non-standard in 1950) that people are having difficulty understand what is
actually in the box your switch is in. What is important here is that if
there is no neutral wire in that box (a distinct possibility) there is NO
WAY you can put an outlet there without a rewiring job which would add that
neutral wire, which you say you are not prepared to do.
"Sparky" < email@example.com> wrote in message
On Mon, 10 Nov 2003 16:08:13 GMT, "Marilyn and Bob"
I used to keep several rolls of vinyl tape... red, black, white and
green... to "re-color-code" hack wiring jobs that I couldn't
extract/replace from walls.
Disconnect everything, ohm out or use a tracer, then "color-code" and
re-connect as needed.
Fortunately I'm now in a new house that I watched them wire and
everything is Kosher.
| James E.Thompson, P.E. | mens |
| Analog Innovations, Inc. | et |
I still haven't gotten around to taking off the lighting fixture itself. If
necessary, I'll try to get to it tomorrow while there's still adequate
I opened the switch again though. Here's what I see, and the colors are a
bit different than I thought at first.
There's a black cable coming into the box. As far as I can see into it
(till it vanishes into the wall) there are 3 wires emerging from that cable.
One is black, and one is sorta burnt orange. There are the 2 which are
connected to the switch. The third wire is red (for sure), and it's
attached with a screw to the back of the box itself, not to the switch.
I took pictures, but not posting here because this is not a binaries group.
If anyone would like to see them, and of course I'd appreciate the help,
please let me know and I'll send out a couple of small (but detailed) jpegs.
Marilyn and Bob wrote:
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