We have a half a dozen X-10 type wall switches controlling CF bulbs. CF
bulbs require special X-10 type switches that need both a hot and a neutral
input. In all but one case the switch box has the neutral wire, but in one
case it does not. That switch controls a track light system with five
lights. Currently, I have a regular X-10 switch in that box and use one or
two incandescent bulbs out of the five and it works fine. Still I would
like to run all five bulbs as CF, so I need the special switch. The switch
box is grounded (BX cable) but has not neutral. In this special case that
requires very little current for very short periods, can I safely connect
the neutral terminal on a switch to the ground? As an analogy, lighted
switches use the ground as the "return" circuit, but the current demand,
while longer term is very low.
You sound like you know it is not code/legal, but you want someone to
give you permission to do it.
There are many short-cuts that non-professional electricians can take
to save money, materials, make something work when they don't have the
right part, or it involves extra work.
It's similar to putting a switch in the neutral of a light circuit.
Sure, it will work for you, but when the next homeowner or electrican
comes to change the light fixture, they may assume that the wiring is
legal and code compliant. Thus they get zapped and or fall off a
A very bad idea! Not legal and not electrically safe. I'm thinking this
switch is on the far side of a light switch, so the black comes to the
switch and the white is used as a black to go back to the light fixture.
If so, you need to pull a 3-conductor line to provide the neutral.
Don't even THINK about using the ground as a current-carrier.
"Take sides! Always take sides! You may sometimes be wrong - but the man
who refuses to take sides must *always* be wrong! Heaven save us from
It is true it is not code and not recommended to use the ground as a neutral
in order to allow the electronics in an X-10 switch to operate. While the
code does not allow such uses of the ground in a switch, it conveniently
allows the ground to be used as a neutral in older wiring of clothes dryers,
where one touches the metal chassis and handles wet clothes next to a washer
full of water. A serious contradiction in safety and usage of the ground
Wrong!. Lighted switches DO NOT use the grounding conductor as the return
path. Some use the neutral and others get a tiny current flow through the
load just like some of the X-10 switches. Unfortunately the standard X-10
switches cannot complete the circuit through the compact fluorescents hence
the need for a neutral.
The sign on my office wall reads, "There is no right way to do the wrong
It is NOT code compliant to use the ground for a return on lighted
switches, even though some hacks do so. If the circuit had a GFCI
breaker feeding it, that breaker might even trip on the switch bulb
current flowing to ground, but maybe not, depending on how bright a
pilot lamp the switch uses.
Thank you. That what I'll do. It was from c.h.a that I learned the trick of
using one incandescent in parallel with the four CF bulbs to allow me to use
a standard (no neutral required) X-10 switch. While most people here
recommended against it, no one explained how it is different from the use of
a ground as part of the power circuit for the lamp in a lighted switch which
does not even have a neutral terminal. I trust that someone in c.h.a will
know if this is a good analogy or not.
The ground is NOT to be used as a current carrying conductor. You should
NOT be using the ground for your lighted switches. I explained in my
previous response how a lighted switch works. By connecting to the ground
you are putting current on your entire grounding system including your
copper plumbing. So while you are standing in a shower those faucets that
you turn the water on with could be live.
First, I don't believe you that lighted switches use ground as the
neutral return for the pilot light. All of the lighted switches I've
seen do not have a neutral connection at all, and the internal pilot
light is simply wired in parallel with the switch contacts. When the
switch is open, the pilot lamp is in series with the load. The lamp
current is so low that effectively full line voltage appears across the
pilot lamp with nothing across the load.
Regular X10 switches almost certainly use the same trick of using the
controlled lamp as a "neutral" when they are in off mode. This may not
work with a CFL lamp, since it may have a high impedance instead of a
low impedance with only a few volts applied. The special X10 switch
has a real neutral connection so it doesn't need to rely on current flow
through the load. And it probably puts current into the neutral
*continuously*, not just "for very short periods".
Can you just arrange to have *one* incandescent lamp controlled by this
switch, in addition to the CFLs? Even a very low-wattage incandescent
should provide enough load for a normal two-wire switch to work.
X10 also has a "feature" that can be really annoying with some loads
(including some fluorescents), where the load causes the switch to
turn itself back on a few seconds after you turn it off. This can also
be corrected by adding a small incandescent light to the load.
Have you seen any 120V incandescents smaller than 5W? You can use
small (C7) holiday lights in night light fixtures and they use 5W. A
string of those lights will cost a lot less than an equivalent number
of "night light" bulbs.
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