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A while ago we had some renovations done in our house. After the electrician was done, we realized we now had one light switch in our kitchen that was no longer connected to anything. It is in a 2-gang box. The other switch in that box still is connected to a light in the kitchen. Suffice it to say that this isn't exactly what we wanted, but the electrician is done and won't be coming back.

So, now we have this useless switch and are trying to decide what to do with it. It happens to be above the counter (and it's more than 6 feet from the sink -- if that matters). So, we thought it might make sense to replace the switch with a receptacle, giving us an extra place along the counter where we can plug in small kitchen appliances (toaster, food processor, what have you). My question is, are there any problems with mixing receptacles and light fixtures on the same circuit? Does it make any difference if it is in a kitchen?

I realize that this means that if an appliance plugged into the receptacle trips the breaker, the lights will also go out. I'm personally not concerned about that.

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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

To directly answer your question about the unused switch in your kitchen, you have to check a couple of things before you install a receptacle in it's place:

  1. Is there a source voltage feed in the box?
  2. If there is only one cable entering the box and both the black and white conductors are connected to the switch(es), then the voltage feed is coming through the light fixture. In this configuration, there is no neutral and you cannot install a receptacle.
  3. Technically, if the source wiring is not 12/2wg, AWG and controlled by a 20 amp breaker, it does not meet current code for use with a receptacle.
  4. If you do find that you can install a receptacle, be sure to use a GFCI type.
  5. Determine if the wires on the unused switch are energized and where they go.
  6. If you use the line side (source) wires for your receptacle, be sure to safely terminate the unused switched load side wires in wirenuts.
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Really sorry, I cannot get my paragraph breaks to work. Need help with an edit to put numbered statements in a tabular form. –  shirlock homes Feb 24 '11 at 7:54
    
It just needed a blank line before the list. I went ahead and edited it, and now it's waiting for "peer review". I'm not sure who can/does peer review, but hopefully it will be done soon. –  Dan Moulding Feb 24 '11 at 11:15
    
Approved! didn't know SE did this and I didn't know i could. but it looks good now! –  mohlsen Feb 24 '11 at 12:36
    
thanks, I'll remember that. It's been driving me nuts –  shirlock homes Feb 24 '11 at 13:10
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It is normally fine to mix circuits. Personally when I'm wiring I prefer to avoid it if I can (sometimes the extra wire just isn't worth it though), mostly because you can shut off power to receptacles without losing lights, and it's easier to isolate signals if using smart switches (like Insteon).

In a kitchen however, things are a bit different. I believe to meet current code in most areas you need to have the receptacles on your counter all duplex 20A plugs (though some places still do duplex 15A). Kitchen appliances (toasters, microwaves, blenders, skillets, etc) all tend to be fairly large consumers of power, and so if you run eg. your coffee maker and toaster at the same time from the same circuit, you're likely to blow the breaker.

An option for you if you don't want two switches is just to use a blank face plate (check this question).

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One of my wiring books says not to put lights on the 20A small appliance circuits, so it would probably apply the other way around too. It also says that outlets above a counter-top should be GFCI protected, so if you do find that it's OK to have an outlet there, use a GFCI receptacle because a lighting circuit probably won't already have one. –  Niall C. Feb 24 '11 at 5:39
5  
Actually, the NEC requires two separate 20 amp circuits to supply the convenience receptacles in a kitchen. All receptacles will be GFIC protected except for dedicated circuits to the Refrigerator, dish washer or other dedicated fixed appliances. The wiring device itself is not required to be 20 amp rated, a 15 amp receptacle is fine, as a 20 amp plug cannot be plugged into it. –  shirlock homes Feb 24 '11 at 7:20
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Basic answer to your question of can a mixture of lights and receptacles be installed on a single circuit is yes. Check with local authorities on those limitations but yes it can be done. The groundwork for all AC circuits which are wired in what is known as parallel circuitry.

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In your case it is okay to install a receptacle alongside the switch. However you need a neutral as well as a hot wire which you may not have. Test to see if you have a neutral with a test light or meter. The neutral will be white but some switches are wired up with a white wire that is not a neutral. Also be sure to install a GFCI receptacle, not a conventional duplex receptacle.

Be careful. The kitchen, with all its grounded metal and water, is a good place to get shocked.

This is not a job for an amateur. You would be well advised to call in a qualified electrician. If your electrician is reputable he will fix this for free. If I did this job I would have explained the situation to you and suggested fixes. What this electrician did reeks of an unprofessional and nonchalant attitude.

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