I was going to add an outlet to a switched 1 outlet circuit thinking it would be pretty straight forward to run a wire from the switch box to a new outlet. The switch in question is a simple 2-way.

After cutting drywall for the new box, I examined the switch box I was going to connect to and was surprised I could not find any neutral wires (vintage 2013 house- PA). Apparently power is supplied at the outlets and fixtures and only the black loop wires come back to the switches. Not code as I understand it!!

Not a white wire to be found.. no wire nut bundles in the back - no whites to the other switches (3-ways by the way). So am I screwed and have to find a way to run wire to some other place to get my neutral?

I am going to get ahold of the electrician who gave me the idea as I am beyond my understanding zone and either have him tell me what I am missing or have him do it

In the meantime - for my own sanity because I've wasted a good Sunday afternoon, can explain the logic of this method or some concept I am missing or a how-to? The other switches are all 3-ways have 4 wires coming in: 1 red, 2 black and ground. I see no way to use any of those to help me.

Otherwise my only other idea, probably not kosher at all, is to remove the switch and reconfigure the (now) switched outlet to feed power back to the switch-box where I would tie into it for the new outlet.

whole switchbox 2 Whole Switchbox

  • Can you get us a bigger photo of the inside of the box? – ThreePhaseEel Mar 19 '17 at 19:50
  • Are there neutrals at the other switch locations for these 3-ways? – ThreePhaseEel Mar 19 '17 at 22:26
  • Thanks. I replaced that picture with a another, hopefully better. Seems I am limited with newbie abilities to what I can post until I rack up some points. :) – Jim Harrison Mar 19 '17 at 22:27
  • Can you get us a photo with all four switches removed from the box? – ThreePhaseEel Mar 19 '17 at 22:30
  • There are some at one other switch location, tied together - they don't appear to be connected to any switches And there are two at the outlet that is controlled by the switch I had planned to tap into -in that box the black wires are tied together. – Jim Harrison Mar 19 '17 at 22:37

3-way switching, switch loops, 404.2(C), and you

NEC 404.2(C) is where the requirement for neutrals at switch boxes lives (quoted from the 2014 NEC):

(C) Switches Controlling Lighting Loads. The grounded circuit conductor for the controlled lighting circuit shall be provided at the location where switches control lighting loads that are supplied by a grounded general-purpose branch circuit for other than the following:

(1) Where conductors enter the box enclosing the switch through a raceway, provided that the raceway is large enough for all contained conductors, including a grounded conductor

(2) Where the box enclosing the switch is accessible for the installation of an additional or replacement cable without removing finish materials

(3) Where snap switches with integral enclosures comply with 300.15(E)

(4) Where a switch does not serve a habitable room or bathroom

(5) Where multiple switch locations control the same lighting load such that the entire floor area of the room or space is visible from the single or combined switch locations

(6) Where lighting in the area is controlled by automatic means

(7) Where a switch controls a receptacle load

Informational Note: The provision for a (future) grounded conductor is to complete a circuit path for electronic lighting control devices.

In particular, point 5 above is what applies to your situation. Unfortunately, the normative text of that section wasn't a model of clarity, and this section was reworked in 2017 to try to fix that.

So, you'll need to talk to your electrical inspector. My interpretation of the 2014 text is that you need a neutral at at least one location in a multi-way switching system, but not at every location in said multi-way switching system -- there is room for reasonable people to disagree here though.

  • Note that I don't have the 2017 text handy, so if someone can answer re: just what the CMP in question did to the text, I'd appreciate it! – ThreePhaseEel Mar 19 '17 at 23:06
  • So in other words, it meets the requirements as the other box does contain neutrals. Doesn't help me though since it's on the wrong wall. Guess I'll wait till I nab my electrician tomorrow, hopefully. Thanks for taking a look. – Jim Harrison Mar 19 '17 at 23:56
  • "grounded conductor" means neutral in the bizarre language of the NEC. Neutral isn't actually grounded, it's just near ground. – Harper Mar 20 '17 at 7:20

To answer the logic behind what you see the method evolves around what exactly the switch is doing.

The short-short answer is it is basically making and breaking a series circuit pathway, not a parallel circuit.

Alternating man made electricity technically uses what is called combination circuits, which is both parallel and series, throughout the overall system. However, you will always see a parallel connection at every light bulb, every motor, and at every outlet receptacle, but not normally at switches except smart switches, and electronic/magnetic rheostats.

  • Just to close out the topic - A neighbor volunteered to take a look and he happens to be a master electrician. He spent two hours here, not only fixing my situation, but giving me a great short course in house wiring in the real world as well as giving my main box a safety check and snug up on all the connections. A lot of it is still hard for me to wrap my brain around, but I know enough when to call in someone who knows what they're doing. Thank you all for the advice. – Jim Harrison Apr 25 '17 at 4:05

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