I have a ceiling fan wire set in our home that did not work when we moved in. It was/is exposed and we never saw a working fixture there. There are 3 wires. One black(1), one white(2) and one exposed wire(3) without a sheath. I had assumed that it was hot, neutral and ground respectively. But upon testing both wires 1 & 3 are hot. It goes to a double switch wall plate. There is only one switch for this particular ceiling light (left). The second switch has a white wire daisy chained to the first. The second switch (right) controls 3 things and does work. The closet light in that bedroom, a hallway linen closet just around the corner and a wall power outlet that only works when the second (right switch) is turned on.

Power only registers at the ceiling fan wiring spot when the left wall switch is turned on.

I've tried about every combination i thought safe in connecting the wires of a new ceiling fan/light but no dice. The fan/light has blue, black, white and ground wires. Once i found that two wires coming from the ceiling were hot that it would be one of two things. White to white, blue to one hot and black to the other hot. Or white to white and all hot together(?)

Please forgive my ignorance on the subject, stated above is my basic understanding of home wiring. And there are no other wall switches for these lights.

Any thoughts on what i'm missing? Attached are pics. The ceiling pic shows white wire on the left, unsheathed wire middle and black wire on the right. Ceiling Wires

right side

  • The cable on the left, at the switch location, appears to have its white wire cut off. Is that so? Does the bare wire from that cable go to the ground terminal on the left switch? The switches are not wired right. It appears someone jumpered the two together with a white wire at the top of each switch and is feeding both switches with a white wire from the second cable.
    – ArchonOSX
    Sep 2, 2017 at 22:16
  • Yeah, they had the white wire on the left switch capped off. And yes the bare wire from that cable does go to the terminal ground on the left switch.
    – Mat B
    Sep 2, 2017 at 22:27

2 Answers 2


Yeah, I see what they did now.

First off, they are feeding the right switch from a junction box in the ceiling on the white wire. Then the black wire on the right switch is a switch leg back to the closet, linen, receptacle. So, this all works because the neutral for that is in the junction box in the closet, linen, or receptacle. Wherever it is fed from.

Then they jumpered the hot white wire to the left switch. So, when the left switch is thrown it only energizes the black wire and there is no neutral to the light box. The white wire has been cut off.

The problem here is there is no neutral in the switch box to power the ceiling fan. 😞

The fact that they used three way switches to do this is not a problem since they wired them as single pole switches. They could be easily replaced if you wish but it will not fix your problem.

You would need to get a cable from the feed junction box to the switches that has 3 wires and a ground. So, you would have a hot feed to the both switches, a switched leg to the closet,linen,rec., AND a neutral for the left switch to power the ceiling fan. There are other ways to do this that may be easier but the concept is the same. You need a neutral wire.

Good luck and stay safe!

  • Thank you for your time and insight. With your guys help i was able to see that it is not a simple wiring issue that i was missing. At this point in owning this home i think i can find a couple of electrical problems to fix besides this one. I will be saving up for a bigger job and that will hopefully entice an electrician to be worth their while.
    – Mat B
    Sep 5, 2017 at 13:05

Those are three way switches, (first clue is lack of ON& OFF designations, then the black terminal) wired in as standard two-way switches. That also explains why one switch only works when another is turned on - the switches aren't tied in together correctly.

Are you sure you can't call an electrician? This is a minimum-charge call, but it can get pretty deep for a guy with limited electrical skills.

  • Had a hard time getting out an electrician the last 3 times i've called multiple people. Guess it's too small of a job. I've got one general "home repair" crew out to look at it and they had no clue. But they didn't even look at the wall switch, which was the first clue they knew possibly less than me.
    – Mat B
    Sep 2, 2017 at 22:30
  • Okay, I understand. Give me a few minutes, I think we can get this straight....
    – NPM
    Sep 2, 2017 at 22:33
  • Just got a service call, be back in an hour... In the meantime, we need to find a neutral in that ceiling box. Can you take the ceiling bracket for the fan down and post a pic and report your findings?
    – NPM
    Sep 2, 2017 at 22:35
  • Now that I'm looking, looks like they used the ground as the neutral. Sorry, can't touch that one and still sleep well at night. If you were to wire the fan neutral & ground to the ground wire, the fan would probably work, but you run an arc fault risk, which is an actual fire hazard.
    – NPM
    Sep 2, 2017 at 23:28
  • Typical due to the construction demand of late, and will get dramatically worse as some percentage of them load up their trucks and head to Houston. Might be time for a whole lot of us to learn electrical. Sep 3, 2017 at 19:42

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