I am replacing an outlet that is half switched, but both the whites are connected on the opposite side of the black and red. The white wires have the tab still intact. So I'm confused as to what the purpose of leaving the tab in place is. TIA


Here's the thing about the tab.

Each side of the receptacle has two possible modes.

  • If you remove the tab, you isolate that side (hot or neutral) of the upper and lower socket. Now you have separate control of the two sockets, but, you must connect a separate wire to each half.
  • If you keep the tab, both upper and lower sockets are connected. There are still two screws, but they are connected. You can supply both sockets from 1 wire on that side. Or, you can use the two screws as a splice block: Attach two wires, those two wires are connected to each other and also to both sockets on that side. It is a very handy way to continue power onward to the next socket.

You can only use one mode, and when you snap the tab off, you're committed! And with tab broken off, each screw can take only one wire (except for some Leviton and other brands whose $3 commercial tier sockets allow 2 wires under every screw.). Never put one wire on a screw and another on the backstab.

The splicing method isn't required, you can accomplish the same thing by adding a short pigtail to one receptacle screw and joining it to the other two wires with a wire nut. In fact, in some conditions, the splicing method is forbidden and you have to use a pigtail. For instance, the "must pigtail" rule applies to all grounds.

I myself use the pigtail method almost 100%, because I am usually working on ladder/knees/cramped location in a stress position, and wire nutting 3 groups of wires together is much faster than putting 5 wires onto screws.

  • I agree MWBC have to pigtail , and pigtails are best. But if on the same circuit I don't break the neutral tab, just the hot side. – Ed Beal Nov 29 '18 at 14:41
  • Where are you buying $3 commercial grade outlets??? I'm paying $3 for the residential ones!!! /off-topic – FreeMan Nov 29 '18 at 17:36
  • @FreeMan sounds like you are buying the right things. I find there are 60 cent builder grade sockets with backstabs, and up-quality units for $3, which is the tier that starts including Leviton's "screw to clamp" feature that allows 2 wires under each screw. I note they will cheerfully take $10 off you for exotica like sky blue sockets, NEMA 6-20 or a red socket with a green dot on it. I have not yet discovered any advantage to those, other than the 6-20 of course. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 29 '18 at 18:00
  • @Harper you mean I don't need a red socket to match my red wire? Can I quote you on that - my wife likes to match her colors... :) – FreeMan Nov 29 '18 at 18:30

They're using the receptacle as a jumper -- replacing this with a pigtail would be best

The previous installer terminated the two neutral wires in the box onto a neutral screw apiece and relied on that tab being there to carry the neutral through. This isn't great because removing the receptacle breaks neutral, which is a nuisance on a regular circuit but a serious hazard on a multi-wire branch circuit. I would recommend putting the two existing wire ends in a wire nut with a short length of white wire of matching gauge (white 12AWG THHN will do if you can't find anything else) and then connecting the other end of that white wire to a silver neutral screw on the new receptacle. This is called pigtailing, and is how receptacles are generally intended to be installed.

  • I threw out the outlet I replaced. So how do I know if I should remove the tab on the white/neutral side? As I said it has black/red/ground and TWO whites connected. Tab on the red/black side is already removed. Current setup matches the outlet I haven't done yet, but I don't know if this is correct. Thank you for your answers. – ComicCaper Nov 29 '18 at 13:47
  • @ComicCaper -- can you post photos looking into the back of the outlet and switch boxes? – ThreePhaseEel Nov 29 '18 at 23:40
  • Yup will do tonight. Going to find out if on the same circuit too. – ComicCaper Nov 30 '18 at 15:26

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