I'm trying to run power from an outlet box to a light and then to a wall switch to control the light. The outlet box is in the attic and I want to go from the outlet to the light and then from the light to a single pole wall switch. What would be the proper way to wire each box?


Many drawings are obsolete. The cable from the lamp to the switch must be 14/3 cable. This is mandatory.

Fortunately, this also makes the colors less confusing.

  • Black = always hot
  • Red = hot when light switch is on
  • White = neutral (current return)
  • Green/bare/anything metal = equipment safety grounding, hook everything to everything else, and I won't mention grounding again.

The switch has 2 (non-ground) screws. You attach a black wire and a red wire. This is logical since the switch decides whether hot (black) is fed to switched-hot (red).

If the switch is a "smart switch" or modern dimmer, it may also need white - if so, the instructions will say. If white is not used today, put a wire-nut cap on it and tape that on (they tend to fall off a single wire).

Now look at the lamp itself. You see it has a black and white wire. That's a little "off color scheme", isn't it? Black means always-hot and that means the light would be on 24x7. That's just how they're made. A red wire (switched-hot) makes more sense, don'tcha think? That way the light would be controlled by the switch. Just remember that weirdness... or spend $4 on a 5-pack of colored electrical tape and mark the wire red.

With that behind us, up in the lamp box, and in the receptacle box, just match similar colors. Black to black etc.

That was easy. Power of color coding and using the right /3 cable.


It's about as basic as it gets.

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Be aware that modern codes often require a neutral at the switch box to accommodate smart switches and dimmers. You should run 14/3 or 12/3 (depending on what's in the circuit now and the breaker size) from the light to the switch.

  • so as I am looking at this I do not tie the whites together and at the light am I tying a white to a black coming form the power source – forrest Dec 7 '18 at 17:50
  • I am using 14/2 – forrest Dec 7 '18 at 17:51
  • please don't post diagrams that are wrong. The 2011 Code is not a suggestion, the neutral wire is mandatory and will also make the color coding simpler for him. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 7 '18 at 19:54
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    @Forrest it is illegal to use /2 for the run from the lamp to the switch. Dont even bother putting it in, you will be forced to rip it out and put it in properly. You need /3 from lamp to switch. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 7 '18 at 19:57
  • @Harper, you're assuming 1) that the OP is subject to US code, and 2) that he's interested in meeting it for this DIY project. Hence my use of the words "often" and "should". If I was adding a simple light circuit for a closet or garage or whatever, I'd follow that diagram. – isherwood Dec 7 '18 at 20:33

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