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I have a weird situation with the wiring in a switch box. I am adding a ceiling fan to the room and would like to replace the existing switch which powers an outlet with a double switch. One that powers the half outlet and one that powers the ceiling fan.

The problem is I don't think there is a neutral in the box. There are two Romex 14/2 wires coming into the box. The 2 blacks are nutted together and pigtailed to one screw and the two white wires are joined together to the other screw. I know that this current setup switches on one of the outlets in the room and then electricity passes on to power the outlets in the next room.

I am not able to figure out the wiring that needs to be made to power the fan. Here are the pics of the switch I would like to use. enter image description hereenter image description here

  • Is the existing wiring functional? I am not sure how it could be. – Harper Feb 10 at 1:02
  • Yes, it is. The reason why I am clueless at this point. If I remove the connections at the switch, the continuous outlets in the next room over lose power as well – Ashwin Feb 10 at 1:07
  • Are all of these outlets switched? – ThreePhaseEel Feb 10 at 1:45
  • One in each room is switched. The rest are continuous – Ashwin Feb 10 at 1:58
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You evidently do not have a neutral in the switch box. The white wires attached to the switch are not neutrals but are either line hots or "switched hots" (the latter become hot when the switch is closed). The whites attached to the switch should have been marked with black tape to signify that they are repurposed hots. You can tell if the white are line hot or switched not by whether they are switched or not.

The neutrals for the existing circuit must be at the loads and were not carried into the switch box. (Neutrals are NEVER connected to one side of a switch with a line hot on the other side because when the switch would be closed this would be a dead short.)

In your top pic there is a white and a black going up. Is this new cable you brought in to go to the fan?

If you don't have a neutral in the switch box, then you cannot power a ceiling fan from wires in the box because you must have a neutral as well as a hot to power it. (And the neutral and the hot must be in the same cable.)

What you would have to do is bring in another cable with neutral and hot in the attic into the ceiling box for the fan. The neutral would be connected directly to the neutral lead of the fan. The hot would be connected to one of the wires in the cable you pulled to the switch box. This would give a hot in the box which would be properly paired with a neutral. The other wire in the cable in the switch box would be switched hot. In the ceiling box the switched hot would be connected to the hot fan lead.

EDIT The double switch you show could not be used to switch the fan by the method I describe because it has a common line hot connection. You would need a double switch that has two independent line hot connections.

  • Thank you for the response. Yes, that is new cable I pulled into the box. This makes sense and I will try to pull a wire into the box with a neutral. – Ashwin Feb 10 at 15:03
  • The switch has a split tab behind it. By removing it I should be able to use the switches on separate circuits. – Ashwin Feb 10 at 15:24
  • Where would you get such a neutral? Remember the neutral and the hot must be in the same cable. Wherever you get a neutral from you must also get the hot which is "paired with" that neutral. Is this split tab on the switched hot side or is it on the line hot side. I see only one screw on the line hot side. Is there a back wire hole on the line hot side which can be disconnected to separate the two switches completely? What I see is a switch that takes one line hot and sends out two switched hots on the two switches. – Jim Stewart Feb 10 at 15:35
  • I have installed some recessed lights in the past I a different part of the house and the wiring was not so complicated. I am sure I can find that wire from the panel in the attic and extend it to the fan box. On the switch, yes there are two black screws which can be used completely separate once I remove the tab. – Ashwin Feb 10 at 18:44
  • Jim, I was able to install fans in each of the rooms following your advice as all 3 rooms had similar wiring. Thank you very much for the help. – Ashwin Feb 17 at 22:24
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You've got a couple of issues here.

First, who ever installed that neutral on the switch twisted the wire the wrong way. The wire should always be looped clockwise, or in the same direction you'd turn to tighten the screw. That way, when you go to tighten the screw, the wire is pulled closer, rather than pushed farther away. That is rookie electrical knowledge. That tells me someone who didn't know what they were doing wired this up.

I'm not sure those white neutrals should even be on the outlet but I'm not an electrician so don't take my word for it. However, you also mentioned "continuous outlets in the next room over lose power as well" which you did not describe in your original question but I can only assume is an additional outlet branched off from the outlet in question that loses power whenever the outlet in question does. I'm not sure why that is an issue or what you want to change about that, if anything.

Sounds like you want to wire up the outlet in a split configuration.

If this were my house, I'd call an electrician, hear me out.

I know everyone online tells you to hire an electrician to change a light bulb or you'll burn your house down. That is not what I am saying at all. Normally this type of job is something home-gamers like us can tackle and save a ton of money.

The reason I'd call an electrician is back to my first point. You had a home-gamer that didn't do his homework make changes to your electrical system. Just because everything is fine now doesn't mean there aren't all kinds of abominations hidden in the wall that you cannot see. I would hire the electrician to not only sort out the switch and fan issue, but to inspect the rest of my wiring and make sure who ever worked on that switch before you only made the simply fixable error we can see. Otherwise you may be in for adventure time every time you open up a junction box. Not to mention if you ever want to add home automation to your house a working neutral wire is pretty essential.

Good luck to you regardless. Stay safe and use a non-contact voltage tester.

  • Long winded answer that the only thing I understood to be correct was the wire under the screw (the wrap around the screw was also short of code if it was the correct direction) and are there 2 wires there or is 1 under a back stab? – Ed Beal Feb 10 at 11:25
  • Gee Ed, sorry to waste your time. When writing in a technical fashion you typically will use more descriptive language in order to avoid ambiguity, especially when high voltage is concerned. I never said it wasn't up to code, I said he sounds like he wants to do a split outlet. The neutrals being stacked like that, rather than properly pigtailed are an issue but I'm not sure if cosmetic or code. Don't worry Ed. With the response I got here I won't waste my time here again. You win. – DoctorKlaw Feb 10 at 11:30
  • Actually this is low voltage according to code so get a little thicker skin and give code refrlerences, if you don't know the code don't give advice, neutrals on the screws is code compliant. This is a DYI site for simple problems like this "call an electrician" is not what we are here for. At least I tried to help you by stating you spotted the wire on the wrong side of the screw, but the rest was ? With no references. – Ed Beal Feb 10 at 11:51
  • This is low voltage? No it is not. As for the rest of your comment, thank you for proving my point. You might want to check your spelling before you bless this page with your superior perspective. – DoctorKlaw Feb 28 at 22:24
  • Every outlet or receptacle in your home is considered low voltage, provide code references if you disagree, code has been moving to 1000v volts for several cycles for the high voltage designation so wrong, @jim Stewart has an accepted answer and I agree with it, – Ed Beal Mar 1 at 22:38

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