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I have four receptacles in my family room that I just replaced. These receptacles used to be half-hot. One of the previous owners converted them to always-hot by removing and capping the wires in the switch box.

The switch is now a part of a 3-way that controls a set of pendant lights. They left the old receptacles in place when they bypassed the switch so with the tab broken off, the only way to make them always-hot was by leaving the switch wire (red in my case) attached to the receptacle. Because the new receptacles still have the tab in place, I no longer needed the (red) switch wire so I capped it and shoved it in the back of the box on each receptacle.

Now that the receptacles are replaced in this room, I’ve moved on to the switches. Although the receptacles are no longer switched, the line started in the switch box so the wires are still there (as expected) but spliced/capped and shoved in the back. Currently, the (red) switch wire is spliced with the receptacles’ (black) hot wire in the switch box since that’s how the old receptacles received power to both top and bottom without the tab in place.

Since I no longer need the (red) switch wire in the switch box anymore, can/should I separate the two and cap them separately? That way I won’t have a live wire capped in the back of the receptacle boxes, as it currently is.

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I would pull the red at the switch and cap it. I usually put some phase tape on a wire like this and note where it goes for future reference. I used to use white and did this for 30+ years but when I move to my current county the inspector did not like the "flags" being white so I now use yellow or orange since I always have them and they are easy to read.

  • Will do. I’m sure there’s no harm in leaving it tied in with the hot wires but then it means the red that’s capped and shoved in the back of each receptacle boxes is a hot all the time without actually serving a purpose currently - no pun intended. I contemplated using scrap cable sheathing as a label just because I have it handy. Will that work? If not, I can get some colored phase tape to label the wire. – butterjellytoast Apr 23 at 13:25
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    Any thing that lets the next person know will be good enough and save time and $ later on. – Ed Beal Apr 24 at 14:08
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Disclaimer - Not an electrician

If I were to do this as a professional job, I would surely verify the switch leg, or red wire in your case, was not supplying/disrupting power to any outlets or lights. Upon verifying, and since you've capped the line off at each outlet's junction box, I would likely cut the wire just long enough to cap it with a wire nut and wrap it in electrical tape.

This should make it clear to you, or future owner, that wire no longer has any purpose. I would also be tempted to go back through each outlet's junction box and repeat the process. You might remember a couple years down the road what you did today, but becomes more of a gamble as the years pass by.

Short of getting into the walls and pulling out that run, that's probably the next safest thing to do.

  • If I cut it off short, that takes away the ability in the future to have them switched again, which especially isn’t appealing since the only light in the room are two eyeball spotlights that shine down on the fireplace. I may want the idea of switch-controlled lamps in the future. – butterjellytoast Apr 23 at 13:32
  • If you feel you may want to invoke that in the future, then keep it as is. It's more of a precautionary measure if you are sure you don't want to use it anymore. As an alternative, tape a label to the line at both ends that says "Unused switch leg" (or something like that) so it's clear what you've done. – brehma Apr 29 at 18:28

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