We're trying to fix some electrical issues done by our house's previous owners and while doing so, somehow we lost the ability to control the top half of our outlets using a light switch. Long story short, this is an older house that has aluminum wiring but the previous owners had connected copper-only outlets, which had started to become corroded so we wanted to switch out everything to CO/ALR switches and outlets.

While switching the switches and outlets, I tried to be intentional about wiring the everything the exact same. When I finally got everything reconnected, every outlet in this room is hot all the time now (compared to the previous "top-only" set up prior to changing). I can't figure out what's different with my set up compared to the previous set up.

Today, it dawned on me that I didn't remove the tab on the bronze side of the outlets so I removed it on two of the outlets (see diagram). These outlets are still fully hot all the time.

Please see the diagram below (sorry it's so poorly drawn). This is how (I think) everything is connected, based on what I can see. The upper left has a single light switch that toggles the patio light on and off. Next to it is a 3-way switch which should turn the top half of the outlets on and off. Notice, I only cut the tabs as indicated in the purple text. The black wiring seems to be connecting each outlet's bottom together and the red seems to be connecting the top. There are white/gray wires connecting the neutral side of each outlet as well.

The empty box must have contained another 3-way switch at one point but it's capped off at this time. The black and white wires are connected together and the red is capped by itself.

Note: This is meant to be a top-down visual of the room's 3 walls, notice the "floor" text indicating where the floor is relative to the switch/outlet.


So my question is, what is wrong with my current set up that is preventing the top-only outlets from working? Do all outlets between both 3-way switches need to have that tab cut in order to work?

Sorry again for the poor illustration, I hope it's a little comprehensible.

---EDIT----- I snipped the tab on the right and left wall outlets and also forgot to include the left wall as part of the 3-way switch scenario. So every outlet is snipped but the bottom wall (I think this was previously left tabbed because one of the old outlets still had their tab)

Here's a link to the photos: https://imgur.com/a/4pZ0NeW

  • 1
    Are you sure there are 2 neutrals between each receptacle? Apr 6, 2019 at 23:41
  • Can you post photos of the inside of the boxes involved? Apr 7, 2019 at 2:18
  • 1
    From your diagram, it looks like you broke the tab on only two of the outlets. You need to make sure to break the tab on all of the outlets. Otherwise, the unbroken ones will backfeed the switched side of the others.
    – DoxyLover
    Apr 7, 2019 at 4:56
  • Ok, that’s exactly what I started to wonder. So every outlet between the two switches need to have broken tabs? We’re pretty certain the outlet at the bottom of the diagram was never controlled by the switch. Would you expect that it would still work normally(top hot receptical) if I broke every tab but that bottom outlet? I can give that a shot and if it still doesn’t work, I can post some photos
    – Josh
    Apr 7, 2019 at 13:59
  • I added some photos. I tried to label them according to the diagram. Let me know if anyone has some ideas. Thanks!
    – Josh
    Apr 7, 2019 at 20:02

1 Answer 1


It looks like that final outlet did actually need its tab removed. The current was flowing through the bottom outlet, then connecting back to the top through that tab and sending the signal back to the source. Thanks everyone!

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