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This switch currently provides power to the top half of an outlet, through a junction box. I installed some pot lights and want to tie into the circuit, at the junction box. I attach the black feeding the pot lights to the black at the junction box, and the white of the pot lights to the switched power (red) circuit at the junction box but nothing...when I look at the switch, it seems to me the red mixed in the black is strange. Why is that red getting constant power? House built in 90's.

Any thoughts or suggestions? Thanks Jbob

switchj-boxswitch box

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    Two things - this was done by an amateur/homeowner, and electrical tape is not a magic way to join wires. What should be happening and what is happening tend to diverge a little bit with these kind of "hacks". – JPhi1618 Jul 23 at 18:42
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    So at your pot lights you have 'hot' and 'switched-hot', but no neutral ... ? – brhans Jul 23 at 18:42
  • @ JP, Under the electrical tape the two blacks and the red are crimped together. – Jbob Jul 23 at 18:48
  • @brhans-the pot lights have a black, white and ground wire, just like any light I've seen before. I'd like to connect those pot lights to the circuit operated by that switch. – Jbob Jul 23 at 18:51
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To review the color codes:

  • Green, yellow/green, or bare are grounds.
  • white or gray are neutral, but if the wire is in a cable, it can be used as a hot if it is re-marked with paint or tape. Many people forget the marking, but don't do it.
  • every other native wire color can only be used for hot.

Your lamp needs genuine neutral. Attaching it’s white wire to a hot will not work. If it does work, it's because something really weird has happened, like putting it in series with another light. Fix that.

You have a big problem with "box fill"

In the octagon box, I see four /3 cables and two /2 cables terminating there. (The /3 cables are round-ish with twisted wires). That is 4x3 + 2x2 conductors, or 16. All the grounds together are counted as 1 wire. You also need to allocate 1 “wire” for all the cable clamps. That adds up to 18.

#14 wire must be given 2 cubic inches per wire. #12 wire needs 2.25 cubic inches. So I count 36 cubic inches that you need.

A common 1-1/2” deep octagon box is 15.5 cubic inches. A deep octagon box is 21.5. So you need, at the least, one octagon box extension to give you the cubic inches you need. There's no credit for shortening wires, so don't nip off wires to "make room". In fact you need the length to clear the now-taller box.

Likewise the switch box has issues there too. That kind of deep steel 1-gang box is typically 18 cubic inches, or nine #14 wires. A device like a switch or outlet takes 2 “wires", all grounds take 1 and all clamps take 1, so that leaves only 5 actual conductor wires allowable in that box. Fortunately, pigtails are free.

The easiest way to add cubic inches to a switch box is with a Legrand Wiremold "surface conduit starter kit".

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First things first. I am assuming this is US residential 120V AC. Crimp sleeves are not an acceptable method of joining conductors. They should only be used on ground wires. Your junction box is looking pretty full. Does the cover plate fit on that?

Now check how the switched outlet is wired. It will either be hot at the switch or hot at the outlet. Look up basic wiring diagrams to help figure that out.

Advice on what wires to connect where are beyond the scope of this board, but you will need to connect one side of your lights to a neutral or to a switched neutral. Your description sounds like you're connecting both sides to a hot.

Red insulation just indicates a hot side conductor, just like black.

  • Thanks friend, it's all solved. In terms of wiring - you were right and I feel like a dummy. But electrical I have always found is like that, hindsight it always seems simple. Anyways, I removed the crimp sleeves and cleaned up the wires using wire nuts. The j box is full, but the cover does fit on when all the wires are tucked into the box. Not much else I can do about that today. I also modernized the light switch to something with a ground. Thanks again for your response!!! – Jbob Jul 23 at 22:34
  • There are UL486A-B listed crimp/compression sleeves available that work Just Fine for joining current carrying conductors provided they are insulated appropriately (it's no different than a split bolt in that regard) – ThreePhaseEel Jul 23 at 23:01

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