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I have two switches in my kitchen for the ceiling fan. One red, white, black and ground wire. It was replaced with a receptacle but the fan and other lights on that circuit only work when you plug something into the outlet and turn it on.... What gives

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    Replaced with a duplex receptacle, so now you have a plug where the switches used to be? Sounds like you've wired an outlet onto a "switch loop". Any idea how the two switches were wired? – JPhi1618 Dec 17 '19 at 20:28
  • Yeah, you now have two devices in series. This is improper and potentially dangerous, as you effectively lower the voltage available to each device, which in turn raises current flow. Current is what makes things hot and smoky. – isherwood Dec 17 '19 at 22:31
  • Is replacing the cable to the box an option? Can you post photos of the inside of the box for the ceiling fan? – ThreePhaseEel Dec 18 '19 at 0:18
  • I will take a look at the other switch today and snap a few pictures. The one switch only had one run of 12/3 in it. – Andrew Mack Dec 18 '19 at 11:41
  • @jphi1618 post that as an answer. + – Ed Beal Dec 18 '19 at 14:39
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Fire your electrician

That is such a fundamentally dumb "do not know what's going on here" mistake that it took some serious hubris to intentionally do this without knowing (or caring) how things work. This person is a danger to self and others.

Keep in mind that electrical is a world where blindly attempting combinations is dangerous. There are many combinations which will appear on the surface to work, but will kill you.

Look closer at the existing circuit and wiring

From here we need to look closer at what the switches are controlling - fan and light specifically. We need to see which wires might be in the back of the switch box, and how they are grouped. And we might need to make some design compromises, or fish additional wires into the walls. Your next step is to post some photos of the wiring in the switch box, and if there's only one cable in there, the fan box as well. Don't disturb how wires are interconnected; that is essential information because colors mean nothing.

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This sounds like a switch loop has been wired to an outlet. Basically, there are two ways that a switch gets wired. One way is that power comes in to the switch box on one cable and the switched power leaves the box in another cable and connects to the light/fan/whatever. The other way this can be done is if the main power comes into the box that the light is in. Now, we don't want to spend money on two cables just to go down to the switch box and back up, so we do it with only one cable. This is known as a switch loop.

From your description, it sound like you only have one cable coming in to the box. One way this could have been wired is that the constant power would be on the black wire, and that would connect to both of the switches. Then, the white wire would be connected to one switch and the red to the other. Now white and red are switched power, but if you didn't know how that all worked, you might assume that white is neutral like it is in most boxes.

Now, if you pull out the switch and connect an outlet to the white and black wires, you have an outlet that is wired "in series" with the lights or fan. With the outlet in place, electricity will not normally flow through just the outlet, and the lights don't come on. If you plug in a device, electricity can then run through it and provide power to the lights. The voltage and current will depend on the device you plugged in, but some power will get to the light (just not the right amount).

This incorrect wiring can lead to damage to the light or the plugged in device. There is a way to fix this, but in order to have a working outlet in that position, you have to give up one of your switches and also rewire the boxes that the light or fan are connected to. That is beyond the scope of this question and would require quite a bit more expertise than just replacing a switch.

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I have two switches in my kitchen for the ceiling fan. One red, white, black and ground wire.

Making a few assumptions I would say....

You are describing a three wire cable which has a white, red, black, and bare copper ground. Typically this type of wire is run to a ceiling fan location so you can switch the light and fan separately from the switch. None of those wires should go directly to an outlet. The power wire should be a two wire cable, white black and bare copper ground. You need to identify which is which then then experiment by connecting the neutrals together (the white wires) then taking the black hot wire from the two wire cable and connecting it with either the red or black from the fan switch leg (3 wire cable with red and black) until the fan comes on. If you have no light switched separately ignore the wire that doesn't turn the fan on and complete the switch by connecting the black from the two wire cable to one switch pole, and the red or black from the 3 wire cable that turns the fan on to the other pole.

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