6

Florida, USA

We bought a house with five ceiling fans, each with a light fixture installed. Each fan is controlled by a pair of wall switches in a two-gang box, one for the fan motor and one for the light housing. Simple enough.

We are replacing the fans with models that do not have lighting kits.

My wife desires fans without lighting kits.

What's the best way to handle the wall switches and lighting kit wiring?

  • 5
    Hold on. Will the room still have a light which is controlled by a standard switch in a standard location? That is mandatory per Code. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 29 '19 at 17:00
  • What country/state are you in? – Notts90 supports Monica Dec 30 '19 at 9:29
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica It is possible these rooms have regular lights as well as the light in the removed fans ? Hopefully OP will clarify this. – Criggie Dec 30 '19 at 11:30
  • So I came across the code requirements after I posted this question. It sounds like meeting the code requirements AND my wife's desire to have fans without lighting kits would mean re-wiring so that the current light switches control half-hot wall outlets i.e. hiring an electrician. – samh Dec 30 '19 at 15:59
  • Alternatively, you could install some can lights and connect them to that wire in the fan outlet box, controlled by the same switch. – Jonathon Reinhart Dec 30 '19 at 16:59
14

Hold on. You can't just eliminate lights

You may notice that in almost any room you go into, anywhere, you have an intuition as to where to reach for the light switch. The light switch is in an expected location. That's not by accident. That's established in the Building Codes. It is mandatory.

It also comes up in NEC Section 210.70(A)(1), which provides rules on dwelling unit lights and switches. source

So as you eliminate light switches, you must make sure you don't eliminate the legally required ones.

"But we're not moles, of course there will be light, you'll just have to know the secret way to turn it on". Nope. Nope. Secret ways are not allowed. They may work for you, but won't work for guests, particularly First Responders.

If in doubt, post a room layout drawing here showing lights and switches.

How to do it

In normal 1-way switches, they have 2 switch terminals. That is all.

If there are 2+ wires going to the same terminal, I recommend doing something to indicate to the next person how this was wired; e.g. Mark the solo with red tape (if it's the switched-hot), or bundling the group with tape.

Then, simply join all wires with a wire nut.

Then, fit appropriate cover plates, as discussed elsewhere. They also make little "switch plugs" that bolt up like a normal switch, but have no wires and simply a rectangular plug that fills the hole.

This allows "the next person" to easily reactivate that feature if they find it useful, or if you're selling and your inspector catches a missing mandatory switch.

  • 2
    All answers referring to building codes/regulations, and especially those on questions that do not, should say where this code applies. – Jack Aidley Dec 29 '19 at 22:08
  • 4
    Hold on. Surely this varies depending on location? – Notts90 supports Monica Dec 29 '19 at 23:42
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    @Notts90 that would be the problem, yes. Building codes vary by jurisdiction. The code numbers vary, that is. The requirements don't vary all that much. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 30 '19 at 0:26
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica I just checked with a family member and was told that there wasn't a hard requirement for residential switched lights when they redid a bunch of rooms in their house. Can you provide a reference to place(s) where this is a requirement? – user2943160 Dec 30 '19 at 1:19
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    I'm not in a good position right now to root through building codes, but there's also NEC 210.70(A)(1)... Note that "lighting outlets" actually mean "light fixtures", in NEC parlance an outlet is any point of use including hard wired ones. Honestly I'm surprised that this is a surprise to you. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 30 '19 at 1:25
6

You have a few options...

  1. Cap the extra wires in the ceiling box and do nothing else.
  2. Cap the unused wires in both boxes and install a single-sided cover plate.
  3. Remove the switch box, install a deep single-gang box, cap the wires in both boxes, and repair the drywall. Whether you can do this option depends on how many cables come into the box, as fill rules may prohibit using a single gang box.
  • 1
    +1 For option 3, to accomodate wire fill, you could install a 4/S box with a single-gang plaster ring, rather than deep single-gang box, if needed. – Jimmy Fix-it Dec 29 '19 at 15:28
  • Option 1 makes it easiest if you or a future owner ever go back to fans with lights, if you can handle having switches that "do nothing" in the interim. Option 2 gets rid of the do-nothing switch without making it overly difficult . – Ecnerwal Dec 29 '19 at 15:28
6

Replacing the box and patching drywall, etc. is a lot of work. So the usual answer is:

The trick is that the wiring can vary a bit. The typical configuration will either be:

  • Hot/Neutral into switch box, hot connected to both switches, neutral passes through
  • Neutral/Switched Hot Fan/Switched Hot Light goes from switch box to fan/light. One Switched Hot connected to each switch.
  • At fan/light, one switched hot to each device and either neutral pigtailed to both fan & light or neutral to the one-and-only neutral connection on the fan/light

In that situation, you will have a Switched Hot to cap on both ends and at the switched you need to handle the "2nd switch Hot" correctly. If there is a pigtail currently for "Hot -> Both Switches" then remove the pigtail and connect the Hot directly to the remaining switch. If the hot chains from one switch to another (two wires under one screw or looping around a screw and continuing to the other switch), make sure you handle it correctly - i.e., no loose extra wires or bare wire (except ground, of course).

or it may be:

  • Hot/Neutral into fan. Neutral connects to fan/light, hot passes through.
  • Hot/Switched Hot Fan/Switched Hot Light goes from fan/light to switch box. At fan/light, one switched hot to each device.
  • In switch box, one Switched Hot to each switch, Hot to both switches.
  • If this is a recent installation, you may find neutral passed from the fan/light down to the switch box and capped in the switch box as it is only needed for timers/motion sensors/etc. and not with simple switches.

Of course, if you really can't stand the sight of a blank plate where there "should" be a switch, you can:

  • Install a convenience receptacle (only works if there is neutral in the box) - commonly found next to switches in bathrooms but no reason you can't have them anywhere

or

  • Disconnect the wires from the switch and cap them and leave the switch in place to add confusion.

or

  • Connect a siren to the wires in the ceiling in place of the light. Tape a note over the switch that says "Important: Do NOT turn on this switch". Install a webcam to catch the reaction each time someone gets a little too curious!
  • 1
    You might want to consider drawing pictures of your two wiring configurations. I think I get what you mean, but it took me several minutes to parse your explanations. (Also, it might be worth noting that in the second configuration you may encounter unusual wire colors, like a wire that looks like a neutral but is actually hot, especially if there's no actual neutral going to the switch. Depending on local code, such wires may or may not be explicitly marked.) – Ilmari Karonen Dec 30 '19 at 2:31
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    since already I have awoken the missus in the middle of the night when trying only to turn on the fan, I am going to say the siren option is probably not the best one for my marriage (best only for internet points) – samh Dec 30 '19 at 16:03
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    And Ilmari Karonen is right, it would be helpful to see diagrams of what you mean although I think I get it. The cover plate is a nice way to handle it, but having the screws not aligned would drive me crazy (I understand why it is that way, but argh) – samh Dec 30 '19 at 16:04

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