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I have some switched lights in my attic, which is accessible via scuttle in a pantry, which also has lights. Sometimes the attic light gets left on and forgot about. The attic and pantry lights are on the same breaker, served from the same junction box.

The attic switch is not visible when the scuttle door is closed.

I'd like the switch in the attic to turn on both the attic lights and the pantry lights in parallel (not three way) such that if the attic lights are on the pantry lights are also on. The pantry lights should always be on if the attic is on, regardless of the switch position in the pantry.

However, I do not want the opposite to be true. If the attic lights are off, then the pantry switch should work correctly for the pantry lights but the pantry switch should not turn on the attic.

Can I do this without "smart switches?"

My intent is to make it more obvious that the attic lights are on.

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    Is the attic switch in a reasonably visible location or in the attic itself? If the former, you could use a switch that has a built in indicator light to show if the lights are on or not. Jan 6, 2020 at 15:45
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    Are the attic lights and the pantry lights on the same breaker? That's very important for your answer.
    – JPhi1618
    Jan 6, 2020 at 16:00
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    Perhaps the simplest solution would be to add a second light in the pantry, on the same circuit as the attic lights.
    – MarkL
    Jan 6, 2020 at 16:06
  • Yes, is the attic light on the same breaker as the pantry light? Also, how much wiggle room do you have to run wiring between the two switch boxes, and does power for each light come in at the light or at the switch? Jan 7, 2020 at 1:08

4 Answers 4

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Yes you can,

enter image description here

I use French wire coloring norm:

  • Red is live.
  • Blue is neutral.
  • Orange are switchable wire.

In the schematic:

  • Left side is the attic.
  • Right side is the pantry.
  • Circles are the light bubbles.
  • It use two ways switches, the only kind of switch available in France. (Looks like American people call it a 3 ways switch.., in the attic a simple switch can be used)

Remark: From your current installation, you probably only need to add the almost-horizontal orange wire between the two switches.

Blue and Red must be connected to an unique breaker.

Here are the different configurations (Switches black wires positions) :

  • Attic left, Pantry left: everything off.
  • Attic left, Pantry right: pantry on.
  • Attic right, Pantry left: everything on.
  • Attic right, Pantry right: everything on.

You can't turn off the pantry if the attic is on.

One issue with this solution, is, when you try to turn off the pantry and it doesn't work because the attic is on, so you have to go to the attic to switch it off.

Now, half the time, it will turn off the attic and the pantry. So (if the only way out is by the pantry and you need light), you will have to turn everything on from the attic, go to the pantry switch to switch it with no visible effect (everything still on), go to attic to turn it off and finally leave the pantry and turn it off.

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    Note: this solution requires that pantry and attic are on the same breaker. Jan 6, 2020 at 16:17
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    @ratchetfreak, isn't this somehow obvious since there is only one live and neutral pairs of wire ?
    – Orace
    Jan 6, 2020 at 16:21
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    @Orace Don't underestimate the creativity of clueless DIYers Jan 6, 2020 at 16:23
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    Schematics are easy, the real trick is the wiring diagram showing how wires are grouped into cables. (Circular wiring is not allowed in AC; currents must be equal in each cable or conduit.) I think I see it: move neutral to the bottom and have it travel with the switched hot (orange). Jan 6, 2020 at 16:54
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    Don't worry too much the colors. All are acceptable in the US except blue for neutral (we use white or gray). To render those in drawings I generally use a greenish/yellowish background. Jan 6, 2020 at 17:06
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An alternative is using a switch with indicator for the attic. That has a small light that will light up when the light is switched on.

Otherwise you will can use a double pole switch for the attic and wire the second pole in parallel with the pantry light.

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    Pay attention to the switches with pilot lights. It's common that the light is on when the switch is off so you can find the switch in the dark rather than indicating that the light is on or off.
    – JPhi1618
    Jan 6, 2020 at 15:53
  • Your second paragraph seems a bit ambiguous as currently written. I assume you mean something like the schematic in Orace's answer? Anyway, upvoted for the suggestion to use a switch with an indicator light. Jan 7, 2020 at 5:15
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Replace the pantry fixture with one containing two bulbs. The fixture MUST provide an independent hot and neutral for each bulb.

Wire up one bulb's hot and neutral just the way the current pantry light is. Use the same bulb.

Run a cable from the attic light, bringing attic-switched-hot and neutral to this new fixture. Attach those to the other bulb's hot and neutral. Fit a blue or red bulb.

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Not a direct answer but could be an easier solution to your problem.

Replace the attic switch with a mechanical timer switch. That way, it doesn't matter if you leave the light on or not, it will automatically turn itself off. You wouldn't have to modify the pantry light's wiring at all.

The downside is that it might turn itself off while you're still up there, but you likely don't spend enough time in the attic for that to matter (you can always re-set it as needed).

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  • This would work. I'd want to get a timer switch that had like 12h on it, but that's a good simple idea!
    – Matthew
    Jan 7, 2020 at 3:28
  • i have this problem a lot with my garage light going off while i'm in the garage after somebody came home at night, leaving me to struggle for a bit in the dark.
    – Michael
    Jan 7, 2020 at 3:31

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