I'm trying to install a smart switch to control my 3 outdoor lights. 2 wall lights and a lamp in the yard. The house was built in 53, so I assumed there wouldn't be a neutral in the box, so I picked up a GE switch that doesn't require one. The switch shares a box with another that controls the hall light. Upon opening it up I found something more complicated than expected. The left switch, which controls the outdoor lights has 3 black wires coming in and bundled down to one black wire into the switch. There is then a second black wire coming from the outdoor switch that attaches to the right hand switch that controls the hall light, and then that switch has a red wire AND a black wire coming in. To top it all off, there are 4 white wires taped off in the back of the box. Are those neutral? I'd like to replace the hall light switch as well, but I think I'll need to get a different kind of switch as I only bought a single pole paddle switch. I'll attach a diagram below of the setup. Can anyone help me make sense of what I need to do to wire the smart switch and a new right switch?

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  • Actual picture might be helpful. By "taped off" you mean connected to each other, or isolated? – Ecnerwal Sep 22 '20 at 14:15
  • Get used to the mishmash, it only gets worse. lol – JACK Sep 22 '20 at 14:54
  • How are these wires grouped into cables? That drawing is not what the cables entering the box look like, and that data is vital. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 22 '20 at 19:58
  • Can you post photos looking squarely into the back of the box please? Your diagram doesn't make sense in some ways – ThreePhaseEel Sep 22 '20 at 23:04

That appears to be a very straightforward setup, with neutrals in the box. You may well lack grounds at that era. You could have had switch loops, but don't appear to in this box.

Following normal procedures:

Unswitched Line Power coming in on black to the hall switch, fed from the hall switch to the outdoor light switch.

Switched power from hall switch out on red.

Outdoor light switched power out on black, split three ways.

Neutrals joined.

If two switches in a single box are joined, that's nearly always going to be the unswitched power to both.

  • 1
    A single pole paddle switch will be fine for the hall switch unless you want a smart switch there too. Pigtail the line in to the two switches, don't use backstabs. I think the smart switches that use a neutral function better so the OP might want to exchange the one he bought.+1 – JACK Sep 22 '20 at 14:52
  • Thanks @Ecnerwal I added actual photos. I realize the wires look old and crunchy, but they're pretty solid. The white wires look to be just taped together, but I haven't removed the tape. You can see them on the right in the first photo. – jkolton Sep 22 '20 at 15:37
  • Thanks @JACK I'm going to grab a new switch today that uses neutrals. – jkolton Sep 22 '20 at 15:39
  • Looks older than 1953 by the wiring. – JACK Sep 22 '20 at 15:41
  • Ha. I've often felt like that when replacing other fixtures in the house, but the place was definitely built new in 53. It's just my luck. – jkolton Sep 22 '20 at 15:47

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